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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Contrast Willy's funeral with that of Dave Singleman in Death of a Salesman.

Willy Loman's funeral in Death of a Salesman is small and depressing, especially in comparison to Dave Singleman's. The only people who attend Willy's funeral are his immediate family members and his next-door neighbor Charley. Biff and Happy seem to resent Willy, while Charlie pities him. Linda is even disheartened by the small turnout and wonders why no one showed up. In contrast, hundreds of salesmen and buyers attended Dave Singleman's funeral, which reflects his success and magnetic personality.

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The contrast between Willy Loman's and Dave Singelman's funerals really couldn't be greater. Whereas Willy's sendoff is a truly sad, pathetic affair with only his immediate family and Charley in attendance, Dave's funeral attracts dozens of mourners. The reason for the disparity isn't hard to spot. Dave Singleman was a hotshot salesman, a legend in the business. He achieved what for Willy Loman is the greatest goal in life: to be a well-liked man. And because he was a well-liked man, hundreds of work colleagues and friends turned up for his funeral to pay their last respects.

Though Willy always wanted to be a well-liked man, it's fair to say that he never achieve his goal. How else to account for the lamentably sparse attendance at his funeral? The sad truth is that Willy was a dinosaur in the world of sales, a man out of time unable to keep up with rapid changes in the business. As a result, he fell out of favor. And so when he comes to leave this mortal coil there's hardly anyone around to pay him their final respects.

Willy Loman's funeral is significant in that it shows us the enormous gap between Willy's perception of what kind of man he was and the harsh reality. Dave Singleman's funeral, on the other hand, shows us what happens when perception and reality coalesce.

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Willy describes the funeral of the salesman Dave Singleman, a successful salesman he greatly admires, as large and impressive. As he explains to Howard, hundreds of people came to Dave's funeral, because he was so well liked. Willy contrasts the impact a likable personality had on people in the old days to what he feels is the "cut and dried" lack of personal contact in the business world today. Willy longs for a probably mythic past in which a salesman could rake in easy money just through personality.

Willy's thoughts about the old days of likability being over suggest that he doesn't, at first, expect to be as mourned as Dave Singleman was. Yet, as he comes closer to suicide, Willy increasingly disassociates from reality. He talks himself into suicide so that Biff can get his insurance money in part by fantasizing about how grand his funeral will be. He describes it to the dead Ben, saying,

Ben, that funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates—that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized—I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey—I am known, Ben, and he’ll see it with his eyes once and for all. He’ll see what I am, Ben! He’s in for a shock, that boy!

Willy, in his heart of hearts, wants very badly for Biff to be impressed with him, so much so that he is willing to kill himself for it. Unfortunately, however, only five people show up for his funeral—his family and his neighbor, Charley. As usual, reality does not align with Willy's grandiose fantasies.

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In Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman's funeral is significantly different from Dave Singleman's funeral. When Willy is begging Howard to allow him to work in the city, he begins talking about his motivation to become a salesman and elaborates on his inspiration, Dave Singleman, who was a successful, well-known salesman. Willy Loman reveres Dave Singleman and explains that when he passed away, hundreds of salesmen and buyers attended his funeral. Unlike Willy, Dave was an expert salesman who was respected by his peers and business associates, which is why he had a large funeral. Dave's impressive funeral is a testament to his hard work and success. However, Willy misinterprets Dave's keys to success by solely commenting on his magnetic personality. Willy never understands that successful businessmen must possess other valuable attributes.

Willy Loman's funeral stands in stark contrast to Dave Singleman's. The only people who attend Willy's funeral are his immediate family and next-door neighbor Charley. Willy's sons seem to resent him for taking his life, and Linda struggles to understand why nobody showed up for her husband's funeral. Both Charley and Biff pity Willy and recognize that he had all the wrong dreams. Willy Loman desired to chase the illusory American Dream instead of choosing a fulfilling occupation. Willy was not only a failure in the business world but also left behind a forgettable, shameful legacy, which is illustrated by his depressing, small funeral.

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You must contrast the two funerals as there isn't much to compare.

Willy Loman's funeral ceremony was attended by only his wife, two sons and his neighbors.  Out of these five individuals, how many respected or even liked him?  Charley and Bernard both felt pity for Willy.  Happy seems to be indifferent toward his father.  Biff still holds some resentment against his dad.  Willy's wife?  Does Linda love him or is she an enabler, unwilling to face the harsh truth of Willy's failures?

Dave was everything that Willy wasn't: a success.  Willy says it himself, "I'm not liked."  People did make fun of him in the business world as he had to work twice as hard to sell half as much.  Willy was in the wrong line of work.

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Dave has what Willy dreams of in a funeral and never will have: a room full of fellows salemen and admirers who talk whistfully his life and success. Willy's funeral is attended only by his immediate family. In Act 2, he tells Howard about the late, great Dave Singleton's funeral:

"...when he died, hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. In those days, there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradship, and gratitude in it. Today it's all cut and dried, and there's no chance for bringing friendship to bear -- or personality."

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