Minor Characters' Impact on Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman

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Minor Characters' Impact on Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman

In the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman comes in contact with several characters, many of whom prompt him to examine his past as well as his conscience. Charley's son Bernard is such a character. Lacking dimension and depth of character, Bernard functions primarily as a foil to expose Willy's tragic and pathetic nature.

The other characters have no real interaction with Willy that would allow for development. During Willy's first flashback, Bernard appears only to remind Biff of the Regents exam. Willy refers to Bernard as a "pest" and an "anemic," and Biff mimics his father by saying that Bernard is "liked, but not well liked."
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Willy's predictions regarding Bernard are proven wrong later in the play. Bernard is successful; he is a respected lawyer preparing to argue a case before the Supreme Court. In the stage directions, Arthur Miller describes Bernard as "a quiet, earnest, but self-assured young man." When Willy meets him in Charley's office, Bernard is reserved and polite. Aware of the success that Bernard has obtained, Willy shows repect for him by calling him "a brilliant man." While he may be happy for Bernard's well-being, Willy can't help but be reminded of his son's failures. He even asks of Charley how it is that Bernard has accomplished such feats in spite of Charley's lack of interest. Charley hints that his son thrives because of this neglect.

If Bernard's characterization is flat, then it can be reasoned that his creation is for a singular purpose. Bernard is the symbol of success, which makes Willy's life all the more tragic for failing to recognize this. Because Bernard's actions are mainly directed towards Willy, Bernard can also be considered an extension of Willy's conscience. For example, when the two are in Charley's office speculating as to why Biff didn't finish school, Bernard mentions that Biff lost his initiative after he came back from Boston. This causes Willy to become angry and later to recall that night when his son discovered the affair. Here, Bernard acts as a catalyst, causing Willy to realize the
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