The Meaning of Success in Death of a Salesman

Hanifa Rahmawati
Brawijaya University

The term success always creates many perceptions. It is based on individual’s thought toward the terms of success itself. Success is often described as when we can achieve certain purpose that we are expected. But the problem is usually people are never satisfied of what they have achieved. In this essay, I will analyze and discover the meaning of this term from the characters’ perspective in Death of a Salesman. Generally, every character has his or her own assumption toward the term of success.
In Willy’s perception, as well as in the point of view of Happy and Biff, success is the measurement whether someone has been gained his or her target. As Willy is not able to gain his target, in this case he is only a travelling salesman, he thinks that he has not successful yet. Another reason why Willy thought that he has not successful yet is because as a salesman, Willy sells unspecific goods so he cannot get the buyers efficiently. This condition is the opposite of Willy’s father’s condition. He was a salesman as well, but he actually produced what he sold specifically so he can get the buyers efficiently. Willy’s father was also a successful salesman, according to Ben, Willy’s brother. While Willy thinks that he has not successful yet, his son, Happy, has a steady job in New York. Theoretically, he has been successful. Contrary to Happy, Biff, Happy’s elder brother, has never held a steady job, and his habitual stealing from employers seems largely to be the reason for this failing. Biff is totally failed to be a successful man because he cannot gain his target, according to his perception toward the meaning of success itself.
Linda as the Willy’s wife has a different perspective engaged to the term of success. She thought that success is when someone has endeavor for something, no matter whatever the result. It is proven when she says to her husband that he is a good provider. It shows that Linda admires her husband even though he is only a traveling salesman. She does not measure Willy’s worth in terms of his professional success. Linda actually is more realistic than Willy in which Willy is obsessed to be “well-liked” too much, or want to be a perfect person especially in the case of job. Moreover, Linda is satisfied with what Willy can give her. She always loves him even though he is only a salesman, a kind of job that many people think is an unaffordable job for a family. She thought that Willy is a successful man because he has been working hard for his family.
As what I said above about the meaning of success each based on the characters’ perspective, that is not without reason. Here I will quote the evidence from the characters.
Biff: I tell ya, Hap, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know—what I’m supposed to want.
Happy: What do you mean?
Biff: Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future. (page 10-11)

That is the conversation between Happy and Billy. Those conversation shows Biff’s efforts trying to work himself up after high school. Biff thought that he is not successful yet because he is still not satisfied and cannot reach his target yet.
Willy: But I gotta be at it ten, twelve hours a day. Other men—I don’t know—they do it easier. I don’t know why —I can’t stop myself—I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words. One thing about Charley. He’s a man of few words, and they respect him.(page 24)
That is the quotation of Willy which says that he is worse than Charley, his successful businessman neighbor. Willy thinks that he is too much talking while Charley is a man of few words and everyone respects him. It shows that Willy is not confident with himself in his job. He thinks that he is not a successful man, unlike Charley.
Linda shows her admiration toward her husband and her opinion about success that is not the matter of a result but the most important one is about the endeavor of someone, through this quotation:
Linda: But you’re doing wonderful, dear. You’re making seventy to a hundred dollars a week. (page 23)
Linda: Willy, darling, you’re the handsomest man in the world— (page 24)
Linda: To me you are.[Slight pause.] The handsomest. [From the darkness is heard the laughter of a woman. Willy doesn’t turn to it, but it continues through Linda’s lines.](page 24)
Linda: And the boys, Willy. Few men are idolized by their children the way you are. (page 24)
Those quotation shows that Linda loves, respects, and admires her husband very much since he has been working hard for his family even though with not too much result as a travelling salesman. That is her impression about the term of success itself that is point to the process and effort, not only the result.
From those analysis that I applied about the term of success through the characters’ perspective toward success itself, I can conclude that everyone has his or her own right to define what success is. Through his or her judgment about the term of success itself, it can be such kind of motivation to achieve the success meaning based on his or her own perspective in life.

Miller, Arthur; 1998; Death of a Salesman; United States of America: Penguin Book.…/death-of-a-salesman.html


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