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WILLY: Oh, I’ll knock ‘em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.
[They move onto the forestage]
LINDA: Oh, don’t be foolish.
WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.
LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy.
[Willy moves to the edge of the stage. Linda goes into the kitchen and starts to darn stockings.]
WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. (Act 1)
Willy contradicts himself by saying that he is both well liked and ignored, suggesting a gap between his hopes and the reality of his life. If he measures being successful by how popular he is, it looks like he might just be a total flop.
WILLY: Bernard is not well liked, is he?
BIFF: He’s liked, but he’s not well liked.
HAPPY: That’s right, Pop.
WILLY: That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That’s all they have to know and I go right through. (Act 1)
Willy's self congratulation and assertion that sheer popularity matters above all else is ironic in the context of Bernard's business success and Biff's failure. It shows that Willy's idea of what helps to make a person successful just might not match up with reality. Biff has nowhere near the reputation that Bernard does.
WILLY: You and Hap and I, and I’ll show you all the towns. America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ‘cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own. This summer, heh? (Act 1)
Despite evidence that Willy has few friends and is unsuccessful, he insists he's revered because of his fierce belief in the importance of popularity. While it's easy to criticize Willy for this belief, he does have something of a point. People who are well liked do seem to have certain advantages – doors tend to open a little more easily for people with good reputations. Unfortunately for Willy, though, he's not one of those people.