Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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In Death of a Salesman, how does Ben affect Willy?  How does Ben influence the events in the play?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ben is Willy's successful older brother, who became wealthy after discovering diamonds in the African jungle. Willy admires his older brother and regrets not traveling to Alaska with him. Willy compares his life with Ben's throughout the play and continually talks to his dead brother's spirit when he begins to hallucinate. Willy does not view Ben's success as a result of being lucky and instead sees him as an adventurous, wise individual with the keys to attaining the American Dream. Ben's spirit arrives several times throughout the play when Willy escapes reality and begins speaking to him. Whenever Willy is faced with adversity and cannot cope with reality, he seeks his older brother's advice and attempts to gain his approval. At the end of the play, Willy contemplates committing suicide and has a conversation with Ben, who encourages him to kill himself by saying, "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy" (Miller, 99). Ben's advice influences Willy to commit suicide in hopes of earning twenty thousand dollars, which will impress and help his family. Overall, Ben represents Willy's aspirations and regrets, and gives the audience insight into the inner workings of Willy's imagination.

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jseligmann eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ben is both Willy's symbol of success ("That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate!") and also the only person in Willy's family left to talk to in his imagination. In many ways, Willy looks up to Ben for approval and advice, just as he would a father.

And in the end, it is to Ben that Willy goes to ask advice about his contemplated suicide. He comes to Ben with the idea as if it were a business deal. Ben is everything Willy never was: he's strong, resourceful, independent, self-assured, self-made, self-important and rich.

Ben thinks over the deal, the suicide that will bring Biff money at last, and he agrees with Willy, after some reservations, that it's a good idea. Propetically he says to Willy, "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds..."

His doom is set in a final conversation with his dead, imaginary brother, and Willy drives off one last time.

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