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The salesman is dead at the end, though I had to read the last few paragraphs twice to trust my own judgment on that.  I thought Welty was trying to trick me and had just been ironic with her title.  Alas, I believe that while I might have been tricked, the salesman is indeed dead.


His heart gives out in both literal and metaphorical ways.  We are told at the end “his heart began to give off tremendous explosions like a rifle, bang bang bang.”  Since it has been jumping like a trout and setting off like rockets throughout the story, this is no real surprise.  Bowman is weakened by the flu.  He did well to make it as long as he did.


The “bang bang bang” nudges us toward the irony we know is there.  It’s reminiscent of the Civil War battles and a stark reminder of the discomfort Bowman has felt in the presence of Sonny and his Confederate jacket.  Sometimes, though, the only thing to fear is fear itself, and it isn’t Sonny or his prematurely old wife who hurts Bowman, but his own heart.


His heart is weakened by his illness and by his life of social disconnect.  He’s spent fourteen years moving from one rented room to another and “a month in which nothing had happened except in his head and his body.” Sonny and his wife life in isolation and live as remnants of another time, but they do have each other, and their human connection his more than Bowman can bear.


There is a sinister tone to this story, to Bowman’s suspicions, that leads to reader to suspect that his death will come through the ill intentions of these creepy Confederate leftovers rather than from his own heart—despite the fact that we are told continually his heart is out of control. 


I keep thinking Welty is verging on something that could be called Southern Gothic, but she stops short.  The South does have its freaks, but often they are harmless, she seems to say.  It’s the regular stuff that belongs to everyone we have to worry about.  Fear.  Loneliness.  Jealousy.  The fact of being human.  That’s what will kill us in the end.