Willy’s dead older brother Ben represents the wealth and success that eludes Willy. In his life, Ben fell into wealth quickly, having discovered diamonds in the jungles of Africa on one of his expeditions at the age of twenty-one. He never had to toil in white collar work the way Willy, his father, and Happy do, which lends support to one of the most significant facets of the American Dream: that wealth and success is anyone’s for the taking, if they have the gumption to take it. Though Ben rarely visited and regarded Willy with scorn when he did, Willy craved his brother’s acceptance and continues to apotheosize his achievements as the paragon of success. However, Ben’s fortune was made by exploiting and profiting off a land to which he had no claim, which only serves to exemplify the romanticized concept Willy has of an intrepid explorer getting lucky enough to strike gold in a far-off land.
Because Ben is dead throughout the play, his appearances and dialogue are filtered through the deluded nature of Willy’s fraying consciousness. Willy views Ben as a self-made man, someone who truly pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, despite the fact that Ben’s prosperity was the result of luck and not a lifetime of hard work. To Willy, Ben represents a world that is only ever expanding, where exploration leads to conquest—his adventures offer a stark contrast to the cramped, metropolitan world in which Willy spends his days. By the play’s end, Willy’s imagined conversations with Ben propel him to a tragic end. That “[t]he jungle is dark, but full of diamonds” suggests Willy, like Ben, must do what needs to be done—just as Ben ventured into the dark and returned with diamonds, so too must Willy venture into the darkness to ensure Biff receives the insurance money. Ben’s existence enables Willy to view himself as the ultimate product, implying he is both the salesman and the final sale. In this way, Ben cements his role in the play as being symbolic of the very wealth and success that eventually leads Willy to his doom.