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Charley in Death of a Salesman: Character Analysis

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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.

This lesson focuses on Charley, Willy Loman's neighbor in 'Death of a Salesman' by Arthur Miller. Charley is Willy's only friend, and he achieves the success that eludes Willy.

Who Is Charley?

Charley is Willy Loman's neighbor and only friend in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. He and Willy have a friendly relationship that is depicted in one scene when they are playing cards. Charley knows Willy well and seems to understand what drives him better than any of the other characters except perhaps for Linda, Willy's wife.

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  • 0:04 Who is Charley?
  • 0:25 Two Sides of the…
  • 1:38 Resentment
  • 2:15 A Friend in Need
  • 3:08 Willy's Only Friend
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Two Sides of the American Dream

Charley and his son Bernard possess none of Willy's bluster, yet they are more successful financially than Willy and his sons. Bernard has been a friend to Willy's sons Biff and Happy, and we see a flashback of him expressing great concern for Biff's future after he failed a high school math class.

When Willy runs into an adult Bernard at Charley's office, he is surprised by Bernard's success. Bernard has become an attorney, poised to argue before the Supreme Court, while Willy's sons have achieved little. Charley and Bernard have achieved success through hard work, while Willy and his sons, with all their big talk of achievement, have failed.

Willy condones his sons' immorality, bragging to Charley about the lumber the boys have brought him from a nearby construction site. Willy's son Biff also appears to suffer from kleptomania at work as well; he has been dismissed from several jobs because of theft. Charley knows that Biff and Happy are a product of their upbringing, so he expresses concern for them despite their actions. After Willy sends the boys to the construction site to get sand, Charley says, 'Listen, if they steal any more from that building, the watchman'll put the cops on them!'

Resentment

Willy resents Charley's quiet success. Willy boasts that he will own his own business someday, saying he will become 'Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not liked. He's liked, but he's not - well liked.' Willy's success as a salesman depends on being liked, so he places a high value on likeability.

Charley even owns a better refrigerator than Willy. After continuing problems with Willy's own refrigerator, he says to Linda, 'I told you we should've bought a well-advertised machine. Charley bought a General Electric and it's twenty years old and it's still good, that son-of-a-.'

A Friend in Need

As the play opens, Willy has experienced a wage reduction. He no longer receives a base salary; the Wagner Company pays him only if he is able to make a sale. As a result, Willy is behind on his bills, and he struggles to pay for repairs to his broken down possessions. He borrows money from Charley to cover his living expenses.

Willy is too old to travel anymore, and he is unable to cope emotionally with the continual rejection inherent in a sales job. When Willy asks his boss, Howard Wagner, to allow him to work in the New York office, Howard fires him. Willy naturally turns to Charley for financial help.

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