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Free Barron's Booknotes-Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller-Free Book Notes
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THE CHARACTERS (continued)


Happy is 32, two years younger than Biff. Like his brother, Happy is an attractive and powerful man. The playwright comments that sexuality lingers on him like "a scent that many women have discovered." Hap's name suggests happy-go-lucky. He seems to have inherited his mother's good nature and acceptance of the way things are.

In the scenes from the past we see Happy doing everything within his power to get his father to notice him. He keeps up a vigorous routine of exercises, and his refrain as a boy is to ask his father whether he's noticed that he's losing weight. It's almost as though he's asking Willy whether he sees him at all.

In the present Hap has found a similar line. "I'm gonna get married, Mom. I wanted to tell you," he throws in at inappropriate times, desperate for attention. He's learned how to say what people want to hear, but neither of his parents takes him seriously. Linda says, "Go to sleep, dear," and Willy offers, "Keep up the good work."

On the face of it, the grown-up Happy appears to have achieved the things Willy wanted for his boys-a steady job, the social life of a popular single man, a car, and his own expensive apartment. However, Happy turns out to be a sham. Instead of a buyer, he is an "assistant to the assistant" buyer. He takes bribes from salesmen who want to do business with the company he works for. He seduces women in whom he has no real interest, especially women engaged to executives above him in the corporate structure. He confesses to his brother that he has "an overdeveloped sense of competition." He is lonely and longs for the chance to prove himself. He wants to meet a woman of substance like his mother. But he never will. He is a man without scruples and has no real desire to develop a life with values. He is generous enough to send his father to Florida for a vacation, but he isn't interested in spending time with him. By the end of the play it is clear that he is callous toward both his parents.

Hap abandons his father in the moments Willy is most distraught, saying to the girls he's picked up, "No, that's not my father. He's just a guy." It's no wonder Happy rejects his father after his father's lifetime rejection of him. But over his father's grave he exclaims, "...Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have-to come out number-one man." Happy seems fated to be another Willy.


Charley is a large, unimpressive man about Willy's age. He is Willy's neighbor and the father of Biffs schoolmate Bernard. Unconcerned about appearances, Charley first appears in pajamas and robe, when he comes over in the middle of the night to see why Willy's home.

Making clear that his play is not an attack on business in general, Miller writes that "the most decent man in Death of a Salesman is... Charley whose aims are not different from Willy Loman's. The great difference between them is that Charley is not a fanatic. Equally, however, he has learned how to live without that frenzy, that ecstasy of spirit which Willy chases to the end."

Charley stands in contradiction to everything Willy believes in. He is not concerned about being well liked, and says to Willy: "Why must everybody like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he'd look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked." Willy recalls Charley in the past, looking ridiculous in knickers his wife bought for him. Charley doesn't care about sports in the least. He has no ability with tools. His relationship with his son Bernard has been casual, and he has never given him advice. Charley isn't obsessed about the business world.

However, Charley is successful in business. To make money is as natural for him as carpentry is for Willy. Charley is prospering well enough that he can regularly lend Willy money which, although Willy assures him he's keeping strict accounts, Charley knows he'll never see again.

Charley is not threatened by Willy's abilities, which are different from his. He admires the ceiling, telling Willy that "to put up a ceiling is a mystery to me." He is stern about Willy's low standards of fair play, and impatient with his childlike dreams, urging Willy all through the years to "grow up." Charley is a realist. He knows that Willy doesn't much like or respect him, but that doesn't keep him from caring about Willy and seeing his good qualities. Despite Willy's rejection of his offers, Charley twice tells him that he could use him in his firm. In the final hours when he is reviewing his life, Willy recognizes what Charley has meant to him, and as he leaves Charley's office, stops to say with real feeling, "Charley, you're the only friend I got."

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