Act-wise Summary and Analysis of Death of a Salesman



Act I.1
Act I (Loman Home, Present Day):

Willy Loman, the salesman, enters his home. He looked exhausted and befuddled. Linda Loman, his wife, enters the house dressed in a robe and slippers. She was dozing. Linda is generally cheerful, but she suppresses her opposition to her spouse. Her difficulty is to be there for him while also attempting to guide him. She is concerned that he may have destroyed the automobile, but he claims nothing happened. He states that he is exhausted and will be unable to complete the remainder of his trip.

He made it as far as Yonkers and has no recollection of the remainder of the journey. He informs Linda that he kept drifting onto the shoulder of the road, but Linda believes it was due to the car’s poor steering.


Linda asserts that he is qualified to work in New York, but Willy asserts that he is not required there. Willy argues that if Frank Wagner were still alive, he would already be in the power of New York, but his son, Howard, despises him. Linda informs him that Happy went on a double date with Biff and that it was great to see them shave together. Linda urges him not to lose his patience with Biff, but Willy replies that he only inquired about his earnings. Willy asserts that Biff harbours resentment, but Linda asserts that Biff admires his father. Willy refers to Biff as a slacker and declares him to be lost. Willy pines for a simpler time when their neighbourhood was less urbanised and populated. He awakens his kids Biff and Happy, who are both sleeping in the boys’ bedroom’s double bunk.

Analysis :

Arthur Miller presents Willy Loman as a confused and misguided man, at heart a salesman and a dreamer, at the start of the play. He makes a point of emphasising his devotion to success. Miller, on the other hand, makes it abundantly clear that Willy Loman is not a successful man. Although he is in his sixties, he remains a wandering salesman without a permanent residence or career, clinging solely to his ambitions and ideals. Willy Loman’s character is rife with animosity, and his acts imply a more magnificent past than was actually the case. Willy romanticises the area as it was decades ago and pines for his time working for Frank Wagner, all the more so because his former boss’s son, Howard Wagner, is unappreciative of Willy. Miller portrays Willy as a robust and boisterous man who exudes confidence but lacks the energy to back up his appearance of life. He is perpetually exhausted and displays indicators of dementia, including self-contradiction and some memory loss.

By comparison, Linda lacks Willy’s raucous enthusiasm. Rather than that, she is dependable and caring, often striving to resolve difficulties that Willy may face. Linda shares a similar yearning for an idealised past, but she has learnt to control her fantasies and discontent with her husband and sons. Miller demonstrates that she is a woman who harbours profound regrets about her life; she must constantly reconcile her husband and boys and assist a man who has failed in his life’s endeavour. Linda thrives solely through her familial bonds. As a mother to Biff and Happy, and a husband to Willy, she is completely reliant on them for whatever success she achieves.

In Death of a Salesman, the central struggle is between Biff Loman and his father. Linda implies, even before Biff walks on stage, that Biff and Willy are always at odds due to Biff’s inability to live up to his father’s expectations. Biff, as Linda puts it, is a man who has not yet “found himself.” Biff, at thirty-four years old, is still somewhat of a teenager. This is best illustrated by his failure to maintain employment. He and Happy continue to sleep in their old bunk beds; while this may bring Linda back to happier days, it is a clear indication that neither of the sons has developed.

The play’s central topic is the missed opportunities that each of the characters encounters. Linda Loman laments the state of disorder into which her family has gone while her sons are still young and have a less acrimonious connection with their father. Willy Loman feels that had Frank Wagner survived, he would have been accorded more respect and authority inside the corporation. Willy also laments the missed possibilities for Biff, whom he believes has the potential to be a great man.

Miller uses the play’s opening act to predict subsequent storey twists. Willy expresses concern about his driving ability and displeasure with his job situation, while Linda discusses the tension between Willy and his sons. Each of these will play a significant role in the play’s plot and resolution.

Act I.2
Act I (Loman Home, Present Day):

Biff is thirty-four years old, well-built, but rather weathered and lacking in confidence. Happy, two years younger than his brother, is a man of stature and strength. He is a clearly sexual individual. Both guys are a little disoriented, Happy because he has never had to face defeat. The two brothers exchange information about their father. Happy believes Willy’s licence will be revoked, and Biff believes his father’s eyes are failing.


Happy finds it amusing that they are once again staying at home, and they recall Happy’s “first time” with a girl named Betsy. Happy claims that Biff was initially quite shy around ladies, but as he gained confidence, he grew less so. Biff inquires as to why his father mocks him so frequently, but Happy responds that he wishes for Biff to make amends. Biff informs Happy that he has worked in twenty or thirty different occupations since he left home prior to the war, and each one has been the same. He fondly recalls his days herding cattle in Nebraska and the Dakotas. However, he criticises himself for spending twenty-eight dollars a week fooling around with horses at his senior age. Happy declares Biff to be a poet and an idealist, while Biff asserts that he is confused and should marry.


When Biff inquires about Happy’s contentment, Happy vehemently states that he is not. He claims to have his own apartment, a car, and a large number of female acquaintances but is still lonely. Biff suggests that Happy accompany him out west to purchase a ranch. Happy claims that he fantasises about taking off his clothes in the store and boxing with his manager, even though he can “outbox, outrun, and outlift anybody in that store,”

Happy claims that the women they went on a date with that night were stunning, but he is disgusted with women: he is constantly “knockin’ them over” which means nothing. Happy expresses a desire for someone with character, akin to his mother. Biff indicates that he believes he may be working for Bill Oliver, whom he previously worked for. Biff is concerned that Bill would recall that he stole a carton of basketballs and that he resigned in protest of Bill’s impending firing.

