death of a salesman by arthur miller

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Curiously, most critics seem to accept at face value the assumption that at the conclusion of ArthurMiller's classic dramaDeath of a Salesman, Willy Loman determines to commit suicide because his older son Biff has atlast openly andunequivocally declared his 'love' for his father (e.g., Aarnes 104; Bigsby 123; Hynes 286; Dukore39). Yet a closeexamination of this crucial scene and the subsequent Requiem reveals a far greater degree ofambiguity than has beenacknowledged.Though Willy has obviously contemplated suicide for a long time, he only makes his final,irrevocable decision after the playhas reached its undoubted emotional climax, Biff's dramatic declaration to his fathers 'Pop, I'mnothing! I'm nothing, Pop.Can't you understand that? There's no spite in it anymore. I'm just what I am, that's all. ' Followingthis outburst, Biffphysically collapses in his father' s arms, and Miller carefully comments in his stage direction:'Biff' s fury has spent itself, andhe breaks down, sobbing, holding on to Willy, who dumbly fumbles for Biff's face.' The son's finalwords to his father in theplay are simply: 'I'll go in the morning. Put him put him to bed' (133).At best, this statement can only be regarded as a tepid and ambiguous expression of concern. YetWilly's immediate reactionto it is to conclude: 'Biff he likes me!' To which Linda and Happy quickly respond withenthusiastic reinforcement: 'Heloves you, Willy!' and 'Always did, Pop' (133). Their reaction suggests that Biff's feelings areobvious. However, Linda andHappy are repeatedly shown to be among the most deluded, obtuse, and mendacious characters inthe play. Earlier, eachhad made equally enthusiastic and reinforcing but dangerously inaccurate comments on thesupposed affection of BillOliver, Biff' s former boss, for his departed employee. When Biff outlined his plan to persuadeOliver to 'stake' him to abusiness venture, he insisted: 'He did like me. Always liked me.' Linda immediately exclaimed:'He loved you' (64). Earlier,Happy had responded to the plan in a similar fashion: 'I bet he'd back you. 'Cause he thoughthighly of you, Biff' (26). YetOliver, when Biff finally sees him in his office, doesn' t 'remember who [Biff] was or anything'(104).Even the choice of words of Linda's and Happy's comments in the scene with Willy seemsdeliberately to echo their earlierremarks, as if Miller is intentionally undermining their credibility in this scene. And if theirreactions are as erroneous as theyhad been earlier with Oliver, it casts Willy's subsequent suicide into a new light. For it is primarilydue to their insistence onBiff's love for his father, not to any explicit comment by his son, that Willy decides to take hisown life to provide Biff withinsurance money for a fresh start.If Biff does indeed not love his father, Willy's suicide must be regarded as just the last in the seriesof futile, misguidedgestures that made up his life. Biff's awareness of this fact, then, would go far to explain hispuzzling tension and bitterness atthe Requiem, where he argues sullenly with Happy, Charley, and Linda. For perhaps he realizesthat to make plain the sadfutility of Willy's act would be to rob the ceremony of what little dignity it possesses. Therefore,he remains virtually silent asthe other mourners express their eloquent, if contradictory, judgments on Willy's life, insistingonly that his father 'had thewrong dreams' and 'never knew who he was' (138). If the belief that Biff 'loves' Willy is only thefinal, most tragic falseperception in a play permeated by such uncertainty, the son' s silence on this critical point is bothunderstandable andjustified.WORKS CITEDAarnes, William. 'Tragic Form and the Possibility of Meaning in Death of a Salesman.' ArthurMiller's Death of aSalesman: Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.84-110.Bigsby, C. W. E. 'Death of a Salesman: In Memoriam.' Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed.Harold Bloom. 113-128.Dukore, Bernard F. Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: HumanitiesPress International, 1989Hynes, Joseph A. ''Attention Must be Paid . . .'' Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. Ed.Gerald Weales. New York:Viking, 1967. 280- 289.Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking Compass Edition, 1958. . 'Tragic Form and the Possibility of Meaning in Death of a Salesman. ' Arthur Miller& apos;s Death of a Salesman: Modern Critical Interpretations critics seem to accept at face value the assumption that at the conclusion of Arthur Miller& apos;s classic drama Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman determines
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