They depict the styles of two salesmen who have very similar selling techniques, but at the same time can be contrastingly different. Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, is often regarded as a tragic figure with whom the audience feels sympathetic. At the same time, his deceitful, dishonest, adulterous ways are despised. In addition to this, his over confident attitude seems supercilious and creates more of a disdain for the character as can be seen when he says “Goddammit, I could sell them! ” (Miller 1071). The same can be said as Mamet’s character, Shelly Levene, starts declaring how great of a seller he was.
Basking in his own light he boldly exclaims that his success as a salesman is due not to his luck but his skill”( Mamet 1419). Both characters often times talk about how back in the day they were great assets of the company “averaging a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions” (p. 1089) and “Cold calling. Nothing. Sixty-five, when we were there…” (Mamet 1419). Both characters meet their tragic ends as they realize that their deceitful and deceptive nature, the facade of great selling they lived behind, is a shattered reality. All both of them want is a chance and to live like they did in the old days and both are denied the chance.
While their characters mimic each other, the selling techniques of these two are completely different. Willy’s approach is to go in making natural conversation and the client feel as if they are human. Much to his chagrin is the new reality he is facing, where “it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear”(Miller 1089). In contrast, Levene takes on the role of “cut and dried” sales techniques, often using his other associates as pretend clients in order to just make the sell, whether or not he’s tricking extorting money out of his clients.
Right from the beginning, he is trying to con “leads” out of Williamson, his supervisor. “… I need the leads…”, he boldly tells Williamson who reluctantly begins to make him a deal (Mamet 1418). Right from the get go, Leven is already using the manipulation techniques he uses day in and day out on his co-workers even. Loman pushes his honest, integrity, and personality traits as the key to selling success, though we see an obvious decline in his selling abilities compared to the others. That being said, both characters are still very flawed with illusions of owning their own companies and waiting for the right client to come along.
They both still have some nasty personality traits and are still putting on a facade to trick people; however, Willy Loman is tricking his family while Shelly Levene is tricking his consumers. Hard selling is a selling technique in which the salesman manipulates the psychological state of the consumer in order to achieve a sale, whether or not the sale is good (Baron & Branscombe). There is little concern for the consumer at all, in fact, often times the seller knows that the consumer is going to be placed into a bad situation, but they specifically rely on the ego-depletion of these buyers.
They use a variation of techniques such as door-in-the-face and foot-in-the door just to name a few (Baron & Branscombe). Miller and Mamet depict this from the salesman’s side. They place this psychologically demanding technique at fault of the company, who requires them to sell a goal amount or face termination from the job. Such fear could incite higher pressure selling techniques, which actually make the consumer and the seller feel uncomfortable.
Mamet and Miller criticize such deceptive techniques through their plays, highlighting the negative effects (the destruction of the central unit) and exacerbating the flaws of the technique. The role of a salesman has been part of America since the very beginning. With its recent revolution in the 1900s, it has now been associated with a negative stereotype often depicted by movies, literature, and plays. While there might be individual differences in the selling techniques, sellers are all perceived the same: dishonest, deceitful, and as con artists.
Such a stigma created by their lack of concern after the sell has been made often reconfirms this stereotype. These prejudices notwithstanding, society often places a high demand on consumerism to help the economy and pushing the achievement of the American dream. Miller and Mamet uncover the treacheries of the salesman industry leaving the question as to whom the true criminal is : society or the salesman.