With rhetorical techniques channeled throughout the essay, Goodman narrates the story of a man named Phil, who symbolizes the views of the corporate America and its views. Strong repetition and irony augments the vindictive tone Goodman masterfully manipulates all through the essay.
Phil, as introduced in the first paragraph, works solely for himself. "He worked himself to death" is repeated several times through the essay, as well as "3:00 a.m. Sunday morning", the time and day of his death. These two repetitive phrases convey the lone stature of Phil. Emphasis on the fact that Phil, not the President or the Vice Presidents of his company, worked himself to death parallels the lonely hours of 3:00 a.m. in the morning of a Sunday, when not even newspaper and milk boys are out busying their tasks at hand. Phil knew that he was in a long line of succession "if the president died or retired soon enough" to have moved up to the top spot. Irony sets place on this sentence, as Phil loses his life working hard at reaching his goal of becoming one of the "important people". .
Phil's wife, Helen, portrays communal aspects of this essay. She is of "no particular marketable skills". Notice the emphasis on the word "marketable". This suggests that the company Phil had put in so much of his life only looked for in terms of profit and gain. Helen may have skills, but none of them are saleable. She has given up long ago to "compete with his work", probably because she realized that Phil's life centered more on his work than it did to her. .
It is also ironic that the child he favors the most is almost completely opposite of what Phil represents. While Phil represents the non-stop workaholic and overachiever, his youngest son of twenty is merely a high school graduate who "spent the last couple of years, like a lot of his friends, doing enough odd jobs to stay in grass and food." They are like the two extremes of the working America, a workaholic on one extreme and an inadequate, unwaged high school graduate who take on blind alley jobs to get by.