In the play Death of a Salesman, the plot is affected by three minor characters: Ben, Charley and Howard. The minor characters help the story’s protagonist, Willy, develop extensively throughout the course of the play; therefore, they are key elements in the advancing story line. This story line blends and contrasts Willy’s closest companions, Ben and Charley. They represent two aspects of Willy’s ideals. Howard, Willy’s boss, functions in order to heighten the destruction of Willy’s dream.
The characters Ben, Charley and Howard are influential in the play’s outcome and help develop the main character, Willy.
Ben is a figment of Willy’s imagination who represents his idealistic view of prosperity. Ben is symbolic of the success of the American Dream. “when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich”(48). Ben earned his affluence without the help of an education or job.
Willy is continuously misled with delusion illusions of grandeur by Ben. “What are you building? Lay your hand on it. Where is it?”(86). Ben questions the success of Willy’s sales job and states that in order to be prosperous, one must physically touch it. Ben represents the success of the American Dream and functions in order to make Willy doubt the actions of hard work.
Charley is Willy’s closest friend and he displays the failure of Willy Loman’s ideals. He is a very realistic character who attempts to convince Willy that his goals are all wrong. “The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell”(97). Willy believes that in order to be a success, one must be well liked; therefore, Charley explains to Willy that good business will make someone prosperous. The failure of Willy’s ideals are again represented with his envious attitude towards Charley. “You been jealous of me all your life, you damned fool!”(98). Charley is successful due to hard work and this has angered Willy because it is contrary to his beliefs. The failure of Willy Loman’s ideals are apparent because of the success of his closest friend, Charley.
Howard’s character functions in order to represent the bitter reality from which the protagonists tries to escape. The reality of the situation is presented before Willy when he is fired by Howard. “No, but it’s a business, kid, and everybody’s gotta pull his own weight”(80). Howard explains to Willy that, contrary to his beliefs, the business world is a harsh environment void of compassion and preference. Howard increases the mood of the play when he reveals the desperation of Willy’s situation. “Sure, they’re only a hundred and a half. You can’t do without it”(78). Howard is very capable of purchasing the machine of which he speaks; however, Willy is far from being able to accomplish such a purchase. The impression of Willy’s failure is heightened through his dealings with Howard.
Through the actions of the minor characters in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman’s character develops throughout the play. These minor characters, Ben, Willy and Howard, are influential in the outcome of the story because they provide the reader with comparisons between themselves and the protagonist. Through their interactions, Willy’s character is able to evoke an emotional response from the reader; therefore, the minor characters are key in the developing plot. These interactions are associated with Willy’s delusions of grandeur which pertain to success and life.
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