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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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What does Willy's quote "be liked and you will never want" mean in Death of a Salesman?

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In Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman", Willy's quote "be liked and you will never want" reflects his belief that success is tied to popularity. He thinks that being liked facilitates professional success, particularly in sales. However, two flaws emerge in this philosophy. First, despite his likability, Willy's inability to meet the physical demands of his job leads to his downfall. Second, he fails to apply this principle to his family life, resulting in a troubled relationship with his wife and sons.

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Willy's point is that success (not being "in want") is based on getting other people to like you. As a salesman, he has to be the typical gladhander, conveying an amiable personality in order to make a sale. He evidently has been very good at this throughout his career—or most of it, at any rate.

There are two problems, however, with his analysis of how to succeed in business and in life. What we see in the play is that as the aging process catches up with him, Willy can no longer keep up with the physical demands of his job. Regardless of how well-liked he's presumably been in the company, he's no longer useful to it, and his boss, Howard, won't transfer him to a new position that would be easier for him. Howard is more interested in playing with his tape recorder than in doing something to help a longtime servant of the firm when the man is in distress and his life is falling apart. So Willy becomes a reject, a cast-off of the system.

The second problem is that Willy evidently hasn't understood that his maxim about being liked should apply to his family as well as to the business world. He mistreats his wife, and his sons grow up resenting him, disillusioned with their father and the world of "success" he thinks he represents. As we see Willy's life in flashback, the crucial moments are ones in which he acts in ways that cause him to be disliked. The failures of his family life exacerbate his despair, and he sees no escape other than suicide.

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Willy Loman, in Arthur Miller's play "The Death of a Salesman", states the following: "be liked and you will never want."

Basically, what Willy is saying here, is no different from how people are regarded today--62 years later. People who are liked get more out of those who like them. Whether it is sales (like Loman) or friendship. It is simply easier to do something, to help someone out, when you like them.

Here, Loman is simply stating the facts in life. During a conversation with his wife, Linda, Willy is simply stating that he cannot understand how he cannot make the sales he so desperately needs.

Later, in Act One, the quote in question appears:

the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want." Act 1, Part 3

Willy understands that the man who makes himself known, the man who, in essence, "plays the part", is the man who will be liked by all others. In the end, when one is liked by others, it is simply easier to get what they need from them.

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During one of Willy's flashback scenes, he remembers an enjoyable moment with his adolescent sons, Biff and Happy. When Bernard comes over to Willy's home, he reminds Biff that he needs to study for his upcoming test in Mr. Birnbaum's class. Willy dismisses Bernard's concerns and asks his sons if Bernard is well-liked. When Biff and Happy tell their father that Bernard is liked but not well-liked, Willy responds by saying that they will make it five times further in life because they are built like Adonises and have likable personalities. Willy tells his sons,

Be liked and you will never want. (Miller, 21)

Willy's comment seems to be his motto in life, and he truly believes that, in order to be successful and attain the American Dream, a person must have a likable personality.

Willy's flawed perspective of the world and his ignorance are also revealed in his comment. He neglects to take into consideration various positive character traits that are essential for one to become wealthy. He does not believe that dedication, hard work, persistence, and courage are the ingredients for success and finds it easier to believe that being well-liked is essential to attain wealth. Part of Willy's belief that being well-liked is the most important attribute of success stems from his occupation as a salesman. Since a salesman makes his commission from selling items or services, a positive personality is integral to one's success in the industry. Unfortunately, Willy fails to include the other essential character traits one must possess in order to become successful by America's standards.

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The phrase "Be liked and you will never want" is basically Willy Loman's credo of life. The premise is that your looks or what you represent to be, is more valuable than who you actually are as a person. Therefore, once you achieve a reputation and get people to like you, you will always be popular and people will always prefer you.

Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.

This so-called philosophy constitutes the construct that Willy has invented for himself, as well as for his children, which will dictate the choices and behaviors that they all later on. Willy claims to be thankful that his children were "born like Adonises", and places more weight on that than on his children's intellect, life skills, or even their behavior. This shows the shallow nature of Willy Loman as a person and as a parent. What Willy Loman does not seem to realize is that if only the visible and the superficial is what matters, then there is always the danger of losing such looks. 

We know that this plan does not work for anyone; not for Willy, nor for his children. The resulting product of all this is Biff, who has lost himself to Willy's ideal, and Happy who equally walks through life clueless as to what to do with himself.

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Willy's philosophy, in Death of a Salesman, is “be liked and you will never want.” How does this statement apply to the play?

Willy has the illusion that he is well-known and well-liked mainly because he knows many people. As a traveling salesman he has to be friendly, amusing, and entertaining. But all of his relationships are strictly business relationships. He only has one real friend in the world. That is his next-door neighbor who sympathizes with him and gives him financial help. As a salesman with cordial acquaintances all over New England, Willy is in danger of losing all of his so-called "friends" at one fell swoop if he loses his job. This happens all the time to people who get fired or who retire. They may come around to the places where they used to be welcomed and find that they are just in the way because the people they are trying to cling to are busy and preoccupied with their business concerns. The same phenomenon is observable when a man who has retired comes back to visit the people in the office where he used to work. He no longer speaks the same language as those who are still hustling to earn their livings. Typically, this retiree will sit there for a little while and then get up and leave, never to come back, even if he worked in that place for half his life. 

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Willy's philosophy, in Death of a Salesman, is “be liked and you will never want.” How does this statement apply to the play?

Throughout the play, Willy believes, wholeheartedly, that the way to get ahead in life is to be liked. If you are liked, he believes, success will follow. In fact, being liked is more important than actual ability. At one point he tells his boys that he will be a greater success than Charley because whilst he is "liked," he is not "well liked," in comparison to Willy, who is liked. Note how this creed of Willy's is revealed in the following quote from Act I when he remembers Biff and how he was so popular at high school:

He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up. When he walked down the street… [He loses himself in reminiscences.]

It is clear from Happy and Biff and what they say that they, to a certain extent, have swallowed this doctrine of their father's as well, though Happy has done this to a greater extent than his brother. However, increasingly, as the play continues, it becomes clear that this is one of many beliefs that Willy has that are completely erroneous, and based more on his own delusions than reality. This becomes clear through the comparison between Biff and Bernard. Even though Bernard is not popular in school, it is Bernard who has become an immensely successful lawyer and it is Biff who has become, in the words of his father, a "bum." The success of other characters and the failure of Willy and his sons indicates that being "liked" and reputation is not the most important thing in the world. This is something that Biff comes to realise by the end of the play.

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In Death of a Salesman, why does Willy state that to be liked you will never want and the one who makes an appearance will get ahead?

This is Willy's philosophy for success that has developed through his career as a salesman, and the one he passes along to his sons, unfortunately. He believes (and with some reason) that a man has to sell himself first--to get in the door--before he can sell his product; he has to make a good appearance and be personally popular to compete. The most extreme example of Willy's philosophy in action is found in his relationship with The Woman in Boston. Willy charmed, romanced, and bribed her so that she wouldn't leave him waiting with the other salesmen in the outer office and would instead show him in immediately to the boss's office. There may be some truth in Willy's philosophy as it related to his occupation, but it proved to be shallow and limited.

Willy's faith in appearances does not serve his sons well. He fails to recognize the importance of integrity, education, and hard work in achieving success, and he does not pass these values along to Biff and Happy. At the end of his life, Willy does not understand why Biff's life has turned out to be such a failure, whereas Bernard has achieved enormous success. This is perplexing to Willy because Bernard had never been "popular" in school.

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