Analysis:

Both Biff and Happy are stuck in everlasting adolescence. Both men are tall and well-built, but their emotional growth is not commensurate with their physical stature. Happy recalls his first sexual encounter, while Biff plays with a football, a relic of his youth. Additionally, the segment’s backdrop, the boys’ childhood bedroom, implies that they are trapped in their past. Even the two men’s given names, Happy and Biff, are childish nicknames unsuitable for mature individuals.

Biff, in particular, is a drifter who lacks maturity and responsibility. He drifts from job to job without a clear direction and is most satisfied working positions that use his physicality but give no prospect of a secure future. Biff is self-destructive, sabotaging any career opportunities he may have, and comes to terms with his own failure. He is well aware that he is an embarrassment and a disappointment to his father, who has high expectations for his son. Biff believes he is still a child and must demonstrate a transition into adulthood.

By comparison, Happy is less self-aware than his brother but is just as confused and immature. While Happy possesses the outward traits of an adult, such as stable employment, his mentality is that of an adolescent. He is a scheming womaniser who shows little regard for the women he seduces; his term for seduction, “knockin’ them over,” implies an impersonal relationship at best and a violent undercurrent at worst. Happy exemplify features of a Madonna-whore complex; he lacks regard for the women with whom he has sex, believing them to be inauthentic, and instead desires a partner with “character” such as his mother. This implies that Happy is incapable of respecting a lady he successfully seduces.

Happy’s immaturity is possibly more pronounced in this section of the play since his teenage characteristics contrast sharply with his adult lifestyle. Although he has a decent career, Happy compares himself to his coworkers in terms of athletic ability; he believes he should not have to obey men over whom he is athletically superior. As a result, he approaches the profession with a schoolyard attitude, believing that physical power trumps cerebral progress.

Miller compares the two men’s views on success, the play’s primary thematic focus. Biff considers himself a failure because he lacks the trappings of adulthood, such as solid employment and stable home life, and because he has made mistakes throughout his life. In comparison, Happy views himself as a failure because, while being outwardly more successful than his brother, he remains empty and unfulfilled.

Act I.3
Act I (Loman Home, Past):

This section of the action takes place years ago in the kitchen. Willy cautions Biff against making promises to a girl, stating that girls will always accept what you say them and that Biff is too young to be speaking seriously to girls. Willy surprises the boys with a new punching bag, and Happy brags about his weight loss as he exercises. Biff displays a football he stole from the locker area to Willy, but Willy instructs him to return it. Biff expresses his regret for missing Willy while he was away on business. Willy declares that he, like Uncle Charley, will one day own his own business. Willy asserts that he will be larger than Charley, owing to Charley’s popularity, but not his well-being. Willy vows to take his lads on business trips and show them all of New England’s places and people.

Bernard enters as Happy and Biff are tossing the football around. Bernard is concerned since Biff is scheduled to take a state exam (Regents) the following week and has not yet begun studying. Bernard learns that Mr Birnbaum will fail Biff in his math class if he does not study, and reminds Biff that just because he has been accepted to UVA does not mean his high school has to graduate him. Bernard leaves after Willy warns him not to be a pest. Bernard is “liked, but not well-liked.” according to Biff. Bernard may have the finest marks in school, but when he enters the corporate world, Willy believes that guys like Biff and Happy will be five times his age.

Linda appears, and once the lads leave, she and Willy discuss Willy’s economic issues. Willy is concerned that people will mock him, but Linda reassures him by stating that he is successful because he earns between $75 and $100 every week. Willy is particularly concerned about people’s regard for Uncle Charley, a guy with few words. Linda informs him that few men are as revered as Willy by their children.

Analysis:

In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller adopts a fragmented temporal structure, in which the play alters settings and time within each act. The “present” era of Willy Loman and his older sons gives place to the adolescent years of Biff and Happy. These sequences serve as an explanation: the actions and dialogues of adolescent Biff and Happy shed light on the characters’ behaviour in their early thirties. The tone of these encounters is ideal; the tension that subsequently develops between Biff and Willy is nonexistent, and both characters exude assurance and satisfaction that has long since vanished.

The section highlights the underlying causes of the Loman sons’ immaturity. Willy reinforced in his boys the view that appearances are more important than achievement or talent, by juxtaposing his athletic and attractive sons with the diligent but uncharismatic Bernard. Willy places a premium on intangible attributes such as personality over objective measures of success, which he sees as irrelevant in the corporate world. Willy distinguishes men who are “liked” and men who are “well-liked,” arguing that being “well-liked,” is the primary criterion for success, as characterised by charisma and physical appearance.

This leads his boys, particularly Biff, to forego academic pursuits in favour of athletic success. Happy is constantly boasting about his weight loss, whereas Biff, who is preparing to attend college on an athletic scholarship, demonstrates enough disrespect for his schoolwork to fail arithmetic. This part also serves as a precursor to Biff’s eventual issues; as a teenager, he steals from the locker room, much as he later steals from Bill Oliver. Although Willy does not directly address Happy on how he should treat girls, Miller implies that Happy acquired his bad attitude toward women from his father.

Miller establishes several of Death of a Salesman’s core concepts in this flashback. Most significantly, he establishes the concept of success and the various characters’ interpretations of it.

Miller portrays Charley and his son Bernard as unmatched models of success; Bernard is an outstanding student, while Charley owns his own business. Willy, on the other hand, is unable to accept these two characters’ achievements, believing that it is his personality that would make him more successful than Charley and his sons more successful than Bernard. Yet Willy’s boasting is unmistakably delusory; he fails to recognise the limits of charm and charisma when they conceal superficiality. Even Willy’s statements about his own accomplishments appear dubious at this point; he boasts about meeting important and influential men yet can only recall seeing the mayor of Providence briefly. Additionally, he is concerned that others do not regard him as highly as Charley does and that he is not earning enough money. Even in his prime, Willy Loman is an unauthentic man whose goals are beyond his grasp.

