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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What does Death of a Salesman say about free enterprise and competition, especially in terms of profit-making?

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The message in the play is developed through the lives of numerous characters. Some (like Howard and Charley) succeed financially, while others fail. Willy enjoyed success as a salesman so long as he had the physical stamina to compete in the marketplace. When he grows old and tires, he finds that he no longer has a place in the economic system. When he can no longer stand up to the competition, after thirty-four years, Howard fires him. Losing his job finally pushes Willy over the edge, psychologically, because he always defined himself in terms of how much money he could make. It was his only yardstick in determining a man's personal worth. 

Biff and Happy grew up accepting their father's principles, but they did not inherit his work ethic. As a result, neither works while chasing "success," and neither achieves anything of value. Bernard, however, works hard, gets an education, and becomes a successful lawyer, arguing a case before the Supreme Court. Unlike Biff and Happy, Bernard did not cut corners in the pursuit of success. He desired more than turning a quick profit.

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