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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
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Summarize each character's notion for success in life and business based on act 1 of Death of a Salesman. How does each character believe he will succeed, or be a success, in life?

Willy Loman views success as based on being well liked, making money, and having a nice home. He lives in a dream world of past successes and happiness. His sons are trying to find themselves and they don't necessarily view Willy's idea of success as realistic or important. They have their own ideas about what it takes to be successful. Even Linda has given up on her own dreams in order to keep Willy content. Happy does not seem concerned with how he will make money--he seems content with the way things are now; he is "happy." Willie Loman is at his best when talking to other salesmen because he is respected among them.

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For Willy, success is based on making money, being well liked, and well respected. He says:

Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That's all they have to know, and I go right through.

Willy continues to brag about his selling abilities, but he's never made enough money to rise in the company which would allow him to work close to home. He's losing his focus in his old age, so he places more hope on his sons than on himself. He is even more frustrated with his sons' lack of success because he prides himself on his sons, namely Biff. If they are unsuccessful, Willy takes it personally. 

Willy, Happy, and Biff are idealistic, athletic, and sociable. They differ from Charlie and his son, Bernard, who are more realistic and studious. Willy believes that for a man to be successful, it is best to be liked whereas Bernard (through the guidance of his father, Charlie) believes that success comes from discipline and study. It is clear that Charlie is more successful, at least monetarily speaking, because he has been giving Willy fifty dollars a week to pay the bills. 

Linda does not express what success means to her personally because all of her attention goes to Willy. She has become accustomed to her position as a subservient wife who lives vicariously through Willy's successes. If he is happy, she is; so she says. 

Biff is still trying to find himself, so his concept of success has to do with self discovery and individualism; not necessarily anything to do with money. Happy seems more content ("happy") than Biff and prides himself on his ability to seduce women. But they both also consider opening a sporting goods business together near the end of Act One. This gets their hopes up and it gives Willy some hope until Biff criticizes Willy for yelling at Linda. In the end, Willy is a dreamer and has delusions of grandeur for himself and his sons. This is why he continues to dream of the past when hopes were seemingly always greater. Thinking back to when Biff was a star football player, he idealistically notes: 

Like a young god. Hercules--something like that. And the sun, the sun all around him. Remember how he waved to me? Right up from the field with the representatives from three colleges standing by? And the buyers I brought, and the cheers when he came out--Loman, Loman, Loman! 

Willy's hopes are so high that when things do not work out to those levels of expectation, for himself or his sons, he is deflated. He admires his brother Ben who struck it rich early in life. This kind of "get rich quick" luck is something Willy admires; it goes along with his idealistic dreams, but these dreams are often due to chance. 

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