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

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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...
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