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‘Death of a Salesman’, perhaps the greatest of 20th century tragedies, is in fact the story of two people. The aptly named Willy Loman, the protagonist, is a modern tragic hero, but his even more aptly named son Biff also merits study. The play ends with Willy committing suicide so that Biff could have a wonderful future with the insurance money. Biff is not carried away by this gesture, and not only, one hopes, because it is highly unlikely that the insurance will pay up after such patent subterfuge.

There are other parallels with the recent Presidential election. Willy’s act of great sacrifice occurs after father and son are at last reconciled, following high drama and denouncements. Willy finally declares, after years of having concealed it, even from himself, that Biff is full of spite. He claims that Biff destroyed his own life – and by extension Willy’s, given that Willy could claim he had lived for his eldest son – through bitterness.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2010
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