In Death of a Salesman, what does it mean to be successful? 

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Death of a Salesman, the idea of success is examined through the lives of Willy Loman and his sons, Biff and Happy. For Willy, success means being personally popular ("well liked") and making a lot of money. The man who can amass a fortune, like his brother Ben, is deemed by Willy to be most successful. Throughout the play, these are the only definitions of success that Willy accepts. He places no value on honesty or personal integrity. He places no value upon his own life, except in those terms. This is seen most clearly when he commits suicide to secure insurance money for his family, imagining the crowds of people who will come from great distances to his funeral because he was so popular and important. Willy succeeds in killing himself, the money is paid, but the funeral is not well attended.

Willy's definition of success is passed along to his sons, both of whom grow up to lack personal integrity and to lead selfish, nonproductive lives. Of the two, Biff realizes their personal failures and rejects what his father died believing to be the truth about success.

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Death of a Salesman

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