Who has had a strong impact on Willy?

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At the end of the play, Willy is deeply influenced by his son Biff to commit suicide. He loves Biff dearly and wants him to be financially successful in the way he himself has never been. Therefore, having no money, he gives Biff his life so that Biff can collect Willy's insurance money. (To be perfectly clear, Biff in no way wants his father to do this: this all comes out of Willy's ideas of the good life for his child.)

Normally, we think of people being influenced by older mentors, as Willy is by his brother and Dave Singleman, people who, at least in his fantasies, achieved financial success with ease and were able to sit back and watch the money roll in.

Willy wants to pass this idea of easy money onto his sons, especially football star Biff. Would Willy have followed his true, more modest vocation of gardening if he were not influenced by having sons to impress with a more flamboyant kind of financial success—a success he never can achieve?

Of course, Willy does nothing but destroy his sons' lives by trying to model for them a false idea of what success is. Even at the end, when he is influenced by his love for Biff to kill himself, it seems his values are in the wrong place. Again, it is all money that matters and money that he thinks will solve his son's problems, whereas they are probably beyond what money can buy.

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Willy Loman's deceased brother, Ben, has an enormous impact on his personality, mindset, and perspective of the world. Willy continually hallucinates and has conversations with Ben at various moments in the play. Willy admires his brother and is fascinated by Ben's success story. Ben's luck dramatically alters Willy's perception of the American Dream, and he regrets not following his brother to Alaska. Willy continually compares himself to Ben and clearly lives in his brother's shadow. Ben's influence negatively affects Willy's ability to grasp the importance of dedication, hard work, and focus, which are necessary traits one must possess in order to attain financial success. Willy fails to recognize that Ben's financial success was founded solely on luck and admires him for all the wrong reasons.

Willy also mentions that he is greatly influenced by a successful salesman named Dave Singleman. After witnessing how Dave Singleman was able to conduct business as an eighty-four-year-old man and earn the respect of his peers, Willy is influenced to follow his footsteps and become a salesman. Willy also misinterprets Dave's path to success and unfortunately subscribes to the wrong dream.

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All of us are influenced by other people, often called "important others" by psychologists. These generally include a mother, father, sibling, best friend, spouse, and perhaps one or two lovers. Arthur Miller incorporates all the important others in Willy's life in his older brother Ben. This is for the sake of practical necessity. Miller did not want to go into Willy's entire biography. But the audience must think it a little strange that Ben should have played such an important role in Willy's life and nobody else had any apparent influence--not even Linda, Willy's wife. So Miller probably invented the story about Dave Singleman to suggest that there were other influential people in Willy's long lifetime besides Ben. Willy would have met hundreds and hundreds of people during the years he worked as a traveling salesman, and he seems like a man who is easily influenced. There must have been others who made a strong impression on him. Singleman may have been intended to stand in for all those latter-day acquaintances whom Miller could not cast in his drama. Most of us, when we summon up remembrance of things past, will recall a number of people who shaped our thinking and the paths we took in life. Willy couldn't have been much different from the rest of us.

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