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WILLY: Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging from him, and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do. It’s who you know and the smile on your face! It’s contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! [He turns to Biff] And that’s why when you get out on that field today it’s important. Because thousands of people will be rooting for you and loving you. [To Ben, who has again begun to leave] And Ben! When he walks into a business office his name will sound out like a bell and all the doors will open to him! I’ve seen it, Ben. I’ve seen it a thousand times! You can’t feel it with your hand like timber, but it’s there. (Act 2)
Willy's timber analogy is used to convince Ben that even intangible success is real. Do you think this is true? How exactly do you measure success?
WILLY: Sure, sure. I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, musn’t he?
BEN: What are you building? Lay your hand on it. Where is it?
WILLY [hesitantly]: That’s true, Linda, there’s nothing. (Act 2)
Ben implies that physically tangible results are central to a definition of progress and success. He sees no true value in Willy's life as a salesman.
WILLY: ‘Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people? Do you know? When he died— and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of New York, New Haven and Hartford, going into Boston— when he died, hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral. Things were sad on a lotta trains for months after that. In those days, there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship and gratitude in it. Today it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear— or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore. (Act 2)
Willy feels his success is made real through his relationships with others. If he is well liked by all, then he will have truly made it. Unfortunately, he's having to face the fact that not many people really know him or care about him.