'In those days there was personality in it... there was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it.' What is the significance of this quote?Also, the quote's significance to the play
When Wily speaks these lines to Howard, it is reflection of how things have changed in the sales industry, or in business, in general. The story that Wily tells of the old man who was a seller until he was 84 is one that he uses as a reference point. At this story, we hear the line "death of a salesman" to describe how this death was a very significant moment, where people from all over the nation mourned his loss. Wily even suggests that the loss of the elderly salesman was reflected on trains and on a wide scale. It is at this point that Wily talks about the "personality" and the "community" that is formed as a result. Willy's retelling of this story is significant because it reflects how much things have changed. Howard, the person to whom Wily tells the story, has little interest in it. Willy's own life is a departure from such a story, as he recognizes that his death will not be a "big deal." It might not be as much from his own failures as a salesman, as much as it is a reflection of how much society has changed over time, embracing more values of self interest and self- preservation over those of community and respect for others. It is in this speech that the reader understands "the matrix of problems" that surround Wily and anyone who is in such a situation.
Given Willy's tendency to create a world that he can live in rather than the one he finds himself in, I have often wondered if the world these words describe ever really existed. It is clear that Willy thinks it did, and this is, perhaps, the only important thing. All of us who have "dealt" with salesmen know that personality is an important part of their pitch, but we also know that it's a pretty cutthroat business, maybe one without the qualities of comradship and gratitude.
So there are two possibilities for this quote. One may present a lost reality that actually was a part of Willy's life, one that he never lets go of, even thought the world has long moved on. The other is that it is just another manifestion of the delusions that Willy has based his life on.
Take your pick ....