How Does Willy Loman From Death Of a Salesman symbolize or represent "Everyman"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American "Everyman" in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman aspires to financial and social status represented by the respect and admiration of those with whom he works and those in his neighborhood, along with the love of his wife and the success of his children--all of which constitute the American Dream of the 1950s.

In 1949 when the play was first performed, the time was post-World War II. America was strengthened economically and reveling in national pride because of its successes abroad and on the continent. Perhaps more than in any other era before, the American Dream of achieving monetary and social success was vibrant and real. Having returned from the war, average men and their wives dreamed of "grabbing the brass ring" of the American Dream of economic success and social comfort and happiness. Like these Americans, Willy Loman has the same dreams. 

But, like the Everyman of the America of the fifties, Willie has flaws. In fact, he mirrors what is termed "other-directed Post War syndrome" in David Reisman's book The Lonely Crowd. According to Reisman, the rising middle class began to re-identify themselves in a changed society; rather than seeking within themselves for their values and identity, they began to measure themselves against others and these other people's opinion of them. In this post-war behavior, Reisman points to an apparent tendency of people to feel that they had to re-define themselves as citizens of a completely changed society. As a result, rather than looking inside themselves for identity, men such as Willy looked at the perception that others had of themselves. This is the greatest of Willy's tragic flaws: he bestows this ridiculous idea of being "well-liked" as a way to succeed upon his two children. (This syndrome was commonly referred to as "keeping up with the Joneses.") In Act I, he tells his sons,

And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there'll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing, boys: I have friends.

Willy is constantly measuring himself and his sons against the successes of the neighbor Charley and his son Bernard, a college graduate, as well as measuring himself against his wealthy brother Ben. He is obsessed with what others are doing to get ahead of him, or with what he can do to stay ahead. He is consumed with succeeding quickly and "making it" in life, according to standards set by others. Much like F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby, Willy places his greatest hopes of success and ideas on how to achieve the American Dream upon his power of dreaming and the illusion, metaphorically expressed by Fitzgerald as 

...the promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.

In other words, Willy Loman, like many other men, is a dreamer who believes that with some lucky breaks--"a fairy's wing"--he can obtain the "rock of the world"--monetary success and comfort. Indeed, he is the Everyman who takes risks in business ventures, who buys into get-rich-quick schemes, who believes that all he needs is "one lucky break," "one really big sales deal," and he will attain his dreams. Tragically, like so many other men, Willy Loman sells his integrity and love for the dream of material success. His neighbor Charley in "The Requiem" reiterates what Fitzgerald essentially wrote about Gatsby, who also held the American Dream:

He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine . . . A salesman has got to dream, boy.

Willy Loman is the Everyman of the 1950s: he wants material success, he wants his wife and his sons to make him proud, he wants to be well-liked and respected, he wants to grab the enjoyments of life, he wants to be remembered, he wants his dreams to come true. But, like many other men, he loses sight of the true values in life, and makes some grave mistakes as he sacrifices values for shallow successes and materialism. Like the Everyman, he is flawed and human.

iridawn | Student

Willy Loman represents the "American Dream." He has a wife and kids and from a young age he put masculinity in front of brains for his children and enabled them to focus more on sports and football. He simply wants to earn the respect of others and have respect from his kids. He tries hard in order to become a better father and be better than his father was to his own kids, and from that hopes that his sons will do as he wishes. Charley is an important role as even though he is only his neighbor and friend, Willy tries to compare his success like a common man and view some of the flaws presented. Willy is also mentally unstable and in the end kills himself in order for more money to be presented to his wife and kids as a last parting gift. 

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Death of a Salesman

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