Death of a Salesman Questions and Answers
by Arthur Miller

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"Willy's story in Death of a Salesman is that of a common man devoted to,and ultimately defeated by,a false system of values." Do you agree? Arther Miller

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I don't agree entirely that Willy Loman is devoted to a false system of values that corrupts and destroys him unless we are talking about his dedication to his own fantasies, which play upon/mimic the value system associated with material success in America.

Willy shouldn't have been a salesman because he doesn't have the skills to deal with people. He is a failure because he is no good at what he has chosen to do. His fantasies certainly align with the generalized American fantasy of being wealthy and powerful and respected. However, I think that in this play we should look at the value system represented by this shared fantasy as being simply a convenient mode of acquiring respect.

Willy is utterly afraid that his life has no meaning because he does not have the respect of his neighbors, his boss, or his children. The only way he can represent the idea of respect, to himself and to others, is through the langauge of capitalism and material success.

Does this mean he is dedicated to material success? Dedicated to the idea that only wealth can create self-respect and esteem? Maybe it does, but, personally, I don't think so. He is a man dedicated to achieving some semblance of respectability but who has absolutely no vehicle for doing so.

The fact that his delusions take on the aspect of conventional success is only symptomatic of his larger failure - his life-long journey on a path that offered no possibility of success of any kind.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I agree with the premise, but Willy was guilty of expecting fulfillment of both his own dreams and the promises of others. In life, things do not always work out as we hope. Children don't always grow up to a parent's satisfaction, and hard work and dedication don't always satisfy the boss. Willy learned the hard way that life isn't fair, something he should have realized at some time during his own years of struggle.

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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is acceptable to conclude that Willy's story in Death of a Salesman is that of a common man devoted to, and ultimately defeated by, a false system of values.

Willy builds his personal system of values based on the success and experiences of another man, salesman Dave Singleman. Infatuated by Singleman's sudden rise to fame and fortune in a relatively easy way, Willy usesSingleman's life story as a foundation to establish his own. Therefore, the false system of values to which Willy is devoted, and which ultimately defeats him, is nothing but Willy's own choice: He makes a goal to live his life like someone else, hoping to obtain the same results. That is his ultimate blunder.

As readers, we may agree that Willy limits himself tremendously by going after the life and dreams of Dave Singleman. Willy abandons his passion for nature, his love for building, even his parenting habits for the sake of chasing after a dream that had been already fulfilled by another person. To Willy, life is a constant race to obtain quick money, a hip reputation, and some form of control over everything and everyone. Nothing works out at the end. Willy ends his life as lonely as he lives throughout it. Dave Singleman's dream and Willy's false system of values end with Willy's natural life both psychologically, financially, physically, and emotionally.

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