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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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In Death of a Salesman, why is Ben a symbol of success to Willy?

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Ben is seen as a success because he is everything that Willy is not.  Ben is adventuresome, larger than life, and above all, rich.  Ben accomplishes what he sets out to do and is depicted in Willy's mind as someone that is able to bend life to his own will.  This is not Willy, by any stretch of the imagination.  Willy's imaginative conversations with Ben help to enhance the apotheosized image of the older brother in the younger brother's mind.  In this light, Ben does not have to endure the struggles that Willy endures and his statement of emerging from the jungle as "rich" confirms in Willy's mind that being like Ben, approaching life like him, and acting like him is what defines success.  Willy is the diametric opposite of Ben and this is what makes him envy and covet him more.  Ben is not shown in a realistic light because he is not a realistic vision.  Rather, Willy uses Ben as an idolized and idealized notion of the good.

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