This article argues that Death of a Salesman takes as its context a tapestry of ideals about American manhood that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and seeped into Willy's self-perception as uncritically absorbed articles of faith. These ideals prevent him from achieving fulfillment while stunting his sons' psychological growth. Willy's pantheon of male heroes includes his father, his brother Ben, and Dave Singleman, figures who have in common wanderlust, perfect self-reliance, and the freedom to thrive in an all-male universe. Willy and his sons cannot fulfill their culturally constructed understanding of masculine success without becoming, like Willy's male heroes, essentially if not literally single men. It is for this reason that the Loman men collapse women into two categories: they are either “strudel”—sexual objects to be consumed—or saintly mothers; both exist to prop up the male ideal, which, if fully achieved, permits the male to discard them.

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