Death of a Salesman
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
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 chapter. 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 country!' 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 him'. 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.