Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Requiem of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman.

Death of a Salesman | Requiem | Summary



In the present, Linda, Charley, Biff, Happy, and Bernard attend Willy's funeral.

A few days later, Linda, Charley, Biff, Happy, and Bernard gather around Willy's grave; they are the only mourners. Linda wonders whether the poor attendance is because people blame Willy for committing suicide, but Charley reassures her that people understand "it's a rough world." Biff and Happy disagree over their father's dreams. Biff argues that Willy had the wrong dreams; Happy adopts his father's dream of material success. A mourning Linda stays alone at the grave to weep as she tells Willy that they have just paid the last installment on the house and are debt-free.


The meaninglessness of Willy's preoccupations with social appearance and recognition can be seen in the poor attendance at his funeral. The man who spent his adult life seeking approval from people has none.

Biff's reminiscence of his father is poignant, as Biff seems best able to assess his father's life. Biff recalls the nonfinancial features of his father, such as the effort he put into building their front stoop. "He had the wrong dreams," Biff says, and then, "He never knew who he was." In this analysis, Biff may finally reconcile the differences between his father and himself. This recognition may empower Biff to grow beyond the limitations of his father.

Happy is unable to accept that verdict, however, defending Willy's pursuit of the American Dream. Happy commits himself to the same dream, promising that "Willy Loman did not die in vain." Biff and Happy represent contrasting views of Willy and of the American Dream. Yet the play seems to favor Biff's view, as Biff is the only character whose understanding grows throughout the play, and Happy seems condemned to repeat Willy's mistakes.

In the end, Willy's family is financially better off—"free," as Linda puts it in the final lines of the play. However, the question of freedom lingers. Do the remaining family members have the needed skills to live truthfully? It seems that Biff may now have these skills, but Linda and Happy continue to reside in Willy's delusions. One symbol of these delusions, the flute, continues its melody at the play's end.

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