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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Discuss the Requiem for Willy in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

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Linda: We’re free and clear. We’re free…

With Linda beginning and ending the Death of a Salesman, the play comes full circle.  Arthur Miller sets Willy free from his pathetic life when he kills himself in a car wreck.  In Willy’s mind, his death was going to help his son Biff by giving him the insurance money.  As Willy said, he was worth more dead than alive.  Even that may not be true; if the insurance company finds out that Willy committed suicide, they will not pay on the insurance.

The last scene of the play was titled the Requiem.  Defined as a Mass for the rest of the soul of the dead, it is also is a musical composition to be played at the Mass. Both of these occurred during the last scene.

The Requiem for Willy happens at his gravesite.  The three family members along with Charley linger after his funeral.  Poor Willy would have been unhappy at the turnout for his funeral. 

Linda: Why didn’t anybody come?

Charley: It was a very nice funeral.

Linda: But where are all the people he knew? Maybe they blame him.

Each of the remaining characters has a purpose at the Requiem. 

Happy feels deep anger because his father committed suicide.  He believes that it was unnecessary because they would have helped him. The reader has to wonder where Happy was when Willy was alive and needed him.  Happy is going to become the best salesman possible to keep his father’s dream alive.

Biff thinks that his father did not know who he was.  Remembering the times they worked on the house together, Biff wishes his father had worked with his hands. Trying to be more mature than before his dad died, Biff comforts his mother. 

Charley represents Willy.  It is significant that Charley defends Willy's suicide since Willy always felt jealous of Charley. Charley is Willy's only true friend in the play. Giving an elegy for his friend, Charley recognizes Willy's need for acknowledgment and appreciation. Just as he bailed Willy out when he needed money, so Charley bails him out when no one else understands his suicide.

In reality, what does Willy’s suicide accomplish? Willy denies Linda a husband to grow old with; Biff’s reconciliation with his father; and Happy’s role model. Thus Willy's refusal to accept life on its own terms results in nothing but confusion and dissension for those he loves most.

The Requiem for Willy ends with Happy and Charley elevating Willy to martyr status. They depict him as blameless for his suicide and gallant in his desire to help the family.  

As at all Requiems, the service ends with the music of a flute playing in the background.  Linda wants to say her good-byes.  She appears unwilling to face the truth about Willy. Ironically, she talks to Willy’s grave and tells him that she made the last house payment.  Linda will have the financial security that Willy worked thirty-five years for and never was able to enjoy it. 

As Linda is drawn away by Biff, the reader feels the anguish that she feels.  The flute continues to play, and the Requiem comes to an end.  

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