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Essay/Term paper: Analysis of the ending of "death of a salesman"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Death of a Salesman

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Analysis of the Ending of "Death of a Salesman"

The play "Death of a Salesman" shows the final demise of Willy Loman, a sixty-
year-old salesman in the America of the 1940's, who has deluded himself all his
life about being a big success in the business world. It also portrays his wife
Linda, who "plays along" nicely with his lies and tells him what he wants to
hear, out of compassion. The book describes the last day of his life, but there
are frequent "flashbacks" in which Willy relives key events of the past, often
confusing them with what is happening in the present. His two sons, Biff and
Happy, who are in their 30's, have become failures like himself. Both of them
have gone from idolizing their father in their youth to despising him in the
present.

On the last few pages of the play, Willy finally decides to take his own life
([1] and [2]). Not only out of desperation because he just lost his job, with
which he was hardly earning enough to pay ordinary expenses at the end. He does
it primarily because he thinks that the life insurance payout [3] will allow
Biff to come to something [4], so that at least one of the Lomans will fulfill
his unrealistic dream of great wealth and success. But even here in one of his
last moments, while having a conversation with a ghost from the past, he
continues to lie to himself by saying that his funeral will be a big event [2],
and that there will be guests from all over his former working territory in
attendance. Yet as was to be expected, this is not what happens, none of the
people he sold to come. Although perhaps this wrong foretelling could be
attributed to senility, rather than his typical self-deception [5]. Maybe he
has forgotten that the "old buyers" have already died of old age. His imagined
dialogue partner tells him that Biff will consider the impending act one of
cowardice. This obviously indicates that he himself also thinks that it's very
probable that Biff will hate him even more for doing it, as the presence of
"Ben", a man whom he greatly admires for being a successful businessman, is a
product of his own mind. But he ignores this knowledge which he carries in
himself, and goes on with his plan.

After this scene, Biff, who has decided to totally sever the ties with his
parents, has an "abprupt conversation" (p.99) with Willy. Linda and Biff are in
attendance. He doesn't want to leave with another fight, he wants to make peace
with his father [6] and tell him goodbye in a friendly manner. He has realized,
that all his life, he has tried to become something that he doesn't really want
to be, and that becoming this something (a prosperous businessman) was a (for
him) unreachable goal which was only put into his mind by his father (p.105). He
doesn't want a desk, but the exact opposite: To work outside, in the open air,
with his hands. But he's willing to forgive [6] Willy for making this grave
mistake while Biff was in his youth. He simply wants to end their relationship
in a dignified way. Willy is very angered by this plan of Biff's [7], because
it means that he is definitely not going to take the 20000 dollars and make a
fortune out of it.

Happy, who has become very much like his father, self-deceiving and never facing
reality, is shocked by what Biff says. He is visibly not used to hearing the
naked truth being spoken in his family. He objects by telling another lie, "We
always told the truth!" (p.104).

This only serves to enrage Biff further, after Willy has already denied shaking
his hand, which would have been a gesture of great symbolic meaning. For Willy,
it would have meant admitting to everybody that he was wrong, and it would show
acceptance of his son's true nature. But Willy goes on to say that Biff is
doing all of this out of spite, and not because it is what he really wants.
Spite, because the teenage Biff had once caught him cheating on Linda, and that
was the turning point from being admired, to being hated by Biff.

So now, instead of generously forgiving, Biff becomes just as angry and
aggresive. They almost get into a physical fight, but he suddenly lapses intro
utter sadness and desperation, and cries, holding on to Willy. Afer he has left,
Willy is deeply moved, because he realizes that Biff actually liked him. But
even this realisation does not make him understand Biff, and he proclaims again
that Biff "will be magnificent!" (p.106). And his mental voice, in the form of
Ben, adds that this will certainly be the case, especially "with twenty
thousand behind him". He is freshly motivated to proceed with his old plan by
his gross misinterpretation of Biff's startling behaviour. He is simply unable
to realize, that money is not what Biff wants or needs. Although he does
realize, that Biff, despite everything, loves him, and perhaps this is to him
another incentive to give him the money.

At the funeral, Happy is unchanged, his old self. He says that "[they] would've
helped him" (p.110), even though he himself had been extremely cruel to Willy
by abandoning him at a restaurant just before the big quarrel, and certainly
this wasn't the only incident where he had shown no regard at all for Willy.

Happy has obviously not learned a thing from the entire tragedy, which is why
Biff gives him a "hopeless" glance near the end of the Requiem.

Biff speaks of the "nice days" that they had had together, which all involve
handyman's work Willy had done on the day. Charley adds to this that "he was a
happy man with a batch of cement" (p.110). This adds a new dimension to the
tragedy, because it all indicates that Willy was, just like Biff, a man who
enjoys physical work.

If this was the case, then Willy could simply never admit to himself, like Biff
finally did, that he WASN'T going to make big money.

Linda voices her regret over not being able to cry, alone at Willy's grave. An
explanation of this would be, that she simply cannot understand and forgive him
these last acts. First, the not letting Biff go, and then committing suicide,
despite the fact that Biff had made his intentions so clear. Also, she might
interpret into his self-inflicted death, which leaves her behind alone, that he
did not love her.

This conclusion of the tragedy fits the rest of the play well. The dramatic
character development is quite unpredictable, neither are the specific events,
which makes it a compelling read.



Footnotes

[1] p.96 (giving a tip to a waiter) "Here - here's some more. I don't need
it any more."

[2] p.100 "Ben, that funeral will be massive!"

[3] p.100 "It's twenty thousand dollars on the barrelhead [..]"

[4] p.101 "Why, why can't I give him [biff] something and not have him hate
me?"

[5] p.44 Linda to Biff: "[..] the old buyers [..] they're all dead,
retired."

[6] p.101 "To hell with whose fault it is or anything like that. Let's just
wrap it up, heh?"

[7] p.103 "May you rot in hell if you leave this house!"

 

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