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Analysis Of The Ending Of “Death Of A Salesman” Essay, Research Paper

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 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


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


[5] p.44 Linda to Biff: “[..] the old buyers [..] they’re all dead,


[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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