In the play, Death of a Salesman, the playwright intertwines minor characters into the story to inherently change the development of the protagonist Willy Loman. Willy’s wealthy brother, Ben, undertakes a subordinate persona in Willy’s conscience that significantly affects Willy’s character and the course of his actions. Although Ben is only seen occasionally throughout the story, his presence is significant and serves as an ideal persona in Willy’s psyche that Willy always strives to become.
Despite the fact that Ben is deceased, his appearances in Willy’s flashbacks and memories continuously haunt Willy of this disillusioned sense of the “American Dream” and this conviction drives him to his demise by the end of the novel.
Ben not only represents Willy’s incompetency in achieving the life he desires but also becomes a character showing Willy’s strife and bitterness that accumulated from all of his past regrets and failures.
Although Ben’s appearances seems coincidental and part of the plot’s progression, Ben’s presence demonstrates the state of Willy’s mind.
At the start of the play, in the scenario in which Ben first appears, Willy’s frustration in not being able to be successful in his work ultimately leads to the appearance of Ben. Willy searches for a solution to his problem of being a failure at what he does in life by asking Ben questions like “How did you do it?” and “What’s the answer?” (Miller pg. 32). The significance of this flashback is that it reveals the first sign of Willy’s desire to achieve the same amount of success as Ben and Willy praises him for his accomplishments.
Read about the significance of the jungle
Furthermore, late in the novel when Willy gets fired, he once again asks, “”how did you do it? What is the answer?” signifying even more of his biased view towards his failure and Ben’s success. In addition, when Ben states that he “walked into the jungle, and when [he] walked out… [he] was rich” Willy immediately believes Ben’s method as a way of achieving success with the least amount of effort (Miller 33). Ben’s words seem to be so “golden” to Willy that Willy goes to the extent of forcing upon Ben’s method to his own son, Biff, as a substitute for his own failures and regrets from the past. However, since success comes from hard work and effort, Willy’s plan to mimic Ben’s method through Biff is destined to fail ,signifying Willy’s current state of mind to be delusional.
Every single appearance of Ben significantly played an influential role in which affected Willy’s actions throughout the story. In the scene when Ben meets Biff for the first time, Ben “suddenly comes in, trips Biff, and stands over him, [pointing] his umbrella over Biff’s eye” and says “never fight fair with a stranger” (Miller pg. 34).
Ben’s morals of taking advantage of people “drills” itself into Willy’s mind, making Willy believe that Ben’s ways are true and also adjusting his own morals as well. Willy’s first sign of his adjustment is exemplified when Willy tells his sons to “go right over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand” (Millers pg. 35). In addition, Willy states that “[Biff’s] not stealing anything…” revealing that Willy completely took Ben’s ideas and made them his own (Miller pg. 36). Willy accepts the fact that cheating is necessary to be successful and also teaches his own son. Furthermore, this scene not only reveals the Ben’s morals but also Ben’s misleading advices to Willy.
Towards the conclusion of the story, Ben’s heavy influence on Willy takes place when Willy is frustrated that Biff is incapable of holding a stable job. When Ben appears Willy proposes a proposition to Ben in which Ben significantly supports. After Willy’s and Biff’s fight, Ben says that Biff is “outstanding, with twenty thousand behind him” pushing Willy to make the decision to commit suicide (Miller pg. 106). This demonstrates how Ben’s influences have developed from morals to satanic advises. Although, Ben is a figment of Willy’s imagination, Ben’s character becomes the key role in Willy’s decision to kill himself and the push towards delirium.
Minor characters serve the purpose of supporting or influencing the protagonist of the story. Throughout Death of a Salesman, the roles of these subordinate personas are exemplified through Ben. Ben heavily contributes in the sequence of events that lead up to the important breakthrough, Willy Loman’s demise. Although Ben is a minor character, he symbolizes Willy’s struggle with his disillusioned “American Dream” which significantly represents Willy’s persona.
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