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Miller's Death of a Salesman

In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman the character of Howard Wagner is simultaneously a villain and a somewhat sympathetic character. He is so completely oblivious to Willy's dilemma that the audience cannot help disliking him. But as Willy goes on in the office scene it becomes apparent that Willy's confusion of the personal and business worlds has placed Howard in a very awkward position. He feels no personal connection to Willy but--in Willy's view--this is Willy's principal claim on him. The exaggerated idea of the connection Willy had to Howard's father, the claims that rest on knowing Howard when he was a baby, and the idea of personal loyalty all put Howard on the spot in a way that is completely unfair. His pretended ignorance of Willy's situation, it quickly becomes clear, is a way of distancing himself from Willy--it is a strategy that is as transparent as going out to meet with 'people' who are waiting. The audience cannot help but feel sorry for Howard at being trapped by Willy and his sentimental talk.

But at the same time Willy has a perfectly good claim on the company and Howard's response is unethical. Yet by resorting to sentimental appeal, rather than to justice, Willy gives Howard a way out of what might be a much trickier problem. Howard does not wish to be trapped by Willy's sentimentality, but he also does not want to have to pay any attention to the fact that Willy has given his whole life to the company and that the company may owe him more than booting him out when he is no longer of any use to them. There is no doubt, of course, that Willy is not very useful. His problem with the wire recorder when Howard leaves the office is symbolic of Willy's being out of touch with the way business has changed and of his present inability to handle any pressure. Howard simply unplugs the machine. This abrupt, but perfectly sensible, approach to the problem is not, however, the best way to solve it. Unplu...

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Miller's Death of a Salesman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:38, March 22, 2019, from