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The Character of Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman

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The Character of Uncle Ben in Death of a Salesman

The character of Ben in Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman serves a complex dramatic function.  He is Willy Loman's real brother, the idealized memory of that brother, and an aspect of Willy's own personality, and these distinct functions are sometimes simultaneous.  Through his aggressive actions and vibrant speech, the audience is given a strong contrast to Willy's self-doubt and self-contradiction.  In addition, the encounters between Ben and Willy serve as an extended examination of professional and familial morality.  Finally, Ben personifies the burden of Willy's expectations in regards to both material success and the proper role of a father.

The most fundamental of Ben's characteristics evident in his language is his haste.  Appearing in the middle of Willy and Charley's card game, Ben's first words are, "I only have a few minutes"  (45).  He makes his departure shortly after announcing, "I'll be late for my train"  (52).  During his second appearance, he declares, "I haven't much time" and "I've got to go"  (85-6).  These lines are emblematic.  In the two scenes with his brother that are based on Willy's memories, Ben comes and goes when he chooses, despite sometimes desperate pleas that he stay.  This is in direct contrast to Willy, whose life has been structured around appointments and whose livelihood depends on the forbearance of near strangers.

Because of his position as a traveling salesman, Willy never controls the parameters of his interaction with other people.  He calls upon customers and must depend upon their willingness to see him in order to make a living.  Willy's affair with The Woman is only partially motivated by a need for sexual fulfillme...

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...l Ben.  The briefness of these meetings also serves to convince Willy of his own inferiority by concealing any difficulties that might have existed in Ben's life.  Ben has exactly the wrong degree of interaction with Willy.  If he were entirely absent, he would not haunt his younger brother so.  If he were more fully present, he would either have been of more comfort to Willy, or have been revealed as a more fully human, less mythic character.  As it is, Ben serves only to remind him of his past loss, emphasize his current failure, and provide the means of his final destruction.

Works Cited

Centola, Steven R.  "Family Values in Death of A Salesman."  CLA Journal.  37.1 (1993):  29-41.

Jacobsen, Irving F.  "Family Dreams in Death of A Salesman."  American Literature.  47 (1975):  247-58.

Miller, Arthur.  Death of A Salesman.  New York:  Penguin, 1976.

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