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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Why does Willy mention Dave Singleman when asking Howard if he can stop traveling in Death of a Salesman?

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This of course is a highly significant scene as it comes as Willy gets fired by the company that he has worked for for so long. Willy refers to Dave Singleman as he is a deeply important figure for Willy, and inspired him to become a salesman in the first place. Dave Singleman, to Willy, captures the essence of being a travelling salesman. He workes until the age of 84 successfully earning his living as a salesman and was immensely popular. Note how Willy was struck by meeting Dave Singleman:

And when I saw that, I realised that selling was the greatest career a man could want. 'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?

Not only does Dave Singleman therefore represent the reason why Willy went into his particular profession, but he also represents the way in which being a travelling salesman has changed. Back then, Willy tells Howard, it was all about "personality," with the opportunity to "bring friendship to bear." Now, as the efficient, slick and ruthless way with which Howard treats Willy amply demonstrates, it is "all cut and dried." Again we have another example of Willy being unable to accept the reality of the present and looking back to a brighter and better past.

Let us remember that at this stage in the interview Willy senses that things are going badly for him and he is fighting for his job. As he tries to engage a "barely interested" Howard in what he is saying, he reveals his own inspiration and role model for becoming a salesman, who was Dave Singleman. Note what he tells Howard about this legendary figure (to Willy at least):

And he was eighty-four years old, and he'd drummed merchandise in thirty-one states. And old Dave, he'd go up to his room 'understand, put on his green velvet slippers--I'll never forget--and pick up his phone and call the buyers, and without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, he made his living. And when I saw that, I realised that selling was the greatest career a man could want.

Of course, it is Dave Singleman who gives the play its title, as it was his death that brought "hundreds of salesman and buyers" to his funeral and made things "sad on a lotta trains for months after that." Dave Singleman thus represents the personal side of sales, which is in direct contrast to the impersonal reality of sales that Willy is confronting now. In his own words to Howard, it is "all cut and dried" and there is no room for "friendship." Of course, the massive irony of Dave Singleman is that Willy's "death of a salesman" is completely different to Dave's. Willy dies unremembered, apart from his family, and represents a victim of the capitalist system rather than a hero.

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In Death of a Salesman, why do you think Willy told Howard the story about Dave Singleman?

Dave Singleman's story is important for two specific reasons. It firstly introduces the tendency that Willy has to mythologise individuals and it secondly represents a life lived according to the principals of the American Dream, that Willy himself is trying so hopelessly to replicate.

Clearly, the way in which Willy mythologises certain individuals can be seen to be part of his skewed perception of the world. He refers to Dave Singleman as if he were a legend and believes that his death must have been something that would have been incredibly noble and beautiful. However, he seems blind to the loneliness of Singleman's death, not being able to recognise the way that dying whilst on-the-road would be a very sad way of ending your life. Through idolising Dave Singleman, Willy seems to deliberately commit himself to achieving the American Dream which is shown to be nothing more than a Dream, as Willy actually dies without leaving any form of legacy and in addition dies in a pathetic manner.

Telling Howard the story about Dave Singleman shows how hopelessly romantic Willy is about his profession, and of course indicates the massive conflict that is occuring between Howard's pragmatic, rather mercenary approach to sales and the romantic idea that Willy has of it.

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