"Personal Attractiveness": A Dominant Motif in Death of a Salesman

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     Broadly speaking, a motif means recurring ideas or thoughts which act as a unifying idea. The most obviously dominant motif in Death of a Salesman is that a person must be well-liked. To Willy, this is the only purpose of man’s life and a person who is well-liked is already half way towards Godhood. Unknown vistas open out to a person and he can be a trail blazer. Willy’s ideal as a salesman was David Singleman who was so well-liked that he had only to pick up a phone and people would place a plentiful order with him.

      Willy also wants his sons (particularly Biff) to be well-liked and like a true son, this concept of being well-liked has found way through Biff's consciousness, too. Willy is so confidently obsessed with this concept that when Biff steals the football, instead of reprimanding him, Willy encourages Biff's approach by explaining to him that good marks in school don’t mean too much but “the man who creates a personal appearance is the man who gets ahead.” “Be liked and you will never want” he says.

      There are moments when Willy comes very near to realizing that people do not like him but Linda prevents him from any such self-discovery. Thus Willy’s illusion becomes his theory and philosophy of life. He imagines that Biff would succeed in obtaining money from Bill Oliver because Biff has so much of “personal attractiveness”.

      Ultimately, Willy’s expectation of being well-liked remains unrealized. He is a tremendous failure with Howard. He is counting on Biff’s being successful with Oliver. But Biff's failure convinces him of the failure of his philosophy. So he commits suicide. Yet Willy is not a man to accept his failure. He wants to convert it into success by committing suicide. He appears only pathetic. No one but the family members comes to his funeral.

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