Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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Requiem: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The play’s action flows smoothly from Willy’s crash to his funeral. In the “Requiem” scene, we see Linda, Biff, Hap, Charley, and Bernard gathered at Willy’s grave. Hap, very angry, contends that Willy had no right to kill himself, especially when Hap and Biff would have helped him through his difficulties. Linda, kneeling in front of the grave, wonders why no one has attended Willy’s funeral: “But where are all the people he knew? Maybe they blame him.” Charley comforts her, telling her no one should blame Willy for being who he was – a salesman. A salesman, Charley maintains, is someone who dreams: “He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back – that’s an earthquake.”

Biff points out the way Willy actually put more feeling into his carpentry and home repair work than he put into his sales. Biff, therefore, disagrees with Charley: “Charley, the man didn’t know who he was.” Furious that Biff would say such a thing, Hap pledges to “show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man.” While Hap decides to stay in New York and continue Willy’s struggle, Biff plans to leave, telling Hap, “I know who I am.”

The cemetery will close its gates soon, but Linda lingers a little longer at Willy’s grave, while the others stand in the background. Speaking to Willy’s grave, she says, “Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help me, Willy, I can’t cry… . I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. We’re free and clear. We’re free. We’re free. We’re free.” By the time Linda finishes, she has begun to sob. Biff leads her away. The flute music (“Willy’s music”) associated with the flashbacks has begun. We see the towering apartment buildings surrounding the Loman house come into sharp focus. The play ends.

Analysis
The word “requiem” usually refers to a religious service or musical composition to honor someone who has died. Here we listen to the different ways in which Willy’s family and friends honor or remember him. While “requiem” implies an elaborate, formal honoring of the dead, Willy’s funeral has been very plain and attended by no one except Linda, Biff, Hap, Charley, and Bernard. So even though these few people express respect and sympathy for Willy, the funeral and their tributes fall short of what we would usually expect in an event titled “Requiem.” Unlike Dave Singleman’s funeral – which drew hundreds of people – this funeral reflects Willy’s lack of popularity, his failure to be truly “well liked.” We must suspect that few people have come because few people really liked Willy, not because they “blame” him or could never forgive him for committing suicide.

Hap continues to hope and to dream. In a sense, he has become Willy, convinced that success is always within reach and that success means being better than other people, being “number one.” We must wonder if one day Hap will fall apart like Willy did when his dream appeared unreachable or reachable only through death. Biff will obviously not make the same mistakes as Willy and Hap, since Biff knows who he is. Yet, despite Biff’s determination not to be a “fake,” it is difficult not to think that Biff has given up too easily. Has he decided never to dream, never even to try to succeed? Or, has he in fact intelligently rid himself of the phoniness that was preventing him from being happy, satisfied with a life not judged according to Willy’s misguided standards for success?

Charley’s description of a salesman as the “man way out there in the blue” makes Willy’s life sound exciting, adventurous, even romantic. We recognize that Willy may also have thought of his...

(The entire section is 1,460 words.)