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Death of a Traveling Salesman

In 1936, American writer Eudora Welty published “The Death of a Traveling Salesman” in the magazine Manuscript. The story was the beginning of a long and critically successful career for Welty, one of the unique voices of the American South. Welty (1909-2001), who lived her entire life in Jackson, Mississippi would later win the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her work.

Death of a Traveling Salesman

The main action of “The Death of a Traveling Salesman” takes place inside the mind of R.J. Bowman, a shoe salesman, during the last final hours of his life. Bowman has been a traveling salesman for fourteen years, having recently recovered from a serious case of influenza. On his first day back at work, Bowman is unexpectedly anxious and eventually drives his car off the road.

Bowman is unable to articulate what is wrong. He then walks to the nearest farmhouse, where the woman assures him that “Sonny” will help him. Sonny turns out to be the woman’s husband, and the woman herself is unattractive, yet Bowman understands that she is loved. This is his emotional transformation, one that he cannot verbalize.

In the morning, he leaves them. He has been profoundly affected by his stay with the couple, but is unable to put his feelings into words. After pushing his car back on to the road, his heart bursts, symbolic of his inability to express his emotions, which have remained bottled up inside his weakened heart.

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