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Howard Wagner in Death of a Salesman: Character Analysis

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  • 0:04 Inherited Business
  • 0:32 The Wagner Company
  • 1:05 The Meeting With Howard
  • 2:16 Business Is Business
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In Arthur Miller's Death as a Salesman, Willy Loman has worked for the Wagner Company as a salesman for 34 years. Willy has imagined himself important to the company and hopes that his boss, Howard, has some loyalty towards him.

Inherited Business

In the play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Willy Loman has spent 34 years working for the same company. He views himself as indispensable, but his self-assessment is overinflated. Howard Wagner, Willy's boss, inherited the business from his father. He tolerates Willy as long as he doesn't cause any problems but feels no real loyalty to this man that helped build the business from the ground up. Let's learn more about Howard.

The Wagner Company

When Willy first began working for the Wagner Company, he had a great deal of respect for the owner, Mr. Wagner. He does not feel the same way about Mr. Wagner's son, Howard. Willy remembers when Howard was born and claims to have helped name him.

How much loyalty does a company owe its employees after 34 years of service? Willy's wife, Linda, thinks it is time for Willy to ask for a non-travelling job after having several car accidents. Since Willy is in his sixties, she believes it is time for him to slow down.

The Meeting with Howard

When Willy shows up at Howard's office to discuss the situation with him, Howard is distracted by his latest gadget, a wire recorder. Willy can hardly get his attention because Howard is consumed by his new toy. Howard says, ''I bought it for dictation, but you can do anything with it. Listen to this. I had it home last night. Listen to what I picked up. The first one is my daughter. Get this…. Listen to that kid whistle.''

Howard portrays his insensitivity as he repeatedly tells Willy how much he needs a wire recorder. For a man like Willy, something like this would cost several weeks' salary. Willy claims he will get one for himself, but the audience knows that would not be possible. Willy's just trying to get Howard to be quiet so he can ask for a new position and a loan.

After several minutes, it occurs to Howard that Willy is supposed to be on a sales job in Boston. In Howard's less than sensitive manner he asks, ''You didn't crack up again, did you?'' When Willy explains that he wants to stop traveling, Howard tries to let him down easy. He claims, ''…there just is no spot here for you. If I had a spot I'd slam you right in, but I just don't have a single solitary spot.''

Business is Business

Willy offers to cut his salary nearly in half. He pleads to Howard's sense of compassion since he's given 34 years to the company, but to no avail. Howard just says, ''…business is business.'' Willy becomes uncharacteristically pushy, claiming he made lots of money for the company back in 1928. Howard tells him is numbers are off. When Willy continues to press, Howard fires him.

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