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Act I.4
Act I (Hotel Room, Past):


Willy makes his way across the stage to where a woman is standing and putting on her scarf. Willy claims that he becomes despondent and has the distinct impression that he will never earn a living for her or establish a business for the boys. The woman believes she chose Willy because of his sense of humour. Willy informs her that he will return in approximately two weeks and that he will see her when he returns to Boston.


Analysis:


Miller adeptly shifts between locations in Death of a Salesman, like a flashback to Willy at home transitions to Willy in a hotel room in Boston. This is an ironic backdrop to Linda’s observation that Willy is idolised by his children; the fact that he is having an affair demonstrates that Willy is not deserving of such intense devotion. He exhibits the same callous disrespect for women as Happy does as an adult, but unlike Happy, Willy is disloyal to the devoted Linda. Additionally, the flashback indicates that Willy is not a man who is respected by others; the woman with whom he is having an affair chose Willy based on his sense of humour rather than any other attributes.

I.5 Act

Act I (Loman’s Home, Past):

Willy rejoins Linda in the kitchen, where she informs him that he is a gorgeous man. Linda mends her stocking, but Willy informs her that such menial tasks are not appropriate for her. Willy arrives to the porch and instructs Bernard to deliver the Regents exam answers to Biff. Bernard claims that he regularly provides answers to Biff, but Regents is a State test, and he risks arrest. Bernard asserts that Biff is driving the car without a licence and is therefore doomed to fail arithmetic. Willy also hears the woman’s voice (from the hotel room) and screams at her to stop talking. Willy explodes at Linda, claiming that Biff is fine. He inquires as to whether she wishes for Biff to be a worm-like Bernard. Linda enters the living room, nearly in tears.

Analysis:

This section of the chapter, which is actually a flashback, takes us back to the Loman household, which serves as the backdrop for most of the play. Miller compares Willy’s behaviour as a ruthless womaniser on the road with his behaviour as a husband at home. Willy’s commitment to Linda is largely motivated by his own pride; he does not want her to mend stockings because it demonstrates that he cannot supply her with the financial resources to purchase new stockings. Miller emphasises the difference between Biff and Bernard further by stating that Bernard is more concerned about Biff’s education than either Biff or Willy, but Biff is reckless and abusive.

Each of these issues is dealt with by Willy Loman through denial. He informs Linda that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Biff, especially in comparison to Bernard. Willy, on the other hand, is aware of the consequences of his transgressions, as demonstrated when he hears the voice of the lady with whom he has had an affair. Willy’s issues in his later years are largely self-inflicted, the result of long-standing shame for his deeds.

Act I.6
Act I (Loman Home, Present Day):

Willy informs Happy that he came dangerously close to hitting a child in Yonkers. Willy wonders why he did not accompany his brother Ben to Alaska, given that the man was a genius: success personified. Ben ended up with diamond mines: at the age of twenty-one, he strolled into a forest and emerged wealthy. Happy advises Willy to retire. Charley makes his entrance. While Willy and Charley are playing cards, Charley insults Willy by offering him a job. Willy inquires as to why Biff is returning to Texas, but Charley advises him to let Biff go. Willy discusses the ceiling he installed in the living room but declines to provide details. When Charley inquires as to how he could possibly put up a ceiling, Willy yells at him that a man who cannot manage tools is not a man and refers to Charley as repulsive.


Uncle Ben appears, a stolid man in his fifties with a moustache and a commanding presence. Willy informs Ben that he is becoming increasingly fatigued, but because Charley is unable to see him, Willy informs him that for a brief while, Charley reminded him of his brother Ben, who died many weeks ago in Africa. Ben inquires about their mother’s whereabouts, but Willy responds that she died a long time ago. Charley, who cannot see Ben, is perplexed by Willy’s remarks. Finally, Charley succumbs to fear and flees.
Analysis:

If Charley and Bernard represent visible financial prosperity in Death of a Salesman, Willy’s older brother Ben represents the nebulous and nearly mythical reaches of achievement. It is debatable if Ben is a Horatio Alger figure, a historical individual whose biography should be regarded literally; some portions of his biography are so romanticised and excessively grandiose that Miller’s information about Ben is almost certainly filtered through Willy Loman’s imagination. Ben’s appearance in the play is purely symbolic of Willy’s fantasy. For Willy, Ben embodies amazing achievement achieved through intangible luck rather than the monotony of consistent effort and hard labour; Ben has achieved what Willy has always desired but never achieved.

Charley’s encounter with Willy demonstrates that Willy harbours some envy for his friend’s success. Willy counsels Charley at every chance, attempting to establish power over him. He defines a man as one who is capable of handling tools, reverting to a physical definition of manhood rather than monetary or status-based conceptions that would show Charley’s superiority.

Similarly, Charley appears to recognise Willy’s envy and acts cautiously toward his pal. While Charley does harm Willy’s dignity by offering him a job, he does so cautiously, as he has a tremendous deal of sympathy for Willy that he knows he must conceal. Charley does, however, provide Willy with excellent advice, encouraging him to let Biff do as he pleases and to flee to Texas.

