The Death of a Salesman Requiem and Conclusion

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The Death of a Salesman

  • Requiem and Conclusion


  • Starting Questions

  • The Requiem:

    • Different Views of Willy Loman
    • The Survivors
  • Arthur Miller’s “Tragedy and the Common Man”

  • Willy’s “tragedy”:

  • Critique of The American Dream

  • The Play as an Example of Expressionism

Starting Questions

  • What do you think are the functions of Requiem?

  • Is Willy Loman a tragic hero who acts and wins our esteem?  Or is he a victim?  A victim of his own character or of a system of exploitation and ruthless competition?

  • How about the other Loman characters?

  • Why is this play an example of Expressionism?

  • And a critique of the American Dream?

Requiem –formal, somber, a-temporal

  • Stage Direction: (the only transition from car crash to Requiem)

    • Music: a frenzy of sound  A single cello string a dead march;
    • Lighting: leaves and daylight.
    • Wall-line – crossed
    • Flowers put “at the limit of the apron (a space for the past and Willy’s imagination).
    • Characters: put on mourning dresses (no resistance; no surprise a sense of fatality)
  • Requiem: a mass at which people honor and pray for a dead person  Willy Seen from Different Perspectives

  •  //self-revelation

Willy and the Survivors

  • Happy and Biff: 1) criticisms= reveal their own short-coming; 2) confirm, idealize the part of Willy they themselves identify with.

  • Happy –

    • defiant and angry, “had no right to do it. …We would’ve helped him.”  empty promise
    • “He had a good dream.” Happy promises to maintain Willy's dream and his fight.
    • Happy is the last one to leave the stage with the flute music and images of apartment buildings.
  • Biff –

    • realistic: "He didn't know himself.“
    • Forgetting that the stoop was constructed from stolen materials, Biff muses fondly, "there's more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made."

Willy and the Survivors (3)

  • Charley --generous? Or over-sentimental?

    • "Nobody dast blame this man. [. . .]
    • And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. 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. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.” (1264)
  • Charley: 1) self-contradictory, both realistic about, and forgiving and generous to Willy.

  • 2) Reveals the lack of foundation or substance to Willy’s dream and capitalism as a whole.

  • (more later)

Willy and the Survivors (3)

  • Linda –

  • ”I can’t understand it.”

    • disagrees; cannot understand Willy’s need of self-dignity.
  • “I can’t cry.”

    • disapproves of him; numbed after the first shock.
  •  “And there’ll be nobody home. We're free and clear," she says to Willy, sobbingly.

    • free from mortgage & pressure; from family members.

Arthur Miller’s “Tragedy and the Common Man”

  • Background: tragedy = Greek tragedy

  • Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris (pride), fate, and the will of the gods.

  • The tragic hero's powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake (hamartia).

  • Ending: The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition "a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate." (source)

  • Audience’s response: pity and fear; catharsis

Arthur Miller’s “Tragedy and the Common Man”

  • Background: tragedy = Greek tragedy

  • Few tragedies nowadays due to

    • the paucity of horoes among us.
    • the skepticism of science
  • the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.

  • Reasons: 1) In the light of modern psychiatry, the situations of Oedipus and Orestes can be applied to everyone in similar emotional situations.   2) The mental processes of kings shared by the lowly. 3) tragedy of the highbred character is remote from common people.

Miller’s views of Modern Tragegy of the common man

  • Definition: “tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity. [. . .] the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society.” (1266)

  • The flaw: his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status.

  • Terror –from this total examination of the "unchangeable" environment

Miller’s views of Modern Tragegy of the common man (2)

  • In the tragic view the need of man to wholly realize himself is the only fixed star, and whatever it is that hedges his nature and lowers it is ripe for attack and examination.

  • Wrong concept of tragedy it implies more optimism

    • Tragedy requires a fine balance between what is possible and what is impossible.
    • Optimism: perfectibility of man

Modern Tragedy

The circumstances

  • Willy's family background

    • Three models: Father Loman, Ben and Dave Singleman
    • The lack of a father who is around.
    • Ben’s opportunism
    • Dave Singleman – a loner of the past
  • American Capitalist/Industrial society and the American Dream

    • Willy outdated.  Yet he tries hard to maintain his sense of dignity.


  • Blind: Cannot face his own and his son shortcomings, nor their conflicts;

  • Cares a lot about the empty appearance and social connections;

  • Dignified: cannot “walk away“; cannot bend himself to work for Charley.

  • A loving father  reconciles with Biff when he finds that Biff loves him.  

Kinds of Success

  • In the business world:

    • Charley’s – money in the pocket; growing up/becoming a man or adult;
    • Bernard’s –passing the test ( education); lawyer; playing tennis; one friend with a tennis court at home;
    • Howard – owns a company, has a variety of playthings (camera, handsaw, a recorder for only 150 dollars).
  • Ben– go to far away places [e.g. the West, Alaska, Africa] for gold and diamonds

  • Willy’s – all of the above and

    • Winning the football game; well-liked
    • building things [e.g. what Willy does to his house--as Biff describes it in the Requiem]
    • Pride and Idealism  Mythic dimension: Biff as Adonis, Hercules
    • Family togetherness.

Critique of the American Dream

  • Americans dream of success

    • which “should be” easy and quick “as long as” you work hard
    •  Ben – easy and quick success
    • Materialism + Idealism –money + the world of Nature
    •  Willy and Biff – their dreams of working on a ranch and planting.
    • Male aggression & expansionism
      •  Women as target of possession, access to power and revenge (e.g. pp. 1245, 1246)
      •  wives – supportive but without subjectivity

Symbols re. Willy’s Dream

  • Willy’s house vs. apartment buildings, etc. [e.g. the first stage direction] 

  • Properties and Possessions:

    • Football and the sneakers with U. of V on them.
    • the house and the mortgage, Things {Fridge, car, vacuum cleaner ] that are broken/falling apart
    • Linda's stockings
    • Tennis
    • of power and status: wire recorder and pen
  • Nature and The West

    • Seeds/plants/trees; light of green leaves
    • Working with tools/one's hands [e.g. Willy's argument with Charley towards the end of Act I: :A man who can't handle tools is not a man."  "hammer a nail"]
  • Roads -- [being on the road]  Cars/boats/trains: [e.g. Willy's Red Chevvy; Willy compared to "alittle boat looking for a harbor" by Linda; Ben's taking the train.]


  • an artistic style in which the artist attempts to depict not objective reality but rather the subjective emotions and responses that objects and events arouse in him.

  • Methods: through distortion, exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy and through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements (e.g. stage directions).

  • one of the main currents of art in the later 19th and the 20th centuries, and its qualities of highly subjective, personal, spontaneous self-expression are typical of a wide range of modern artists and art movements.(source)

In painting: EDVARD MUNCH’s “Scream”

Symbols –in stage direction

  • flute [Willy's father]– beginning of act 1, when Ben appears,

  • Willy’s theme (1255);

  • Other kinds of music--e.g.

    • jarring trumpet note (1249),
    • Ben's theme (1236);
    • the end of act II (1263)
    • End of Requiem—a noble and elegiac ending.

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