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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
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What does the quote "be liked and you will never want," said by Willy in Death of a Salesman, mean?

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Willy's point is that success (not being "in want") is based on getting other people to like you. As a salesman, he has to be the typical gladhander, conveying an amiable personality in order to make a sale. He evidently has been very good at this throughout his career—or most of it, at any rate.

There are two problems, however, with his analysis of how to succeed in business and in life. What we see in the play is that as the aging process catches up with him, Willy can no longer keep up with the physical demands of his job. Regardless of how well-liked he's presumably been in the company, he's no longer useful to it, and his boss, Howard, won't transfer him to a new position that would be easier for him. Howard is more interested in playing with his tape recorder than in doing something to help a longtime servant of the firm when the man is in distress and his life is falling apart. So Willy becomes a reject, a cast-off of the system.

The second problem is that Willy evidently hasn't understood that his maxim about being liked should apply to his family as well as to the business world. He mistreats his wife, and his sons grow up resenting him, disillusioned with their father and the world of "success" he thinks he represents. As we see Willy's life in flashback, the crucial moments are ones in which he acts in ways that cause him to be disliked. The failures of his family life exacerbate his despair, and he sees no escape other than suicide.

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Willy Loman, in Arthur Miller's play "The Death of a Salesman", states the following: "be liked and you will never want."

Basically, what Willy is saying here, is no different from how people are regarded today--62 years later. People who are liked get more out of those who like them. Whether it is sales (like Loman) or friendship. It is simply easier to do something, to help someone out, when you like them.

Here, Loman is simply stating the facts in life. During a conversation with his wife, Linda, Willy is simply stating that he cannot understand how he cannot make the sales he so desperately needs.

Later, in Act One, the quote in question appears:

the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want." Act 1, Part 3

Willy understands that the man who makes himself known, the man who, in essence, "plays the part", is the man who will be liked by all others. In the end, when one is liked by others, it is simply easier to get what they need from them.

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During one of Willy's flashback scenes, he remembers an enjoyable moment with his adolescent sons, Biff and Happy. When Bernard comes over to Willy's home, he reminds Biff that he needs to study for his upcoming test in Mr. Birnbaum's class. Willy dismisses Bernard's concerns and asks his sons if Bernard is well-liked. When Biff and Happy tell their father that Bernard is liked but not well-liked, Willy responds by saying that they will make it five times further in life because they are built like Adonises and have likable personalities. Willy tells his sons,

Be liked and you will never want. (Miller, 21)

Willy's comment seems to be his motto in life, and he truly believes that, in order to be successful and attain the American Dream, a person must have a likable personality.

Willy's flawed perspective of the world and his ignorance are also revealed in his comment. He neglects to take into consideration various positive character traits that are essential for one to become wealthy. He does not believe that dedication, hard work, persistence, and courage are the ingredients for success and finds it easier to believe that being well-liked is essential to attain wealth. Part of Willy's belief that being well-liked is the most important attribute of success stems from his occupation as a salesman. Since a salesman makes his commission from selling items or services, a positive personality is integral to one's success in the industry. Unfortunately, Willy fails to include the other essential character traits one must possess in order to become successful by America's standards.

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The phrase "Be liked and you will never want" is basically Willy Loman's credo of life. The premise is that your looks or what you represent to be, is more valuable than who you actually are as a person. Therefore, once you achieve a reputation and get people to like you, you will always be popular and people will always prefer you.

Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.

This so-called philosophy constitutes the construct that Willy has invented for himself, as well as for his children, which will dictate the choices and behaviors that they all later on. Willy claims to be thankful that his children were "born like Adonises", and places more weight on that than on his children's intellect, life skills, or even their behavior. This shows the shallow nature of Willy Loman as a person and as a parent. What Willy Loman does not seem to realize is that if only the visible and the superficial is what matters, then there is always the danger of losing such looks. 

We know that this plan does not work for anyone; not for Willy, nor for his children. The resulting product of all this is Biff, who has lost himself to Willy's ideal, and Happy who equally walks through life clueless as to what to do with himself.

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