Act I.7
Act I (Loman Home, Past):

Linda (as a younger woman) appears when Willy is speaking with Ben. Willy inquires as to the whereabouts of Ben’s father, but Ben responds that he did not find him in Alaska, as he never made it there. Ben asserts that he had a fundamental misunderstanding of geography and ended up in Africa rather than Alaska. When Ben left, Willy was just three years and eleven months old. Willy welcomes little Biff and Happy inside the house and introduces them to Uncle Ben, a “great man.” Ben boasts that their father was a wonderful man, an inventor capable of earning more money in a week than another man could in a lifetime. Willy demonstrates Biff to Ben and informs him that he is raising Biff to be like their father. Biff and Ben begin sparring; Ben trips Biff and warns him never to fight a stranger fairly since he will never make it out of the jungle that way. Ben departs, wishing Willy success in any endeavour he does.
Charley reappears and chastises Willy for allowing his children to steal lumber from a nearby building that is being renovated. Willy claims that he reprimanded them, but that he is the father of a “couple of fearless characters” Charley informs him that the jails are teeming with courageous individuals, but Ben counters that the stock exchange is as well. Bernard appears and informs Willy that the watchman is pursuing Biff, but Willy maintains that he is not robbing anyone. Willy says he will stop by on his way back to Africa, but Willy urges him to remain and speak with him. Willy is concerned that he is not imparting the proper knowledge to his sons. Ben reiterates that he entered the jungle as a seventeen-year-old and emerged as a twenty-one-year-old and incredibly wealthy twenty-one-year-old.
Analysis:

Miller switches the play’s location even again, this time to earlier years, in a seemingly fictitious sequence that contrasts Willy’s failing aspirations with his brother Ben’s allegedly amazing accomplishments. Willy nearly exclusively uses superlatives. Ben is a renowned man who became the proprietor of a diamond mine by pure chance. Ben, who is an extension of Willy’s imagination, similarly refers to their father as a “great man” and innovator.

These boasts are exaggerations intended to highlight Willy’s inadequacies in relation to his brother and father. Willy even makes pitiful attempts to rationalise life in Brooklyn as akin to living in the great outdoors. This familial background fits perfectly with Willy’s connection with Biff; just as Biff feels inadequate in his father’s eyes, Willy feels insufficient in comparison to his father and brother.

The return of Young Biff and Young Happy reaffirms the ideals instilled in Willy’s sons. Happy brags about his weight loss once more, demonstrating his obsession with physical appearance and agility, while Biff steals from a neighbouring construction site. Willy views theft as a natural outgrowth of a capitalist mindset; he perceives no distinction between the fearless persona in prison and the fearless character on the stock exchange. This reveals Willy’s inadequacies towards achievement: he relates success to chance or immorality and is unable of seeing the merits of hard work and discipline as demonstrated by Charley and Bernard. Willy can envision success as a mantra uttered by Ben or as the outcome of bold daring, but he cannot fathom the importance of hard effort and adherence to the formula. Willy’s business ideals influence his instructions to his sons, and their instructions from Willy influence their business actions.


Act I.8
Act I (Loman Home, Present Day):

Ben exits, but Willy continues to converse with him as Linda enters. Willy is curious as to what happened to the diamond watch fob Ben gave him upon his return from Africa. Linda informs him that he pawned it to cover the cost of Biff’s correspondence radio course. Biff and Happy descend in their pyjamas and inquire of Linda how long Willy has been conversing with himself. According to Linda, this has been going on for years. Linda claims that she would have informed Biff if he had a contact address. Additionally, she states that Willy is at his worst when Biff returns home and inquires as to why they are so antagonistic toward one another. Biff asserts that he is attempting to alter his behaviour.

Linda inquires as to his thoughts about Willy. According to her, if Biff has no affection for his father, he also has no feelings for her. Linda declares that Willy is the most beloved man in the world to her, and she will not allow anyone to make him feel unwelcome. Biff begs her to quit making excuses for Willy because he has never shown her the slightest bit of difference. Happy instructs Biff not to refer to their father as insane. Biff asserts that Willy lacks personality. She informs him that while Willy has never been wealthy or has the best character, he is a human being and “attention must be paid” to him.

Linda relates Willy’s humiliations, such as needing to borrow money from Charley, and she refers to Happy as a philanderer. Biff wishes to be with his parents and commits not to fight Willy. Biff claims that Willy previously ejected him because his father is a liar who despises anyone who knows the truth about him. Linda reports that Willy is terminally ill and has been attempting suicide. When Willy was involved in an automobile accident in February, a woman observed him purposefully slamming his car against the bridge railing in order to push it into the river. Willy has also attempted suicide by way of the gas line. Biff apologises to Linda and commits to staying and attempting to succeed. Happy informs Biff that he never attempts to please others in business and whistles in the elevator.

Willy enters and informs Biff that he has never matured and Bernard does not whistle in the elevator. However, Biff asserts that Willy does whistle. Biff informs Willy that he would be meeting with Bill Oliver tomorrow to discuss the athletic goods business. Happy asserts that the plan’s beauty is that it would reintroduce them to the game of baseball. According to Willy, it is individuality that prevails. Linda is concerned that Oliver may forget about Biff after the lads depart. Willy asserts that if Biff had remained with Oliver, he would now be in command. Willy recalls Biff’s Ebbets Field baseball game. He pledges that the following day, he will inquire with Harold about working in New York.

Biff is terrified when he discovers Willy’s rubber tubing behind the heater.

Analysis:

Miller, who now returns to the play’s present reality, proves conclusively that the “flashbacks” occur in Willy Loman’s imagination and are a symptom of greater dementia. Linda relates her husband’s hallucinations to Biff’s presence, implying that Biff serves as a reminder of Willy’s shortcomings as a father and a businessman. However, Miller’s focus in this section of the play is on Willy’s dementia’s effect on Linda. She has had to deal with Willy’s irregular conduct on her alone, which has increased her age significantly. She is her husband’s sole defender, despite the fact that this role threatens to intensify the family’s tensions.

Miller discusses Willy’s indignities primarily in terms of their effect on Linda. Because her survival and identity are wholly dependent on her husband, she strongly protects him even when she recognises that he is unworthy of defence. Linda essentially chooses her husband before her children when she tells Biff that he cannot love her unless he loves Willy. She does it largely out of a deep sense of obligation toward Willy, knowing that she is the only person who cares whether he lives or dies. Notably, she defends Willy based on his humanity, not his duty as a father or husband. Linda thus acknowledges Willy’s shortcomings but argues that “attention must be paid” to him. This assertion is essential in its form; Linda asserts that someone must consider Willy, but does not name anyone specifically, so avoiding a specific allegation against her boys. She criticises society in general for her husband’s mistreatment. Linda has few reservations about confronting her sons, as evidenced by her condemnation of Happy’s philandering and Biff’s immaturity, yet when she demands to care for her husband, she does not place the burden solely on them.

