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Essay/Term paper: Death of a salesman 2

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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By: Arthur Miller

The first important thing to note is the author’s choice to name it
a‘ Requiem’ rather than‘ epilogue’. The
definition of Requiem in‘ The concise Oxford dictionary’
is‘ special Mass for repose of souls of the dead’. This
really reveals what main purpose the author had in mind for this end

The Requiem serves as a tribute to Willy Loman. Sympathy is evoked and
reasons for his behaviour are given. Charley gives the central
speech–‘ Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman has got to
dream, boy. It comes with the territory.’ Any blame or anger at
Willy is counteracted. It echoes Linda earlier in the play‘ But
he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So
attention must be paid.’ It is made absolutely certain that Willy
is sympathised with rather than cursed. Though Biff criticises Willy and
argues with him, he still respects him and is compassionate–‘
A fine, troubled prince. A hard-working, unappreciated prince’.

The dramatic car crash at the end of the previous scene would be a
violent ending, and would leave us with many questions. Before he kills
himself it looks like things are on their way to getting better, as if
Willy realises the importance of himself in the family. We can see that
Willy is killing himself to help Biff–‘ Can you imagine that
magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket?’. Its
ironic that Willy commits suicide to further Biff’s career when it
serves to finish it, but it convinces Happy, the son who was always
second best, to carry on like his father. We know that Biff has no need
for the money, as the things he appreciates in life are free. He thinks
that his family will be thankful–‘ Ben, he’ll worship
me for it!’ when we know they won’t. Without the Requiem we
wouldn’t know how they would react– if Biff would aspire to
be like his father, if they would understand him or forgive him. The
Requiem is an assertion of a vaguely happy ending, with hope in the form
of Biff. With the Requiem we know that Willy’s suicide just
convinced Biff further of the danger of the American dream.

Another point that is underlined in the Requiem is the unsuitability of
his dreams. Though in the play it is mentioned that Willy enjoyed using
his hands, it is not fully recognised how much until the Requiem. Willy
never seemed to be happy or inspired enough to be a truly successful
salesman, but‘ he was a happy man with a batch of cement’.
Happiness is essential to succeed as a salesman–‘ Riding on a
smile and a shoeshine’. We wonder if Willy had chosen another path
and not‘ had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong’ whether the
story would be a happier one. All the characters except, significantly,
Happy recognise this. The Requiem emphasises how Willy didn’t
really succeed on any level– socially, professionally or
personally. The aspect of‘ success’ is a central theme in the
play. The notion of the American Dream’s commercial success versus
personal success and happiness crops up many times. Willy was not true to
himself, and so was not successful. He was always in competition -‘
I’m always in a race with the junkyard!’‘ the man who
creates personal interest is the man who gets ahead’. All the
characters recognise Willy’s love for DIY in the Requiem, its
undisputed his dreams were the wrong ones. Apart from his enthusiasm for
Biff, it is one of the few things Willy gets really excited about‘
the reconstruction I put on this house! There ain’t a crack to be
found in it anymore.’ Biff sees this–‘ We don’t
belong in this nuthouse of a city! We should be mixing cement on some
open plain’. We know he will go on and be a success, but in his own
way‘ I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the
food and the time to sit and smoke . . . Why am I trying to become what I
don’t want to be?’. It is a further irony that Biff will
be‘ magnificent’ as a result as Willy’s death, but not
in the way Willy envisaged.

The Requiem continues the many themes of the play. The pressure of
consumerism in society–‘ My God, if business don’t pick
up I don’t know what I’m gonna do!’. Willy strived to
achieve all the‘ mod cons’ of the era– the nice house,
the refrigerator, the Chevvy, but we find that he couldn’t really
afford them. We wonder how much the pressures of the consumer society
contributed to Willy’s demise. Willy worked himself to death in a
job he was unsuitable for to achieve these things but‘ They time
them so when you finally paid for them, they’re used up’.
These payments seem to be the only thing Linda lets herself understand
about Willy’s problems. At the very end she shows how much she
doesn’t understand–‘ Why did you do it? . . . I
can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house
today . . . We’re free and clear’. She is as seduced by the
consumerism as Willy–‘ They got the biggest ads of any of
them!’ but she is more accepting of the constant hard work the
icons entail. We see throughout the play how Linda makes excuses for him
to their sons and avoids the subject of Willy’s sanity‘ Oh.
Maybe it was the steering again’‘ No, it’s me,
it’s me’. But though Linda misunderstands the problems we can
see her absolute love for him. She talks to him with‘ Infinite
patience’ she says how‘ Hes the dearest man in the world to
me’ and‘ Hes not the finest character that ever lived. But
he’s a human being . . . So attention must be paid’. Linda
could be seen as a‘ lost soul’, she is confused–
somethings she understands but others completely miss her. She
understands on one level Willy’s problems‘ He was so good
with his hands’ but can’t grasp the underlying truth. She
doesn’t benefit or learn anything from Willy’s suicide;
she’s just left lonely.

