Death of a Salesman - Quotation Explained

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Death of a Salesman

The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress! (32, 23-24)
Death of a Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller that represents the postwar American living. The protagonist, Willy Loman – a salesman – is a peculiar character which portrays the feelings and ambitions of a man of that time. Despite being a person that lives of dreams, he has a realistic idea about achievements in life. Talking to his son Happy after a daydream about his brother Ben, Willy said: “The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress!” (32, 23-24). What did he mean by that?

If we analyze the sentence closely, it suggests that the world is a closed shell and if you open it you can find the natural wonders of it. However, to open the shell hard work is required, thus you can’t be lazy. Some of the story characters followed this metaphor but some others didn’t, heading to different endings. The most important to be analyzed are the cases of Ben, Willy and Biff.

Firstly, the case that inspired Willy to that statement. Ben is Willy’s older brother, who died recently and only appears in the story in the form of a daydream. The protagonist regards his brother as a man who worked hard and achieved success in life. He left home very young, went to a jungle in Africa and discovered a diamond mine, which made him rich. This is a literal synonym to the oyster metaphor: the jungle is the closed shell and the diamonds its natural wonders. Ben’s success, as Willy describes it, derived from his ambition and willpower - “The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! (…) and he’s rich!” (32, 21-23).

While Ben was being successful, Willy stayed in Brooklyn and chose the job of a salesman. He worked hard and actually had a period of his life when he was making lots of money. Willy bought some devices, moved by the American consumerism of that time. However, when he got old, he was not capable anymore to make much money and his...
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