Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Essay by Richard O'BoyleCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 1997

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Curiously, most critics seem to accept at face value the assumption that at the conclusion of Arthur Miller's classic drama

Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman determines to commit suicide because his older son Biff has at last openly and

unequivocally declared his 'love' for his father (e.g., Aarnes 104; Bigsby 123; Hynes 286; Dukore 39). Yet a close

examination of this crucial scene and the subsequent Requiem reveals a far greater degree of ambiguity than has been


Though Willy has obviously contemplated suicide for a long time, he only makes his final, irrevocable decision after the play

has reached its undoubted emotional climax, Biff's dramatic declaration to his fathers 'Pop, I'm nothing! 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. ' Following this outburst, Biff

physically collapses in his father' s arms, and Miller carefully comments in his stage direction: 'Biff' s fury has spent itself, and

he breaks down, sobbing, holding on to Willy, who dumbly fumbles for Biff's face.'

The son's final words to his father in the

play 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. Yet Willy's immediate reaction

to it is to conclude: 'Biff--he likes me!' To which Linda and Happy quickly respond with enthusiastic reinforcement: 'He

loves you, Willy!' and 'Always did, Pop' (133). Their reaction suggests that Biff's feelings are obvious. However, Linda and

Happy are repeatedly shown to be among the most deluded, obtuse, and mendacious characters in the play. Earlier, each

had made equally enthusiastic and reinforcing--but dangerously inaccurate--comments on the supposed affection of Bill

Oliver, Biff' s former boss, for his departed employee. When Biff...