Also underlined in the Requiem is Charley’s understanding,
compassion and sympathy for Willy. Through the play Willy has called
Charley names–‘ you big ignoramus’ and says‘ Hes
liked, but not well liked’ and has been too proud to accept a job
off him though he borrows money every week pretending its his wages to
Linda– who we find knows where the money is really from. We can see
how Charley has only ever been friendly and helpful, but Willy completely
takes it the wrong way. It is ironic that Willy says‘ Who the hell
do you think you are, better than everybody else?’ when it is Willy
who is always saying how much better he is than others. But as Willy
himself says‘ Charley, you’re the only friend I got.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing?’

The main theme of the play is the‘ American dream’. The idea
that‘ a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being
liked’ is the main drive of Willy. Through out the play we can see
how the dream has turned sour, but it is underlined in the Requiem. The
apartment buildings‘ [rise into sharp focus]’ at the very end
of play, which demonstrates how over bearing and pressuring society was
around him, and how much society was to blame. The music that is usually
used to signify Willy’s recollections is also present. This shows
that Willy’s memories are still there, but are dwarfed by the ever
increasing society. Willy blames the population increase for destroying
his home,‘ They massacred the neighbourhood!’ and‘
Theres more people, that’s what’s ruining this

For Willy the ideal is his brother Ben and Dave Singleman. According to
Willy, Ben‘ walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty
one, and he’s rich!’. Ben is the figment of many of
Willy’s‘ flash backs’ and he uses him to give him the
final encouragement for suicide. Dave Singleman is often talked about by
Willy as his hero, his ideal. He aspires to be like him and often talks
about how great his funeral was.‘ He died a death of a salesman . .
. hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.’ When he
speaks of suicide he dreams of how his funeral will be like that–
the Requiem draws a sharp contrast between the reality.‘ Ben, the
funeral will be massive!’ is then shown to be a sad
unreality–‘ Why didn’t anybody come?’. The
Requiem shows how unlike his heroes he was. Willy’s whole
aspiration was to be liked, but the funeral shows how this achieved him
nothing. Though he was liked in his younger days, as he got older his
friends‘ died or retired’ and the younger salesman made fun
of him‘ Walrus’–‘ I’m ridiculous to look
at, Linda’. But the lack of people at his funeral wasn’t
because he was disliked, people were just indifferent. Through out the
play people leave Willy because they don’t have enough time for
him: Howard -‘ I’ve got a line of people to see this morning.
. . go home, will ya?’; Bernard–‘ I gotta run’
and even Ben–‘ But I’ve only got a few
minutes–‘ .

The funeral also shows how much of his life was false. He made up stories
to his sons even in the happier old times‘ I park my car and the
police protect it like one of their own’, and before he dies he
can’t accept how unhappy he is. He sometimes admits his
failure‘ People just don’t seem to like me’ but Linda
doesn’t want to hear it‘ Nonsense’. Biff understands
the consequences‘ I never got anywhere because you blew me so full
of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody!’ The
constant lies put pressure on him and remind him of his failure because
he never does as good as he wants to. It is obvious through out the play
that his sanity is going–‘ Biff is a lazy bum!’ when a
few sentences later he says‘ One thing about Biff is that hes not
lazy’. As well as his contradictions he is unable to separate
reality from his imagination– he becomes confused and frightened
that Charley doesn’t know who hes talking to‘ [unnerved] What
do you mean, who died?’.

The Requiem serves to assert the character’s endings and
personalities. We see how Biff is wise to the whole situation‘ Will
you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?’
and how he will get out of it‘ all I want is out there, waiting for
me the minute I say I know who I am’. In the Requiem Biff
says‘ Charley, the man didn’t know who he was’ which is
an echo of before in the play‘ The man don’t know who we
are!’. Willy is in denial and it seems only Biff of the family will
admit to these things.

What is also asserted is Happy’s character. He is just like his
father, and wishes to carry on like him. This is ironic as Happy was
always the least favourite, and he craved attention from a young
age‘ I’m losing weight, pop, you notice?’ to middle
age‘ I’m getting married’ and little care was paid.
Which is perhaps what made him love him all the more– he strives to
be like him. He has unachieveable dreams like Willy and similarly says
unrealistic statements–‘ Pop, I told you I’m gonna
retire you for life’. He is defensive about any attacks about
Willy‘ [almost ready to fight Biff]’ though he denies any
involvement with him in the restaurant‘ No, that’s not my
father. He’s just a guy’. Despite the tragedy of
Willy’s life Happy refuses to accept it‘ Willy Loman did not
die in vain. He had a good dream . . . I’m gonna win it for

A subtle point in the Requiem is the thought that Willy Loman died many
years ago as a salesman and was carrying on as a shell of a man. His
mistress was seen as part of the American dream, but this‘
perk’ traumatised his son and consequently wrecked his family life.
On some level Willy realised how artificial the whole‘
successful’ lifestyle was and ruined his relationships with his
family, which was his whole inspiration. His family was such an integral
part of his life that the whole dream soured with it. This then wrecked
his confidence and his business. The‘ woman’ was another
false symbol of success that ruined his life.

The Requiem highlights the themes of the play, especially the falseness
and the dangers of the American dream and Willy’s unsuitability for
it, and draws the play to a conclusion. We see that it is possible to get
out of the unsatisfying ideals it brings if it is realised soon enough.


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