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The Link between Sports and Success in Death of a Salesman and Fences

The Link between Sports and Success in Death of a Salesman and Fences

Sports have become one of the most dominant elements in society. Today sports are an integral part of lifestyle, entertainment and leisure. Sports have become an outlet for success and prestige. The recurring emphasis on sports appears in both Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and August Wilson’s Fences. While Death of a Salesman portrays sports as a means to popularity and subsequent success, Fences portrays sports negatively, discouraging sports, in spite of an unmistakable talent.

Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the tragic account of the demise of a meager salesman, Willy Loman. Willy is passively nearing the end of his career and life. His two sons, Biff and Happy show little remorse or pity for Willy, despite his obvious senility. When Biff borrows a football from his coach to practice passing, Willy encourages him: “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative!” (Miller 30). Willy erroneously praises Biff, not realizing that such affirmation could deceive Biff. Later, as Biff awaits an appointment with a prominent businessman, he feels compelled to steal his fountain pen, “I don’t know, I just—wanted to take something”(Miller 104). Such incidents set a precedent for Biff, eventually leading to his lackluster professional status. Willy once again deludes Biff as he mistakenly deters him from his studies. When Bernard reminds Biff, that in order for Biff to graduate, he must study his math, Willy initially agrees and encourages Biff to study: “You better study with him, Biff. Go ahead now”(Miller 32). When Biff confidently shows Willy his sneakers, on which he printe…

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…troubles with theft persist. On the other hand, Cory joined the marines and has advanced to corporal.

As Miller and Wilson revealed, athleticism is not always analogous with success. Willy regarded Biff highly because he observed Biff’s presence and athleticism, and he believed these qualities would result in immediate success. Today many parents associate sports with success and therefore pressure their children to excel in sports. In today’s society it is very rare that fears of discrimination would cause children to not pursue a lucrative career in sports. Both Miller and Wilson knew the impact of sports on family dynamics, and how sports have evolved from a leisure time activity to a full-time commitment. Clearly, many of the qualitative aspects of sports–competition, teamwork and physical dexterity can contribute to being a success in almost any career.

Reality and Illusion in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Reality and Illusion in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, a major theme and source of conflict is the Loman family’s inability to distinguish between reality and illusion. This is particularly evident in the father, Willy Loman. Willy has created a fantasy world of himself and his family. In this world, he and his sons are men of greatness that “have what it takes” to make it in the business environment. In reality, none of them can achieve this greatness until they confront and deal with this illusion.

Willy is convinced that being well liked is the key to success, exclaiming “Be liked and you will never want…” (Klotz, A 1998). It is unclear whether Willy’s “flashbacks” of past business relationships are remembering when he was once well liked or simply imagining he was. However, simply the fact that it is no longer true reflects upon his inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This eventually brings about Willy’s death. He has imagined that he is worth more dead than alive and the insurance money from his death will be the catalyst for Biff’s success.

Willy has also blinded himself regarding the success, or lack of success, of his sons. He believes Hap to be an “assistant to the director” at his job, but Hap’s position is barely influential, if at all. He has elevated Biff’s past employment experience with Oliver to that of a leading salesman, when in reality he was simply a shipping clerk.

Another significant theme that occurs throughout the play is that it is ok to be dishonest when it suits their purposes. Willy continues to send his sons mixed signals on this issue. This began with Willy finding …

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…he old stockings.

The woods and jungle constantly referred to by Willy and Ben seem to represent the struggle of life. The “diamond” in the jungle is the reward at the end of the struggle, which would be the materialistic success for which Willy is constantly striving. However, Linda makes the last house payment on the day Willy’s funeral, which represents the futility of that struggle. Willy’s final act of suicide is symbolic as well but it is not known whether his suicide is an act of cowardice or a last sacrifice on the altar of the American dream.


Klotz, A. , with Richardson. Arthur Miller “Death of a Salesman”. Literature, seventh. St. Martin’s Press. (1998). pp. 746 – 822.

Klotz, A. , with Richardson. (1998). W. H. Auden “The Unknown Citizen”. Literature, seventh. St. Martin’s Press. pp. 448 – 449.

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