Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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Compare Death of a Salesman to the story, "A Rose for Emily".

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e-martin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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These two narratives offer quite different characters and dynamics, but they do have at least one theme in common. Each is interested in delusion, illusion, or self-induced fantasy. Each presents a protagonist that is fixated on ideals of the past, personal qualities that were once honored but have since become antiquated, to some degree. 

Willy Loman is a man dedicated to a vision of success that he will never attain, perhaps because it is founded on the story of his brother, a unique individual with a story nearly impossible to duplicate. Also, Willy bases his ideas of success on notions that have become obsolete. The business of sales has changed, but Willy has not changed with it. 

Willy fails because he cannot stop living in a reality that does not exist, and which dooms him to fail in the reality that does exist.

Emily, in "A Rose for Emily", is dedicated as well to the virtues of a world that has ceased to exist. We see this in her refusal to pay the taxes assessed to her and in her continued haughtiness as she assumes to occupy a position that no longer exists for her (or for anyone). Reality, it would seem, is subject to her refusal. 

She may even be mad—she denies that her father is dead at first and she won’t allow anyone to remove his corpse until she breaks down after three days.

Her ultimate denial of reality is revealed at the story's end, when her former lover is found dead in an upstairs bed. The corpse demonstrates Emily's fantasy and her psychotic attachment to the idea that time should not remove her from the past. 

Delusion is a significant element of each of these characters. 

Comparing the stories formally, we can also see connections in the use of flashback as a narrative technique and a presentation of certain characters in a symbolic fashion (Ben Loman; Emily's father).

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Both works differ in setting, subject matter, and plot, but they share similar themes. The protagonists in both works, also, suffer from delusions and have experienced traumatic events in their lives, which have dramatically altered their futures and affected their mental health. Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" allegorically represents the decline of the Old South by chronicling the life of the reclusive, mentally ill protagonist, Emily Grierson. Emily Grierson is a tragic figure who grew up in an aristocratic household and suffered under her father's authoritative guardianship when she was a young woman. Once Emily's father passed away, she initially refused to acknowledge his death and remained inside her home until she began dating a Northerner named Homer Barron. Emily's mental illness is revealed by her decision to murder Homer Barron, her refusal to leave her home, and her unwillingness to let go of the past. After her funeral, the citizens of Jefferson discover that Emily had been sleeping next to Homer Barron's corpse, which is both shocking and disturbing.

Similarly, Willy Loman is also a tragic figure who suffers from delusional thoughts and has difficulty letting go of the past. Unlike Miss Emily, Willy Loman does not hail from a wealthy family; he struggles to make ends meet as a traveling salesman. Similar to Emily, Willy dismisses reality and prefers to view life as it once was in the past. He is also emotionally scarred after his son discovered him cheating on Linda and is completely out of touch with reality. By the end of the play, Willy Loman commits suicide in the hopes that his family will receive money from his life insurance policy.

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