What are Willy's slogans in life in Death of a Salesman, and how do his slogans match his character?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Willy’s slogans in life can be condensed into what he says early on to his sons, when they are still young: 'Be liked and you will never want’. The word 'want' here is being used in the older sense of need. Willy’s idea is that if a person is popular enough then success will automatically follow for that person. Willy utters variants on this slogan at certain intervals throughout the play, such as ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it - because personality always wins the day’(Act I).

This slogan reflects Willy’s naturally own outgoing and talkative character. He stakes his whole career on his ability to charm people with his words and also tries to pass this notion onto his sons. Yet his whole career illustrates the failure of this idea. He has always maintained a bright and friendly manner with his customers and his bosses but it has not got him anywhere in the end, and his sons are turning out to be the same. He does not seem to realize that other ingredients are required for success. He certainly works hard himself but he relies too much on the force of his personality to see him through and it simply doesn’t work.

Charley, Willy’s more realistic neighbour points out the folly of his ways but he clings desperately to his beliefs even when his world is disintegrating around him. In fact, right to the end he appears to persist in his delusion that he himself is ‘well-liked’. Planning suicide so that Biff can get his insurance money, he envisages a great crowd at his funeral:

That funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire!  (Act II)

However, we learn that no-one comes to his funeral at all, except his family and his one constant friend, Charley. There could be no starker illustration of Willy's failure in the world at large.

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Death of a Salesman

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