Discuss the role of Charley and Bernard in relation to their influence in the Loman family in Death of a Salesman.
Charley and Bernard play an important role in the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller because they serve as foils of Willy and his two sons. This means that Charley, a successful man, and Bernard (his equally successful son) allow the audience to contrast the reality of Willy's foolish life versus what could have been if Willy had developed a normal relationship with Biff and Happy.
We know that Charley is Willy's neighbor and perhaps his only true friend. Without complaint, he continuously offers Willy a job and gives him money every week for Willy to take to his family. This, of course, he does secretly and to save Willy's reputation with his family.
Moreover, we also know that Charley was the only attendant at Willy's funeral. We see how Charley seems to have a deeper grasp of Willy's personality and of his situation. Yet, in contrast to Willy, Charley would never be capable of praising himself nor feel superior to anybody.
Conclusively, the role of Charley and Bernard is to foil the Loman's dysfunctional family, and to serve as the only supportive link between Willy and the real world. If it weren't for Charley, Willy would have not been able to feed his family, we assume. Also, without Charley's support, the Lomans would have found themselves desolate at Willy's funeral. Hence, Charley and Bernard represent Willy's only real support system, and are the best example of a true friendship.
If Willy Loman and his messed up family represent the downside of the American Dream, then Charley and Bernard are its sunnier side. While Miller is keen to present a critical portrait of the dark underbelly of American capitalism, he realizes that it's also important to show the upside if he's to give us a more rounded, more dramatically satisfying picture. After all, drama is fundamentally about conflict; and as well as Willy's inner conflict, and the conflict between himself and his sons, there's also the much wider conflict between Willy and the system of capitalism. He passionately believes in this system, though it continues to destroy him, little by little.
In order to make this conflict more effective it's necessary for Miller to show that the system by which Willy lives and dies is not just a sham. Willy may become increasingly delusional as the play progresses, but there's just enough truth in the American Dream to keep someone in his situation striving hard against the odds. Therein lies much of the play's drama. The capitalist system, though ultimately destructive of Willy and countless others, does often provide opportunities to those who have the wherewithal to make it in this competitive system. Hence the need for Charley and Bernard; they provide a glimpse into what Willy and his sons might have been.