What is the significance of the Dave Singleman story to this play?

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herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Act 2 of Death of a Salesman we find Willy Loman trying to convince Howard Wagner Jr, his boss, to allow him to take a desk job that would at least give him 50 dollars a week to be able to support the family.

By this time, Willy had already negotiated other ways to change his job, which Howard Wagner continued to ignore. As a last resort, Willy tells the story of David Singleman, a man after whom Willy wanted to design his life.

David Singleman is pivotal character because Willy had almost decided to join his brother and find his father when he suddenly meets Singleman in the Parker House.

His name was Dave Singleman.And he was eighty-four years old, and he’d drummed merchandise in thirty-one states.

Willly goes on to say that David was unlike any other salesman because he would call his buyers and finalize sales from his room without even leaving. David was 84 and, when he died, everybody attended his funeral. Unfortunately, Willy felt that he could have managed to copycat the life of another person just because he liked what he saw.

Willy preferred the idea of quick money and being well-known. He made that his own American Dream. We all know that this was perhaps not the best decision that he has ever made. Twice Willy’s brother had proposed to go away to make a fortune. Willy declined each time. He truly wanted to attempt the David Singleman formula.

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sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Singleman is not a character in the play but rather a memory of a salesman Willy once knew. He exists in Loman’s imagination as the “ideal salesman,” the man who captured the American Dream.  As Willy remembers Singleman, he was a man who was so successful could sell anything easily by just making a telephone call. Every one knew him and loved him, and when he died many came to his funeral. This is the man Willy would like to be.  He is his inspiration and measurement of success. The name "Singleman" probably signifies his role in the story:  he is "singular" in Willie's imagination--Willie has singled him out as his idea.

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