In Death of a Salesmen by Arthur Miller, what does Ben represent?

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thewritingteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Ben Loman is Willy's older brother who apparently had success where Willy failed. How much of what we know about Ben is from Willy's mind, so it's veracity is questionable.

According to Willy, Ben was an explorer and adventurer who found diamonds in Africa and timberland in Alaska. Ben never appears in the reality of the play, but is revealed through Willy's thoughts. Ben is everything Willy wanted to be, and everything he wants his sons to be.

It is also through Ben that the reader learns about Willy's father-a successful inventor with a likeable charm. It's no wonder that, with these two as role models, that WIlly is unable to cope with the realities of his shortcomings as well as those of his sons.

Whether Willy's memories are accurate or exaggerated (which is more likely,) the reader understands more about why he is driven to suicide. The fulfilled dreams of his father and older brother stand in stark contrast to Willy's failures. Although Willy claims to respect and admire them, deep inside he knows that he will never be like them. Ben symbolizes the mirage that American Dream turns out to be: too good to be true, and too far away to ever reach.

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gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

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As was mentioned in the previous post, Ben Loman is Willy's successful older brother. Ben Loman made a fortune discovering diamond mines in Africa and appears in Willy's imagination throughout the play. Ironically, Ben's success is a result of a lucky mistake. Initially, Ben planned on traveling to Alaska but ended up in Africa because of his "faulty view of geography." Willy idolizes his older brother and regrets not traveling to Alaska with Ben. However, Willy misinterprets Ben's behavior as the key to success. In Willy's mind, Ben represents success and the American dream. Despite Ben's selfish personality and amoral proclivities, Willy looks up to him and continually asks Ben for advice. Willy can only to hope to attain the wealth and status of his older brother; he has not been as fortunate as Ben. Willy also cannot differentiate the importance of dedication and hard work from Ben's blind luck. Ben is essentially a symbol of good fortune, success, and the American dream. 

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