Essay, Research Paper: Death Of Salesman By Miller

Literature: Arthur Miller

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Thesis: In Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman, the character of Ben is used
as a catalyst to fuel the development of the main character, Willy. The
character of Ben in Arthur Miller’s, Death Of A Salesman, functions as a
catalyst to fuel the development of his main character, Willy. Miller uses Ben
as an idealistic figure for Willy. Ben is the figure that Willy strives to be
like throughout the story. By exploring Ben’s character, we develop a better
understanding of Willy’s character. We learn Willy’s personality and
character by looking at Ben’s actions and beliefs. Ben’s personal morals
become Willy’s rules of life. Throughout the story, Willy strives to be like
his brother. Ben’s character allows us understand the importance of living
one’s life by their own rules. His character helps us to understand that we
must play with the hand we are dealt. Life is too short to be playing someone
else’s hand. The contrast between Ben and Willy’s characters allows the
reader to recognize the importance of letting go of the past and not dwelling on
mistakes made or regrets. Willy is so eat up with his brother’s success and
the idea of living his brother’s life, that he loses control over his own life
and reality. Ben appears but three times throughout the story, first in a
flashback, second in a quasi-flashback where Willy has inserted him into a
scenario that actually happened, and finally in a complete hallucination.
Through a comparison and understanding of each of these occurrences, we are able
to gain vast knowledge of who Willy Loman actually is. These flashbacks and
hallucinations show how Ben’s character is used as a device to Taylor 2 allow
us to understand what is actually going on inside Willy Loman’s head. The
first time Ben appears is in a flashback within Willy’s mind. This flashback
is used as an interruption of Willy’s feelings of inadequacy about his present
situation. Willy has returned home from a selling trip, unable to concentrate
and unable to keep his mind in the present. Ben appears as a scapegoat for Willy
from his situation, a way for him to forget about his present condition and
feelings. This flashback with Ben provides us with a large amount of information
about himself, and thus about Willy. We learn first that Ben is a lot wealthier
then Willy, and that while they are brothers, they did not grow up together. We
also learn through the flashback that Willy idolizes Ben, though they have never
been close. “Ben! I’ve been waiting for you so long! What’s the answer?
How did you do it?(Miller 1938).” Obviously, Ben has achieved what Willy
wishes for. We find out that Ben has made a fortune by “walking into
Africa.” He has prospered by essentially using other people for what they can
give him. “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was
twenty-one I walked out. And by god he was rich(1939).” We learn a lot about
the character of Willy because he completely believes that this is an excellent
way to make money. He obviously does not believe that a person has to put in a
lot of hard work to achieve success, and that in fact Ben’s way is the way to
go. The flashback also illustrates a fight between Ben and Biff. Ben says,
“Never fight fair with a stranger(1939).” This shows us his morals and
values, that you cannot trust people, and that you should always take Taylor 3
advantage of people you don’t know. This also demonstrates the essence of
Ben’s character. He believes that you should take advantage of which you can
and use it for your own good in any way possible. Since Willy believes that Ben
is a good example of a success, he essentially believes in what he says and
believes that his boys should follow this. We have prior evidence that Willy
believes you should take advantage of people when he tells Biff not to worry
about his math, that Bernard will let him cheat off of him. This flashback
provides more then just basic character traits. It reinforces our view of Willy
as someone who tends to stretch the truth. At first we are told that Ben pleaded
with Willy to go to Alaska with him. Yet we soon see that this is not at all the
case, in fact rather the opposite. The second quasi-flashback has Ben placed
into a scene in Willy’s mind, when he was never actually there. Miller leads
us to believe before the original flashback that Ben only came once, as
evidenced in Charlie’s line “You never heard from him again, heh? Since that
time (1937)?” However, suddenly he is appearing in another scene, the same as
before. This is a demonstration of how Willy’s mind works, how he envisions
things as they might have happened, and then comes to actually believe them
until forced not to. For example, when he is telling Linda how much he sold, he
actually believes he sold more then he did. In his mind, if circumstances were
different, he would have actually sold that much. However, when confronted with
the truth, he backtracks and realizes. Ben is used again in Willy’s mind as a
scapegoat. He has just been fired, and Willy cannot deal with the truth. He
“remembers” a flashback that never actually happened, and is in fact talking
to Ben as he might if Ben Taylor 4 were actually there in the present. “Oh
Ben, how did you do it? What is the answer?” We can see that Willy is looking
towards his brother for help, for advice on how to make it in life. He is
feeling desperate with his current situation. The conversation is supposed to be
a flashback of the past, yet it makes sense that this conversation with Ben
actually takes place in the present as things he would have wanted to say to
Ben. Somehow, Willy has Linda enter the scene. She provides positive comforting,
telling Willy that his life is okay, that he’s well liked by his sons and
that, “someday . . . he’ll be a member of the firm(1957).” She provides
this as a description of what can happen after honest work, unlike Ben’s own.
