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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 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 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
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.


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