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Why does Willy talk about the past to Howard in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller?...

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qasenior | Salutatorian

Posted November 19, 2012 at 1:03 AM via iOS

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Why does Willy talk about the past to Howard in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller? Why does Howard fire Willy?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 19, 2012 at 3:03 PM (Answer #1)

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The proverb --He can’t see the forest for the trees—applies to Willy Loman.  Willy has all the facts, but he cannot put them together so that they mean something to him.  In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist is ready to talk to his boss and ask him to place him in the New York area so that he can be closer to home.

  • Willy does not understand the big picture.
  • Willy has worked for the company for thirty-four years.
  • He is no longer receiving a pay check from the company. 
  • Now, he works only on commission. 

Howard’s father started the company, and Willy thought he was a prince.  Now Howard is in charge, and he believes that Willy is a liability.  Finally, Howard listens to Willy’s plea for help.

Willy talks about the past and tells Howard about Dave Singleton, who was important to Willy.  The ideal salesman—that was Dave. To Willy, Dave represented everything that Willy wanted to be.  Working until the age of eighty-four, Dave earned his living as a hugely successful salesman and was very popular.  The most important thing is that Dave’s funeral was well-attended.

In the old days, Willy tells Howard the important things were personality and friendship.  Howard has nothing but disdain for Willy and treats him as though he is completely unnecessary.  Willy is unproductive to the company and essentially useless.

Howard: I don’t want you to represent us.  I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time now.

Willy: Howard, are you firing me?

Howard: I think you need a good long rest, Willy.

Willy: Howard---

Howard: When you feel better, come back, and we’ll see if we can work something out.

Feeling nothing for Willy, Howard is forced to give the old man bad news. Howard admits, "Willy,  there just is no spot here for you.".

Willy just wants another chance.  Lamenting to Howard, Willy states: 

There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today, it's all cut and dried, and there's no chance for bringing friendship to bear-or personality.

After his devotion to the company, Willy believes that he deserves to get a fair shake.  His slump is due to his exhaustion. Willy is 63, tired, and unable to drive hundreds of miles down to Florida. 

Hallucinating and unable to cope with reality, Willy feels the only way to keep his dignity is to kill himself. He wants his life insurance money to go to Biff, his oldest son, to start his own business.

Serving as a warning to other men, Willy’s downfall and breakdown demonstrate the brutality of the business world. As a tragic hero, Willy represents the common man who needs a break from the “bigwigs,” but they are unwilling to help a man when he is down and out.


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