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Essay/Term paper: Death of a salesman 2

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

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Analysis of the ending of "Death of a Salesman"
by Arthur Miller

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.

[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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