Ben in Death of a Salesman: Character Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English from Mississippi State University. She holds a Mississippi AA Educator License.

Willy Loman's brother Ben is a minor yet important character in Arthur Miller's ''Death of a Salesman.'' Ben represents success, something Willy desperately wants to achieve; he also is a force that propels Willy towards his end. Updated: 06/18/2019

Who Is Ben?

Ben is Willy Loman's brother. He's already dead as the play begins, and he appears only in Willy's memories and reveries. Willy looks up to Ben and holds him up as an example to his sons Biff and Happy. 'The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he's rich!' Willy says.

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  • 0:04 Who Is Ben?
  • 0:25 Instant Riches
  • 0:59 Dreams and Reality
  • 1:56 Encouraging Words
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Instant Riches

The dream of instant riches, represented in the play by Ben, has done the Lomans no good. Ben was able to achieve success without putting in the years of hard work success typically requires, but Willy doesn't see Ben's success as the anomaly it was. Ben found diamonds in Africa, and he was a wealthy man when he died. Biff and Happy, perhaps buoyed by tales of their Uncle Ben, think they can follow the easy path to success as well. Biff in particular, with his propensity for theft, comes closest to Ben's practice of simply picking up diamonds.

Dreams and Reality

'It's who you know and the smile on your face! It's contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!' Willy says. Here, Willy presents his idea that being well-liked is the ticket to success.

Social contacts, as Willy learns when his career begins to disintegrate, are actually rather ephemeral. Ben's wealth originates from a solid commodity, diamonds, while Willy's livelihood hinges on being liked.

Willy recognizes the difference but fails to understand the significance. 'And Ben! When he walks into a business office his name will sound out like a bell and all the doors will open to him! I've seen it, Ben, I've seen it a thousand times! You can't feel it with your hands like timber, but it's there!'

Encouraging Words

Contemplating suicide, Willy sees the life insurance policy, a 'guaranteed twenty-thousand-dollar proposition', as a way to achieve in death the success that has eluded him in life. Willy discusses the matter with Ben, who is at first rather noncommittal about the plan. 'You don't want to make a fool of yourself. They might not honor the policy,' Ben points out.

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