What does Death of a Salesman say about the country's system of free enterprise and competition? 

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The definite commercial emphasis in the play is on progress. 

Willy is caught up in the idea of self-improvement, advancement, and the associated "greatness" that goes along with successful upward movement. 

Ben, Willy's brother, is described in his adventurous rise to a station of wealth from humble beginnings. 

Ben remarks: "William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!"

Willy's boss, Howard, also espouses his thoughts on the value of technological progress when he discusses the recording device that has enraptured him. 

These examples do have their counterparts, however. Linda, Bernard, and Biff each express ideas relating to accepting reality, accepting the value of one's current station, and emphasize the idea that individuals have a choice. 

People do not need to "chase the dollar" in order to be successful. They also do not need to be successful, materially, to be happy. 

The commercial system is shown then to carry its own values forward, but the individuals involved have the option of whether or how fully to participate in the value structure of commerce, industry, and consumerism.

This is true despite prevalent social pressures that encourage investment in commercial values.

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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

The play is a wonderful slice of 1950s Americana.  People bought on revolving credit just about everything in the household so the play reveals wonderfully the economic system of the US in the 1950s. Willy was moderately successful, he had a home while everyone else lived in an apartment.  He owned a car, and he owned the things in his home.  Granted he was still making payments on everything, but how many people can weather a 30-year mortgage nowadays? He was closing in on the last few payments.

When Biff came to see Willy, didn't Willy say that he even knew the "mayor of Providence?" Willy was much more successful than readers give him credit.  If anything, it was a false sense of the future which Willy didn't save for that brought about his tragic circumstances.

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