Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, what does Willy's father symbolize?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Willy's father symbolizes a much simpler time: a time of pre-industrialization, when the craftsman was both maker and marketer; when workers could enjoy some degree of autonomy as opposed to the atomized nature of the modern industrial employee. Willy's father was also a salesman, but crucially he made the things he sold, putting his heart and soul into each and every flute he so carefully crafted. In this way, Willy's father had an intimate connection with the things that he sold; he wasn't alienated from them in the way that Willy is from the goods he peddles.

Willy never knew his father, and...

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washingtonirving | Student

This is in fact incorrect. The man you refer to is Dave Singleman-a salesman acquaintance of Willy's who he blindly emulates for having so many sales 'correspondences' which Willy takes to mean friends. Willy has little memory of his actual father, except the flute song that he hears in lucid moments and Ben's assurance that he was a travelling salesman who sold flutes. The significance of Willy's father therefore are threefold:

a) He symbolises Willy's longing to escape, travel and live a simple life e.g. selling flutes-and his inability to understand this desire. He considers his father to have been successful despite him only ever having sold simple instruments.

b) He symbolises Willy's core self-doubt because he was abandoned as a child. He so needs a father figure to guide him on the right path and yet can remember nothing but loneliness. Perhaps this is why he abandons his own sons.

c) He symbolises the great 'secret' of sales which Willy longs for, and is in fact imaginary. He presumes his father must have had it, and is tortured by its being just out of his reach. In fact, he just needs to have more work discipline.

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