While Miller elevates Linda to the status of a long-suffering and loving wife, he also demonstrates that Willy Loman is undeserving of the respect and affection Linda bestows on him. Biff stresses Willy’s lack of character and contempt for Linda, while hints regarding Linda’s physical appearance indicate that she has aged significantly as a result of her demanding husband.

The final act’s final portion acts as a watershed moment for Biff, who realises he must “apply himself” as his parents have requested. This discovery occurs when Linda reveals that Willy has tried suicide, bringing the gravity of his situation into perspective. Willy’s suicide attempts are indicative of a failing man, but they also demonstrate the disconnect between his ideals and actual accomplishments.

Biff’s notion of starting a sporting goods firm with his brother exemplifies his and his father’s different character defects. It maintains the family tradition of prioritising beauty and personality over substance and accomplishment. Biff places his hopes for success in Bill Oliver, much as his father did with Frank Wagner; Linda is right to be concerned that Bill Oliver may forget about Biff. Finally, the sports goods business exemplifies Biff and Happy’s immaturity; both men desire to work in sporting goods to relive their youth and high school athletic glory. Even Willy sees this as a chance for him and his sons to reclaim what they lost decades ago.

Act II.1
Act II (Loman Home, Present Day):

The following morning, Willy sits at the kitchen table. He states that for the first time in months, he slept soundly. Linda describes how joyful it was to see the boys departing together and how Biff had a new, hopeful outlook. Willy fantasises about purchasing a little country property. Linda inquires as to whether Willy will speak with Howard today, and he responds that he will inform Howard to pull him off the road. Linda informs him that he is due to meet the boys at Frank’s Chop House for dinner. Linda receives a phone call from Biff shortly after Willy departs. She informs him that the pipe connecting Willy to the gas heater has vanished; Willy must have removed it himself. She is disappointed to discover that Biff stole it.


Analysis:


The second act begins with a marked change in tone from the first, with Willy now appearing bright and optimistic. Most significantly, the pipe attached to the gas heater with which Willy attempted suicide has been removed; Linda naturally assumes that Willy removed it himself, although this assumption will be challenged later in the play.

However, the hope that pervades the act’s opening is rather misguided. His attitude shift is solely due to Biff’s meeting with Bill Oliver, which Willy has fabricated into a sure-fire business proposal. Willy has gone from suicidal to confident and joyous in the span of one night, despite the fact that nothing concrete has been addressed because the dream of the Oliver plan instilled optimism in him.

II.2
Act II (Wagner’s Office, Present Day):

Willy enters his boss’s office, where he finds Howard Wagner, a thirty-six-year-old man seated at a typewriter table and using a wire-recording machine. Howard listens to Willy tapes of Howard’s daughter and son. Willy attempts to communicate his desires to Howard, but Howard insists on playing a recording of his wife. Willy expresses his desire to stop travelling, but Howard asserts that Willy is a roadman. Willy claims that he was a partner in the firm when Howard’s father carried him as a child. Howard is currently without a slot.


Willy discusses how being a salesman used to be a career that required comradeship and respect, but that there is little room for camaraderie or personality in today’s sales environment. Willy is constantly requesting lower and lower salaries. Howard’s father made promises to Willy, he sobs, but Howard encourages him to gather his wits and then walks away. Willy slouches at his desk and activates the wire recorder. Willy flees in fear and calls out for Howard. Howard reappears and dismisses Willy, stating that he requires a nice, long rest. Howard advises him that this is not the time for arrogance and that he should rely on his boys.

Analysis:

Arthur Miller presents Howard Wagner as a symbol of development and innovation in this section of the second act, in contrast to Willy Loman’s outmoded business techniques. Howard’s office is filled with features that stress technical innovation and novelty, from his well-appointed, modern workspace to the recording equipment that captivates him. This demonstrates Howard’s preference for the future above the past, as he overlooks Willy to contemplate his new invention. By contrast, Willy speaks of his past and unfulfilled promises, rather than his future with the organisation. Willy’s fear of the recorder is a metaphor for his obsolescence in today’s business world; he is incapable of dealing with innovation. As he points out, even his values date from a bygone era. Willy speaks about a time when being a salesman required mutual respect and camaraderie, a time that has long since passed if it ever existed at all.

Willy once again succumbs to his belief that personality and personal relationships are important components of business success. He recalls Howard’s father bringing him to the office as a newborn and his personal role in naming the youngster. While personally significant, this truth carries little weight in the commercial world.

II.3
Act Two (Loman Home, Past):

Ben enters, holding his valise and umbrella, as Howard exits. Willy inquires as to if he has finalised the Alaska deal. Linda’s younger self enters and informs Ben that Willy has a terrific job in New York. She advises him against travelling to Alaska. She inquires as to why everyone must conquer the globe and informs Willy that he is well-liked and that Old Man Wagner promised Willy that he would one day join the corporation. Young Biff and Young Happy enter. Willy maintains that what matters is “who you know” but Ben departs.
Bernard arrives as a child and asks Biff to allow him to carry his helmet, but Happy insists on carrying it. Willy is getting ready to accompany them to the championship game. Willy informs Charley that he will be unable to attend Biff’s baseball game due to a lack of space in the car. Willy gets offended when he believes Charley has forgotten about the game. Willy braces himself for the fight with Charley.
Analysis:

Miller switches the play’s setting again, this time to an earlier time period, in order to contrast Willy’s current experiences with those of his romanticised past. Ben’s reappearance is indicative of Willy Loman’s renunciation of dreams for a more stable – and boring – reality. This portion indicates that Linda has limited her husband in certain ways by compelling him to choose a more stable route. She asserts that not every guy is destined to conquer the world, maybe implying that Willy Loman is not such a man.

