Death Of Salesman By Miller Thesis: In Arthur Millers, 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 Millers, 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 Bens character, we develop a better understanding of Willys character.
We learn Willys personality and character by looking at Bens actions and beliefs. Bens personal morals become Willys rules of life. Throughout the story, Willy strives to be like his brother. Bens character allows us understand the importance of living ones 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 elses hand. The contrast between Ben and Willys 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 brothers success and the idea of living his brothers 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 Bens character is used as a device to Taylor 2 allow us to understand what is actually going on inside Willy Lomans head.
The first time Ben appears is in a flashback within Willys mind. This flashback is used as an interruption of Willys 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! Ive been waiting for you so long! Whats 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 Bens 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 dont know. This also demonstrates the essence of Bens 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 Willys mind, when he was never actually there. Miller leads us to believe before the original flashback that Ben only came once, as evidenced in Charlies 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 Willys 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 Willys 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 hes well liked by his sons and that, “someday . . . hell be a member of the firm(1957).” She provides this as a description of what can happen after honest work, unlike Bens 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 Biffs 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 Charlies 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 Willys 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 Bens method.
Taylor 5 The third time Ben appears is in a complete hallucination of Willys. He appears completely within Willys 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 Willys 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 Willys role model throughout the play and acts as someone who has achieved the true essence, in Willys 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 fathers 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 Bens 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 Bens character, we are able to answer questions as to who Willy is. We can conclude that had Ben never been present, Willys life might have ended different. He would not have idolized this foreign man, perhaps choosing more realistic goals and dreams for himself. Bens 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 Bens 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 Bens 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 Willys mind, Willy believes in him fully. Ben allows for Willys character to develop.