In Death of a Salesman, who is Dave Singleman and what impression did he have on Willy Loman?

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Dave Singleman is Willy’s oft-cited aspirational hero of the sales industry. Singleman is representative of the old world of salesmen, one in which personality and connections determines success instead of dogged service of the boss. Willy hoped to have become Singleman by this stage in his career: a man with such charisma and stability that he was able to give up traveling to be a successful salesman.

Instead, Willy finds himself at a low point both professionally and personally. Despite his experience, Willy’s younger boss Howard treats him condescendingly, expecting Willy to be thankful for the grueling schedule he still has to maintain in order to barely make ends meet at home.

It is interesting to discuss how Singleman and Loman’s surnames have symbolic significance, especially since you want to discuss the former’s lasting impression on the latter. Singleman’s name indicates that he is a paragon, a singular example of a “great” salesman. The name also suggests that no one else could replicate his success because of his unique place in time. Conversely, Loman’s name describes his emotional state as well as his professional status. Willy has hit a low point, lamenting the degradation of a profession he once believed would bring him success and happiness. Instead, being a salesman has brought Willy in the depths of self-loathing and desperation.

The contrast between Willy and his idol underscores the disconnect between who Willy wants others to believe he is and who Willy actually is. His inability to resolve this tension combined with dire financial straits motivates Willy’s decision to end his life.

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As he grovels in the office of a distracted and disinterested Howard Wagner, pleading for an in-town job, lowering his salary requests again and again, Willy Loman desperately relates a histrionic story of the eighty-four-year-old Dave Singleman who, without ever leaving his hotel room, conducted a successful sales career. When he died the noble "death of salesman", hundreds of his associates - out of love and respect - attended his funeral. In fact it was the manner of Singleman's death, not his life, which drew Willy to embrace salesmanship and to turn away from the pioneering, 'Horatio Alger' type of career offered by his brother, Ben. In this decision, Willy rebuffs the rugged individualism and the indifference to social relationships exemplified in Ben Loman. Rather, Willy chooses Singleman's way, a life of loyalty and friendship, a life cocooned in a web of sustaining social relationships. But when Willy's manner of death is juxtaposed with Singleman's, its irony and tragedy are all the more poignant, for Willy dies alone.     

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