Analysis of the Ending of “Death of a Salesman”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 hislife about being a big success in the business world. It also portrays his wifeLinda, who “plays along” nicely with his lies and tells him what he wants tohear, out of compassion. The book describes the last day of his life, but thereare frequent “flashbacks” in which Willy relives key events of the past, oftenconfusing them with what is happening in the present. His two sons, Biff andHappy, who are in their 30’s, have become failures like himself. Both of themhave gone from idolizing their father in their youth to despising him in thepresent.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, withwhich he was hardly earning enough to pay ordinary expenses at the end. He doesit primarily because he thinks that the life insurance payout 3 will allowBiff to come to something 4, so that at least one of the Lomans will fulfillhis unrealistic dream of great wealth and success. But even here in one of hislast moments, while having a conversation with a ghost from the past, hecontinues 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 inattendance. Yet as was to be expected, this is not what happens, none of thepeople he sold to come. Although perhaps this wrong foretelling could beattributed to senility, rather than his typical self-deception 5.
Maybe hehas forgotten that the “old buyers” have already died of old age. His imagineddialogue partner tells him that Biff will consider the impending act one ofcowardice. This obviously indicates that he himself also thinks that it’s veryprobable 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 aproduct of his own mind. But he ignores this knowledge which he carries inhimself, and goes on with his plan.After this scene, Biff, who has decided to totally sever the ties with hisparents, has an “abprupt conversation” (p.99) with Willy. Linda and Biff are inattendance.
He doesn’t want to leave with another fight, he wants to make peacewith 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 wantto be, and that becoming this something (a prosperous businessman) was a (forhim) unreachable goal which was only put into his mind by his father (p.105). Hedoesn’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 gravemistake while Biff was in his youth. He simply wants to end their relationshipin a dignified way. Willy is very angered by this plan of Biff’s 7, becauseit means that he is definitely not going to take the 20000 dollars and make afortune out of it.
Happy, who has become very much like his father, self-deceiving and never facingreality, is shocked by what Biff says. He is visibly not used to hearing thenaked truth being spoken in his family. He objects by telling another lie, “Wealways told the truth!” (p.104).This only serves to enrage Biff further, after Willy has already denied shakinghis 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 showacceptance of his son’s true nature.
But Willy goes on to say that Biff isdoing 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 thatwas the turning point from being admired, to being hated by Biff.So now, instead of generously forgiving, Biff becomes just as angry andaggresive. They almost get into a physical fight, but he suddenly lapses introutter 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. Buteven this realisation does not make him understand Biff, and he proclaims againthat Biff “will be magnificent!” (p.106). And his mental voice, in the form ofBen, adds that this will certainly be the case, especially “with twentythousand behind him”.
He is freshly motivated to proceed with his old plan byhis gross misinterpretation of Biff’s startling behaviour. He is simply unableto realize, that money is not what Biff wants or needs. Although he doesrealize, that Biff, despite everything, loves him, and perhaps this is to himanother incentive to give him the money.At the funeral, Happy is unchanged, his old self.
He says that “they would’vehelped him” (p.110), even though he himself had been extremely cruel to Willyby abandoning him at a restaurant just before the big quarrel, and certainlythis 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 whyBiff gives him a “hopeless” glance near the end of the Requiem.Biff speaks of the “nice days” that they had had together, which all involvehandyman’s work Willy had done on the day.
Charley adds to this that “he was ahappy man with a batch of cement” (p.110). This adds a new dimension to thetragedy, because it all indicates that Willy was, just like Biff, a man whoenjoys physical work.If this was the case, then Willy could simply never admit to himself, like Bifffinally 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.
Anexplanation of this would be, that she simply cannot understand and forgive himthese 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 mightinterpret into his self-inflicted death, which leaves her behind alone, that hedid not love her.
This conclusion of the tragedy fits the rest of the play well. The dramaticcharacter development is quite unpredictable, neither are the specific events,which makes it a compelling read.Footnotes1p.96 (giving a tip to a waiter) “Here – here’s some more. I don’t needit any more.”2p.100 “Ben, that funeral will be massive!”3p.
100 “It’s twenty thousand dollars on the barrelhead ..”4p.
101 “Why, why can’t I give him biff something and not have him hateme?”5p.44 Linda to Biff: “.. the old buyers .. they’re all dead,retired.
“6p.101 “To hell with whose fault it is or anything like that. Let’s justwrap it up, heh?”7p.103 “May you rot in hell if you leave this house!”