How are Ben and Willy similar but different in their outlook on life and the "jungle"?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ben Loman is Willy's older brother, & Willy's model for success. He appears only in Willy's imagination, & always towers over his little brother, representing the dream he could never achieve. Willy claims Ben owns diamond mines in Africa, & timberland in Alaska. Whether or not this is actually true is irrelevant: Ben is the embodiment of everything Willy hoped to become.

Ben's philosophy on life can be summed up in his lines:

"William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!"

His belief is simple: life is hard, so you need to be even harder. In doing so, you will gain wealth and power. For Ben, there's no question of success. Of course it had to be done, so he did it. It's that easy. Willy does agree with this notion of the "jungle", & he seems to hold Ben's ideas about how to approach life full-on. He connects Ben's remarks to the lesson he wants to teach his sons: "That's just the spirit I want to imbue them with! To walk into a jungle!" But he lacks the ability to carry through. In fact, he finds life so difficult that he contemplates, & eventually succeeds in committing suicide.

This is where their beliefs differ. In another imaginary conversation, Ben tells Willy that suicide is a "cowardly thing." Willy responds:

"Why? Does it take more guts to stand here the rest of my life ringing up a zero? ... And twenty thousand—that is something one can feel with the hand, it is there."

Thus, Willy thinks it's OK to give in when you know you're beat. For Ben, such a notion doesn't exist, because he's never beat.

Read the study guide:
Death of a Salesman

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