Friday, August 29, 2014

The Importance of Being Liked

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller makes many points about America and our culture. This is undeniable. However, one thing I picked up on in reading over the text again, was Miller remarking on the relationships we as people hold with one another; more specifically, how it is important to be liked, but how shallow this can truly be. You see, with Willy Loman, you have a man who considers himself to be "liked." Now, it is evident that Willy is liked by his associates, but they aren't friends of his. In fact, Willy has one friend: his neighbor, Charley. Aside from that, his relationships are based off of work. Charley is the only real connection he has, and the only person who really sympathizes with Willy. As a popular salesperson in New England, Willy risks losing those who he is "liked" by with being fired. To him, he's losing the people who, while not his friends, treated him well, and gave him their utmost respect. In losing his job, he's losing the only small connection they hold.
Now, stepping back a bit to the idea of being like; Willy is very passionate about people liking him. He believes the only way to get ahead, to succeed, is to have people like you. This is more important to Willy than any actual skill set. He lets this out early on, when describing Biff in high school: "He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school? When he smiled at one of them their faces lit up" (Miller). There is an example in the play of how Willy's creed has led him down the wrong path, though. Remember Bernard, from Biff's high school? He was not so well liked, yet he became a successful lawyer. I think Miller uses this to point out the importance of what to focus on in life. Being liked is great, and it is a wonderful feeling when people are kind to you as a result of liking you, but it won't get you everywhere. Hell, it won't get you anywhere. You have to couple that with hard work, dedication, ambition, and securing a set of skills which allow you to succeed. 


  1. I'm glad you brought up Bernard! Bernard is funny because he's essentially used by Willy and Biff to further Biff's career in high school. They deem his intellect and work ethic as less important than Biff's chance to succeed. Bernard's school work could have suffered but they didn't care about that because he was a puny nerd. Fast forward to adult Bernard, the guy who has studied, applied himself and worked hard his whole life - he's not doing what they would consider work because it's all at a desk, it's not "manly" and yet he's happily married with a second son on the way. He's successful at work and seems as happy as one could be. Bernard is a great example of maybe not exactly what Biff (or Happy) could have been, but another path, when Willy makes it sounds like there's only one option.

  2. I'm really glad someone brought up this point. Willy always describes people's quality based on how liked people are, Charley, Bernard, etc. "He's liked, but not well liked" is a phrase Willy uses to describe people a few times throughout the play, and is constantly using how well liked he is to reassure himself that he's something special to both himself and the world around him. He thinks it will impress people and that everyone judges success based on the same criteria.

  3. I agree, look where Bernard's hard work brought him. It is very unfortunate that Willy wasn't more successful. He worked so hard for little credit. In todays world, "who you know" is very important but without the proper education it won't bring you far. It is sad that Willy let the idea of riches get in the way of his children's success.

  4. Cory,
    Thank you for reminding us about Bernard! He makes for an interesting comparison to Biff much as Ben does for Willy. What path should Biff (and Willy for that matter) have followed?