Willy catches on and in fact begins to demonstrate that he did once believe in
himself, and actually did think he could make it. A further demonstration of
this is illustrated in a scene that has Willy completely sure of himself and of
his boys, the day of Biff’s big football game. Miller uses Ben as a device to
further the action, to move the play forward. Miller uses him as a way to
re-direct the play, to get Willy out of a situation and into another. After the
entire flashback sequence, the plot then shifts to Willy in Charlie’s office.
Charley represents everything that Ben is not. He is a decent, hard working
family man who has worked hard his life, and has achieved relative success in
his older age. The opposite of Ben, yet Willy still idolizes Ben, the man who
achieved immediate wealth. This can be tied to Willy’s profession as a
salesman. A salesman is someone who one specific day could achieve successes,
while other days not. Willy believes that this is the better way to do it, as
evidenced by his belief in Ben’s method. Taylor 5 The third time Ben appears
is in a complete hallucination of Willy’s. He appears completely within
Willy’s mind, someone Willy is talking to about his decision of suicide. Ben
is used to provide support for his decision. Willy becomes Ben in the last
scene. We are able to view through him the final internal struggle that Willy
goes through in his own mind, leading up to his suicide. Ben provides
justification for Willy that he should commit suicide. Ben is a very
materialistic person. He believes that money will do children better than love
and support. He tries to persuade Willy into believing that insurance money
would be better for his family than his love. We see that Willy is struggling
with this idea, trying to find some way to provide for his boys. The scene is
halted, Willy goes on to find out that Biff loves him, “- he likes me
(1981)!” Immediately upon discovering this, Ben re-appears, stating that yes,
Biff will be outstanding “with twenty thousand behind him(1982).” At this
point, it has all been decided in Willy’s mind. He is going to do it, and he
is going to provide his sons with money by killing himself. Through his
discussion with Ben we can see the struggle he goes through to reach his
decision, and yet we see how much he wants it. Willy does not see this as an end
to his own life, but rather the only thing he has left to do in his life that
can provide for his sons. It is evident throughout the whole story that all
Willy wanted was for his family to be happy. Ben is essentially Willy’s role
model throughout the play and acts as someone who has achieved the true essence,
in Willy’s mind, of the “American dream.” He is someone who came out of a
jungle rich at 21. Ben is also used in a large part to contribute to the overall
theme of the novel. Taylor 6 Biff states at the end during his father’s
funeral “he had all the wrong dreams(1984).” Perhaps this is true of Willy
Loman. He was so caught up in achieving the “American Dream”, and achieving
Ben’s life, that he was unable to see that the dream was different for
everyone. He was unable to see who he was and to choose realistic goals for
himself. Ben was used by Miller to provide the guiding light for Willy
throughout the entire play. Through exploration of Ben’s character, we are
able to answer questions as to who Willy is. We can conclude that had Ben never
been present, Willy’s life might have ended different. He would not have
idolized this foreign man, perhaps choosing more realistic goals and dreams for
himself. Ben’s character is used as a goal for Willy to strive for. In the
process, as outsiders, we learn the importance of being proud of who you are and
what you have accomplished. Willy never experiences this because he is too busy
trying to be like his brother. Miller uses Ben’s character as a role model for
Willy. Through his three appearances in the novel, we are given a chance to view
Willy and his interactions with Ben, and his total belief that Ben is a hero. He
believes that his boys should be like Ben, which proves that he believes in
Ben’s own self-centered morals about how to get ahead. Ben is such a
significant presence in the novel because Willy is constantly chasing him; he is
constantly running to catch up to his brother. Even when Ben is just an
hallucination in Willy’s mind, Willy believes in him fully. Ben allows for
Willy’s character to develop.
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