Charley’s Quality of A True Friend in Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller

Posted on January 2, 2012


            Death of A Salesman is a drama play written by Arthur Miller. The drama was published in 1949, consists of two acts and one epilogue called Requiem. The drama is mainly the playwright’s criticism for the American society. In 1949, America rejoiced an economic wealth in form of business company. It diminished individual workers and replaced them with industrial company. Willy Loman, the protagonist, is a salesman and has its own formula of success. He believes that by being salesman he never wants again. He imagines everybody will like him and his funerals will be attended by many of his colleagues. His inspiration was Dave Singleman, a man who “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…”. The drama presents dramatic irony in which Willy is not able to recognize his own flaws that leads him to commit suicide.

Among many characters presented by Arthur Miller, Charley’s contributionsto  the wholeness of Willy’s character is interesting because his voice is not silenced. To my mind, he and his son, Bernard, are the representation of “man as it should be”. Charley helps Willy to realize the reality surrounding Willy and his family. Furthermore, I believe that Charley represents the quality of a true friend. Charley is an outsider, he is just Willy’s neighbor. Yet he always supports Willy’s physics and financial problems.

According to Aristotle Ethics Book III, friendship is a virtue, or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary for living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” However, the book only covers friendship between men, women are not mentioned in the book. Aristotle divides friendship into three kinds on the basis of utility, pleasure and goodness. Willy and Charley’s relationship fulfil the three criteria of friendship. On the basis of utility, Charley is Willy’s neighbor so that they live in the same vicinity. Willy also seeks debts to Charley to pay his bills.

WILLY               Charley, look… (With difficulty) I got my insurance to pay. If you can manage it—I need a hundred and ten dollars.


WILLY               I’d draw it from my bank but Linda would know, and I…

Seen from pleasure aspects, Charley seeks for Willy to accompany him when he cannot sleep. Charley visits Willy’s home and decides playing cards together to take a break.

CHARLEY         (Sitting down at the kitchen table opposite WILLY) Couldn’t sleep good. I had a heartburn.


CHARLEY         Come on, let’s shoot. Tire you a little.

WILLY               (hesitantly) All right. You got cards?

CHARLEY         (Taking a deck from his pocket) Yeah, I got them. Someplace. What is it with those vitamins?

From the goodness aspects, Charley always warns Willy if Willy is doing something wrong. He hopes Willy let go the dissapointment of being a failure father and husband. He is vocal but gentle in reminding Willy to stay on the right track.

CHARLEY         Wait a minute, didn’t you hear the news?

WILLY               What?

CHARLEY         Don’t you listen to the radio? Ebbets Field just blew up.

WILLY               You go to hell! (CHARLEY laughs. Pushing them up.) Come on, come on! We’re late.

CHARLEY         (As they go.) Knock a homer, Willy! Knock a homer!

WILLY               (The last to leave, turning to CHARLEY) I don’t think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life.

CHARLEY         Willy, when are you going to grow up?

Other criteria of a true friend, according to Alex Lickerman, are as follows:

A true friend is consistently willing to put his friend’s happiness before friendship. A true friend will not lack of mercy to correct his friend when the friend is wrong. So does Charley. Charley also has the quality of being realistic, honest, a good listener, and a sharing fellow.

A true friend won’t ask his friends to compromise his principles in the name of friendship or anything else. When Willy ask Charley to lend him a hundred and ten dollars, Charley offers Willy an accounting job with fifty dollars a week. Willy refuses to accept because doing so would acknowledge Charley’s formula of success. Charley reminds that not everybody shold be attractive and well-liked by presenting the facts about the unattractive J.P. Morgan. However, Charley does not force Willy to agree with his belief. Instead, he wishes good luck to what Willy believes.

Hate the act, not the person; is one of th criteria of a true friend. Charley actually does not like Willy’s thoughts because Willy cannot accept the condition that Willy’s formula of success is wrong (“You been jealous of me all your life, you damned fool!”). However, Charley always willing to help Willy no matter how annoying Willy is. Charley feels pity of Willy and apparently this feeling always drag Charley to “watch Willy’s back”.

Live by the golden rule. Always treat a friend as he would want to be treated. Charley knows Willy does not like if Charley show off  his life achievements so that he seals his mouth up. In fact, Charley is a successful businessman, respected and adored. Charley is a humble man who never shows such attainments. The characteristic is inherited by Bernard who gains his success as a lawyer. Both Charley and Bernard never exaggerate this achievement.

CHARLEY         (An arm on BERNARD’s shoulder) How do you like this kid? Gonna argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.

BERNARD         (Protesting) Pop!

WILLY               (Genuinely shocked, pained, and happy) No! The Supreme Court!

BERNARD         I gotta run, ‘By, Dad!

CHARLEY         Knock ‘em dead, Bernard!

(BERNARD goes off)

WILLY               (As CHARLEY takes out his wallet) The Supreme Court! And he didn’t even mention it!

CHARLEY         (Counting out money on the desk) He don’t have to—he’s gonna do it.

As a good friend, Charley does not humiliate Willy although Charley has higher social status than Willy. Charley gives great respect to Willy.

WILLY               Did you see the ceiling I put up in the living- room?

CHARLEY         Yeah, that’s a piece of work. To put up a ceiling is a mystery to me. How do you do it?

As seen in the dialogue above, Charley is praising Willy because of Willy’s capability of putting up a ceiling. At the requiem act, Charley remember Willy as “a happy man with a batch of cement.”

To sum up, all of the criteria of a true friend above represent parts of what is called loyalty. Charley’s friendship to Willy can be categorized as loyal because it stays firm no matter what the circumstances between the two.

CHARLEY         Good luck.

WILLY               (On the verge of tears) Charley, you’re the only friend I got. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? (He goes out)



Kilcullen, R. (1996). Aristotle’s Ethics. Macquire University.             (

Lickerman, A. (2010). “What Makes A True Friend”. Psychology Today. Sussex: Sussex      Publishers, LLC. (  world/201002/what-makes-true-friend/).

wikiHow. How to Be A Good Friend. (

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