AP Journal 2

Death of a Salesman

Eudora Welty’s “Death of a Traveling Salesman” examines one man’s disappointed reflection on life immediately before his death. He accidentally stumbles upon a couple in the rural south. He immediately notices the archaic quality of the couple’s lifestyle: the woman, prematurely aged and wearing only a threadbare grey dress, only has her husband, a sturdy man who must travel a mile for fire in order to warm their house. However, the salesman quickly realizes that the couple possesses a quality he has never felt himself: “He was shocked with knowing what was really in this house. A marriage, a fruitful marriage. That simple thing. Anyone could have that…But emotions swelled patiently within him, and he wished that the child were his.” These realizations are punctuated by the man’s frantic heartbeat, emphasized throughout the short story.


In this context, we can infer that Eudora Welty believes experience with death is necessary to understand life. Only when the salesman has a heart attack is he able to comprehend what he has been missing in life. However, I disagree with Welty’s assertion. Experience with death is not necessary for “true clarity of life.”


The notion that a person can or even should understand life makes little sense. I do not think that life demands to be understood; instead I take comfort in the idea that life does not necessarily have an explanation or plan. It is an event too personal to be defined so specifically. Therefore, understanding of life can come at a different time for everybody. Some people may understand their role in the world right before death, like the salesman in Eudora Welty’s story. However, others can appreciate life at different times: their first kiss, while reading on the back porch, while finding the perfect note in a song. A mother can find her perspective on the clarity of life through holding her newborn child. In that scenario, a person finds knowledge through life, not death.


In all, the concept of understanding life is too vague to be tied to one instant before death. If comprehending life is even possible, it would come to each person differently, made meaningful through their private experiences.