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.
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.
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!'
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.
Charley offers Willy a job, which Willy rejects in spite of his dire circumstances. Charley knows the reason. 'You been jealous of me all your life, you damned fool! Here, pay your insurance,' Charley says angrily, and hands him some money.
Willy's Only Friend
To his credit, Willy realizes that friends like Charley are hard to find. 'Charley, you're the only friend I got. Isn't that a remarkable thing?' This statement is more accurate than Willy imagined, as evidenced by Willy's funeral. Willy has related the story of Dave Singleman, a salesman who made Willy believe 'that selling was the greatest career a man could want.' Willy says that 'when he died, hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.'
Willy imagines such a funeral for himself, yet Charley is the only friend who attends.
Despite his many flaws, Charley finds something to admire in Willy Loman. After Willy's suicide, Charley speaks of the dreams of a traveling salesman. 'He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine,' Charley says. 'And when they start not smiling back - that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.'
Charley shows himself to be a true friend to Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Charley effortlessly achieves the success that eludes Willy. Willy is jealous of Charley and resents his and his son Bernard's success from hard work. Bernard, unlike Willy's sons, has found success and is now a lawyer.
At the same time though, he recognizes the friendship Charley has offered him through the years. Charley, despite foul treatment, continues to loan Willy money and even offers him a job, which Willy declines out of pride. At Willy's funeral, Charley speaks admiringly of the dream Willy followed and the courage it takes to overcome the hardships inherent in a career as a traveling salesman.
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