Miller, on the other hand, highlights Willy’s conviction in the crucial nature of human ties in business. By this time in the play, Willy’s assertion that “who you know” is irrelevant has been effectively debunked, since Willy has been dismissed by a guy he has known since birth.

Bernard and Charley’s return in this chapter serves as a precursor to their further roles in the play. This segment re-establishes the tense connection between Charley and Willy, who is taken aback by the possibility that Charley is not completely in awe of Biff’s athletic accomplishments. Additionally, it reaffirms Bernard’s status as Charley’s shadow. Miller’s inclusion of a flashback at this moment foreshadows a later development of the interaction between the Lomans, Bernard, and Charley.

II.4
Act Two (Charley’s Office, Present Day):

Bernard, now an adult, occupies a seat in Charley’s office. Willy speaks with Bernard, who informs him that he is about to depart for Washington. Willy informs Bernard of the transaction with Bill Oliver and inquires about Bernard’s secret. Willy is perplexed as to why Biff’s life came to an end during the Ebbets Field game. Bernard inquires as to why Willy did not advise Biff to enrol in summer school in order to pass math. Around that time, Biff took a month off to visit his father in New England, and upon his return, he set fire to his UVA sneakers. Bernard is perplexed as to what transpired in New England.


Charley appears and informs Willy that Bernard will be presenting a case before the Supreme Court. Charley delivers some money to Willy. Willy laments Howard’s dismissal, but Charley asserts that such trivialities as child names are irrelevant: what matters is what you can sell. Charley provides him with another work, despite the fact that he acknowledges he dislikes Willy and Willy dislikes him. Willy declines once more, and Charley knows the crux of the matter is jealousy. Charley gives him money for insurance, and Willy observes that a person is more valuable when they are dead than when they are alive. Willy instructs Charley to apologise to Bernard for him and tells Charley, on the point of tears, that he is his only friend.
Analysis:

Miller juxtaposes Willy Loman’s failure with Bernard and Charley’s enormous success in this episode. Miller continues to flesh out Willy Loman as a pitiful and crazy creature who hallucinates and shouts to himself as he wanders down an office building’s hallway. By comparison, Bernard is a prosperous man who is respected in his work and pleased with his private life.

Miller’s characterization of Bernard in this part is humorous in light of Willy’s previous analogies to Bernard’s sons. While Willy believed Bernard’s more serious demeanour and lack of “personality” would handicap him once he entered the corporate world, it appears as though the opposite is true. While Happy is at best marginally successful and unhappy, and Biff is a complete failure, Bernard, whom Willy assumed lacked business-related talents, is an unmistakable success. Bernard himself appears to recognise that Willy’s aspirations for his sons have been dashed, and withholds information about his trip to Washington from Willy in order to avoid embarrassing him.

Bernard also serves to illustrate the growth of Willy and Biff Loman’s relationship. Bernard can pinpoint a watershed moment in their relationship, referring to a precise occasion when Biff’s attitude toward his father shifted. Bernard appears to relate this episode to Biff’s present failure, noting that Biff never desired to attend summer school or graduate high school following a vacation to New England to visit his father. Miller makes it quite evident that Willy has direct responsibility for Biff’s shortcomings. According to Bernard’s view of the event, Biff is on the verge of self-destruction, destroying his prospects for a solid future in order to enrage his father.

Additionally, Charley embodies a level of achievement and peace that Willy is incapable of achieving. Charley is the one who most accurately sees the flaw in Willy’s business philosophy: Willy believes that personality and intangible characteristics are crucial to success, whereas Charley understands that more concrete factors such as sales define a man’s success. Charley also recognises Willy’s level of jealousy toward him and his son; he feels this is why Willy will not accept a job offer from him.

Charley and Willy’s connection is not built on affection but tradition and an established feeling of obligation. Charley admits that he dislikes Willy, and Willy, in turn, dislikes him, but Charley is Willy’s sole friend. This confession is one of the rare instances during the play that Willy appears to recognise and acknowledge his own pitiful position. This is followed by Willy’s assertion that a person is a more valuable dead than alive, emphasising Willy’s suicidal mood and foreshadowing future events.

II.5
Act Two (Restaurant, Present Day):

Stanley, the restaurant’s waiter, seats Happy. A glamorous young lady enters and takes a seat at the adjacent table, and Happy instructs Stanley to get her champagne. Biff enters as Happy engages in flirtatious behaviour with the girl, who is introduced as Miss Forsythe. Happy informs Miss Forsythe that Biff is a New York Giants quarterback. Happy invites the lady out and asks if she can find Biff a companion. The girl goes, and Happy adds that it is because of girls like these that he is unable to marry.


Biff informs Happy that he committed a heinous act. Bill Oliver had no recollection of Biff and walked away when he approached. Biff, on the other hand, took his fountain pen. Biff insists that they inform their father tonight to demonstrate that Biff is not fabricating his failures in order to enrage Willy. Happy instructs him to pretend that he has a lunch date with Oliver tomorrow and to continue the ruse because Willy is never happier than when he is anticipating something. Willy arrives and informs his sons that he has been terminated. Although Biff attempts to conceal his encounter with Oliver from Willy, Biff and Willy quarrel when Willy believes Biff insulted Bill Oliver. Biff finally succumbs and informs Happy that he is unable to communicate with Willy. Willy imagines himself arguing with Young Biff and Young Bernard about Biff failing algebra, and Bernard telling Linda that Biff travelled to Boston to meet Willy, as Biff attempts to explain. While Willy imagines the woman in the hotel room, Biff proceeds to narrate what happened. Miss Forsythe reappears, accompanied by another woman, and Willy departs. Biff and Happy spar over who should take action against their father. Happy refutes the women’s assertions that Willy is their father.
Analysis:

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While Biff’s failures and defects have been a prominent focus throughout the play, this chapter illustrates the dangers associated with Happy’s character problems. Happy, a compulsive womaniser, makes outright lies to the women he encounters, stating that Biff is a professional athlete, and then abandons his father to seduce Miss Forsythe. Happy’s final, most heinous act is to deny that Willy is his father, thus denouncing his father even more callously than Biff has.

