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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What is the meaning behind Charley's statement to Willy about J. P. Morgan in Death of a Salesman?

"Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he'd look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked."

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This particular exchange between Charley and Willy reflects some of their fundamental differences between how reality is constructed and how people are valued.  For Willy, J.P. Morgan is valued above all because he was "impressive" and "well- liked."  Charley responds by suggesting that when Morgan was stripped from all of his wealth and trappings, he actually looked "normal" or nothing distinctive.  It is only with these trappings or "pockets" that he becomes "well- liked."  It is this reference point in which the "Turkish bath" line is suggested.  For Charley, external constructions of individual identity are simply that- external.  They are not "real."  Yet, for Willy, he believes that such elements do consist of reality. He believes that the more trappings of wealth, social prestige and respect that one features, the greater value their being has.  It is in this where there is a difference between both men.  Charley tends to look at the more permanent elements and lasting elements of one's identity, while Willy believes that the external is the real.  This is the context of characterization that frames the quote in the drama.

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