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In a story not lacking in complex and poignant characterizations, Linda Loman stands out for her quietly determined if fatally flawed efforts at holding her family together despite the emotional wounds she has suffered as Willy's wife. Forever trying to be the voice of reason, she is continually rebuffed by Willy's rejections of her comments.
Yet, her, and Willy's, downfall is her refusal or inability to confront Willy in his delusions and to stand up to his bullying behavior, especially Willy's constant expression of disappointment in his oldest son, Biff. Early in the first act, anticipating the final scene, there is this exchange between Willy and Linda:
Willy: Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there's nobody to live in it.
Linda: Well, dear, life is a casting off. It's always that way.
Willy: No, no, some people -- some people accomplish something Did Biff say anything after I went this morning?
Linda: You shouldn't have criticized him, Willy, especially after he just got off the train.
Willy's apparent suicide, carried out so that Linda would be able to finally pay off the mortgage with insurance money and so that Biff could begin a meaningful career, represents the ultimate act of futility in the service of a wife who missed every opportunity to steer the ship away from the rocks. In the final scene at the cemetary, when Linda is alone at Willy's grave site, she refers back to Willy's earlier comment about the long effort at owning one's home free and clear of the bank. She is struggling to understand Willy's death and irony of his crashing his car on purpose so that she and Biff could reap the financial reward:
Linda: Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can't understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there'll be nobody home. We're free and clear.
Whether Linda understands the irony of the situation is open to interpretation. Whether she had been self-delusional in her approach to Willy's dreams for himself and their sons is for the individual reader or viewer to determine. Throughout Death of a Salesman, Linda is Willy's facilitator. She seems to love him, but she has no idea how to talk to him. When Willy once again expresses regrets for roads not taken, like accompanying his commercially successful but now-deceased brother to Alaska, Linda exhorts him to say put, despite the dismal existence Willy seems to lead. During a telling scene when Willy is again imaging a conversation with Ben, the following exchange occurs in Willy's mind:
Willy: Linda, he's (Ben) got a proposition for me in Alaska.
Linda: But you've got -- [to Ben] He's got a beautiful job here.
Willy: But in Alaska, kid I could --
Linda: You're doing well-enough, Willy.
Ben [to Linda]: Enough for what, my dear?
Linda [responding to Ben]: Don't say those things to him? Enough to be happy right here, right now.
Instantly, Willy's ambitions of a better life are once again run aground:
Willy: Sure, sure. I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, must'n he?
Ben: What are you building, lay your hands on it. Where is it?
Willy: That's true, Linda, there's nothing.
And the imaginary conversation continues in Willy's mind, with his wife and his deceased brother vying for his soul. Willy is too weak to break the bonds that destroyed his dreams.
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