By comparison, Biff merely continues his tendency of blundering errors in this segment. While Biff may have begun failing to spite his father, his self-destructive conduct has become engrained at this time. His plan to solicit money from Bill Oliver was doubtful at best, but Biff made it even more improbable by ostensibly pocketing his fountain pen. In comparison to Happy, Biff expresses concern for his father’s sentiments; he fears that Willy would believe Biff purposefully mishandled the meeting with Bill Oliver.

The Loman sons’ emphasis in framing Biff’s meeting with Bill Oliver in the most favourable light possible demonstrates that their true motivation for entering the athletic goods business is not personal gain, but rather to satisfy their father. Biff fears he cannot tell Willy the truth about his meeting with Bill Oliver because Willy would believe Biff sabotaged the meeting on purpose as an affront to him. Biff’s primary concern is what his father thinks of him and the effect this will have on him; aside from his shame over taking the fountain pen, his failure during the meeting is barely a thought unless it involves how his father would respond to the situation. Miller reveals that, despite his infirmity, Willy continues to exert dominance over his sons, whose activities are dictated by their father’s reaction to them.

Willy’s fantasy of Young Biff failing math and visiting him in Boston provides additional insight about why Biff had such hatred for his father. Willy connects Biff’s travel to Boston to his affair in the same city; the likely clash between Willy’s home life as a father and his life on the road as a salesman appears to be the catalyst for Biff’s hateful, self-destructive behaviour.

II.6
Act Two (Hotel Room, Past):

Willy observes the Woman buttoning his shirt. Someone knocks on the door, but Willy claims he is unprepared. The Woman asserts that Willy has damaged her and that whenever he visits the workplace, she will ensure that he proceeds directly to the purchasers. The knocking continues, and Willy informs the Woman that she should remain in the bathroom while he opens the door. Biff is the one who informs Willy that he failed math. Biff urges Willy to speak with his teacher, Mr Birnbaum, in order to persuade him to pass Biff.


Biff enters the restroom after hearing the woman chuckle. Willy informs Biff that the woman is staying in the adjacent room while it is being painted, and thus allows her to shower in his. Willy dismisses the woman, claiming that he promised to purchase her a pair of stockings. Willy attempts to explain that the woman is a purchaser, but Biff sobs. Willy acknowledges having a relationship with the woman but claims it was meaningless to him and that he was lonely.
Analysis:

Returning to the Loman family’s past, Miller provides a comprehensive explanation for Biff’s reluctance to enrol in a summer school course, the pivotal event that set in motion his series of failures. Willy’s infidelity was the catalyst for Biff’s transformation, as he discovered his father was having an affair with the woman in Boston. However, Willy’s carelessness in ruining the lives of those around him is not limited to the revealing of this reason for Biff’s bitterness. Willy has wrecked the Woman’s reputation but can offer her nothing in return. Despite his vows to her, he rejects and discards her. This is similar to Willy’s prior admonition to Linda not to fix stockings. Stockings serve as a visual representation of what Willy is capable of and a barometer of his progress.

II.7
Act Two (Restaurant, Present Day):

Stanley appears in front of Willy in the restaurant while Willy shouts at the server, mistaking him for Biff. Stanley informs Willy that his sons have departed with the two women and have promised to meet him when they return home. Stanley attempts to assist him. Willy inquires as to the whereabouts of a seed store in the neighbourhood since he needs to purchase seeds for planting. Willy makes his way to the seed store.

Analysis:

Another humiliating moment occurs in this segment: his sons abandon him in the restaurant, leaving him alone with the waiter as they flirt with the two superficial women. Willy’s fascination with seeds serves as a metaphor for his realisation that he has accomplished nothing substantial or enduring in his life. As a salesman, he acts as a conduit for the creations of others, while his self-created family abandons him at the restaurant. Seeds, more than his family, symbolise something more durable and concrete. This new subject also relates to Willy’s evident embarrassment at Ben’s remark that he cannot hunt or fish in Brooklyn; Willy thinks that, as a salesperson, he lacks sufficient interaction with nature. His drive to cultivate seeds is an attempt to compensate for this deficiency.

Act I.8
Act I (Loman Home, Present Day):

Ben exits, but Willy continues to converse with him as Linda enters. Willy is curious as to what happened to the diamond watch fob Ben gave him upon his return from Africa. Linda informs him that he pawned it to cover the cost of Biff’s correspondence radio course. Biff and Happy descend in their pyjamas and inquire of Linda how long Willy has been conversing with himself. According to Linda, this has been going on for years. Linda claims that she would have informed Biff if he had a contact address. Additionally, she states that Willy is at his worst when Biff returns home and inquires as to why they are so antagonistic toward one another. Biff asserts that he is attempting to alter his behaviour.

Linda inquires as to his thoughts about Willy. According to her, if Biff has no affection for his father, he also has no feelings for her. Linda declares that Willy is the most beloved man in the world to her, and she will not allow anyone to make him feel unwelcome. Biff begs her to quit making excuses for Willy because he has never shown her the slightest bit of difference. Happy instructs Biff not to refer to their father as insane. Biff asserts that Willy lacks personality. She informs him that while Willy has never been wealthy or has the best character, he is a human being and “attention must be paid” to him.

Linda relates Willy’s humiliations, such as needing to borrow money from Charley, and she refers to Happy as a philanderer. Biff wishes to be with his parents and commits not to fight Willy. Biff claims that Willy previously ejected him because his father is a liar who despises anyone who knows the truth about him. Linda reports that Willy is terminally ill and has been attempting suicide. When Willy was involved in an automobile accident in February, a woman observed him purposefully slamming his car against the bridge railing in order to push it into the river. Willy has also attempted suicide by way of the gas line. Biff apologises to Linda and commits to staying and attempting to succeed. Happy informs Biff that he never attempts to please others in business and whistles in the elevator.

Willy enters and informs Biff that he has never matured and Bernard does not whistle in the elevator. However, Biff asserts that Willy does whistle. Biff informs Willy that he would be meeting with Bill Oliver tomorrow to discuss the athletic goods business. Happy asserts that the plan’s beauty is that it would reintroduce them to the game of baseball. According to Willy, it is individuality that prevails. Linda is concerned that Oliver may forget about Biff after the lads depart. Willy asserts that if Biff had remained with Oliver, he would now be in command. Willy recalls Biff’s Ebbets Field baseball game. He pledges that the following day, he will inquire with Harold about working in New York.

Biff is terrified when he discovers Willy’s rubber tubing behind the heater.

Miller’s return to the play’s current reality in this chapter demonstrates conclusively that the “flashbacks” originate in Willy Loman’s mind and are a symptom of broader dementia. Linda relates her husband’s hallucinations to Biff’s presence, implying that Biff serves as a reminder of Willy’s shortcomings as a father and a businessman. However, Miller’s focus in this section of the play is on Willy’s dementia’s effect on Linda. She has had to deal with Willy’s irregular conduct on her alone, which has increased her age significantly. She is her husband’s sole defender, despite the fact that this role threatens to intensify the family’s tensions.

Miller discusses Willy’s indignities primarily in terms of their effect on Linda. Because her survival and identity are wholly dependent on her husband, she strongly protects him even when she recognises that he is unworthy of defence. Linda essentially chooses her husband before her children when she tells Biff that he cannot love her unless he loves Willy. She does it largely out of a deep sense of obligation toward Willy, knowing that she is the only person who cares whether he lives or dies. Notably, she defends Willy based on his humanity, not his duty as a father or husband. Linda thus acknowledges Willy’s shortcomings but argues that “attention must be paid” to him. This assertion is essential in its form; Linda asserts that someone must consider Willy, but does not name anyone specifically, so avoiding a specific allegation against her boys. She criticises society in general for her husband’s mistreatment. Linda has few reservations about confronting her sons, as evidenced by her condemnation of Happy’s philandering and Biff’s immaturity, yet when she demands to care for her husband, she does not place the burden solely on them.

While Miller elevates Linda to the status of a long-suffering and loving wife, he also demonstrates that Willy Loman is undeserving of the respect and affection Linda bestows on him. Biff stresses Willy’s lack of character and contempt for Linda, while hints regarding Linda’s physical appearance indicate that she has aged significantly as a result of her demanding husband.

The final act’s final portion acts as a watershed moment for Biff, who realises he must “apply himself” as his parents have requested. This discovery occurs when Linda reveals that Willy has tried suicide, bringing the gravity of his situation into perspective. Willy’s suicide attempts are indicative of a failing man, but they also demonstrate the disconnect between his ideals and actual accomplishments.

Biff’s notion of starting a sporting goods firm with his brother exemplifies his and his father’s different character defects. It maintains the family tradition of prioritising beauty and personality over substance and accomplishment. Biff places his hopes for success in Bill Oliver, much as his father did with Frank Wagner; Linda is right to be concerned that Bill Oliver may forget about Biff. Finally, the sports goods business exemplifies Biff and Happy’s immaturity; both men desire to work in sporting goods to relive their youth and high school athletic glory. Even Willy sees this as a chance for him and his sons to reclaim what they lost decades ago.

Requiem:

As Linda stares at Willy’s grave, Charley informs her that it is growing dark. Happy, who is enraged, informs Linda that Willy had no right to commit suicide. Linda is curious about the whereabouts of everyone Willy knew. Linda claims that this is the first time in thirty-five years that she and Willy are practically debt-free, as Willy just requires a small paycheck. Biff claims that Willy had the wrong dreams and was unaware of his true identity. Charley asserts that “Nobody dast blame this man,” because Willy was a salesperson, and there is no such thing as a rock bottom in the life of a salesman. A salesperson must dream.

Biff invites Happy to accompany him out of town, but Happy declines, stating that he intends to stay and bust the racket, demonstrating that Willy’s death was not in vain. Charley, Happy, and Biff all depart, leaving Linda at the cemetery. She inquires as to why Willy acted in such a manner and states that she has just completed the final payment on the house and that they are now free and clear.

Analysis:

The funeral for Willy Loman is a terrible and pitiful end to the salesman’s life. Only his family and Charley pay their respects, but none of his other clients, acquaintances, or colleagues do. However, the funeral is mostly about Willy’s standing as a salesperson: Miller asserts that it was Willy’s character as a salesman that decided his course of action. There are no guarantees for future sales for a salesman. Happy and Biff understand Willy’s suicide in terms of these business dreams: Happy aspires to remain in New York and succeed where his father failed, while Biff opposes the corporate culture that ruined his father and plans to leave the city. Both Happy and Charley portray Willy Loman as a martyr, blameless for his death and heroic in his aims, repudiating Willy’s humiliations throughout the performance.

The play concludes on an ironic note, as Linda claims to have completed the final payment on their property, providing the Lomans with their first sense of financial security. Willy Loman laboured for 35 years to establish this sense of security and stability but committed suicide before he could reap the benefits of his efforts.

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