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Death of a Salesman: Free Study Guide / Summary / Analysis

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DEATH OF A SALESMAN BY ARTHUR MILLER

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ACT II

Summary

When he gets up the next morning, Willy feels good because Biff has gone to see Oliver. He himself is filled with resolve, deciding to buy some seeds to plant in the backyard and to tell Howard that he needs a job in New York. As Willy is about to leave, Linda reminds him of the payments they owe; the car and the refrigerator both have repair bills. The last mortgage payment on the house also has to be paid. Linda finally reminds Willy that he is supposed to meet Biff and Happy for dinner. Linda is again mending stockings since she cannot afford new ones. When Willy notices it, he tells her to stop her mending. As Willy leaves, Linda telephones Biff and tells him how happy his father is this morning.

The next scene is in Howard's office. Howard is listening to a tape-recording made by his family. He tells Willy about the advantages of owning a tape-recorder. Willy changes the subject and reminds Howard that he has been promised a job in New York, reminding him that he has been with the firm many years. Willy also tells Howard about Dave Singleman, who was a well-loved salesman. When he died at eighty-four, people from all over the country came to his funeral. Willy obviously wants to be like Singleman.

Willy, confused by his illusions, tells Howard that he earned a hundred and seventy dollars a week in 1928, but Howard tells him that he has never made that much. At this Willy gets angry and loud; Howard responds by telling Willy to control himself and leaves the office. When Howard comes back, Willy volunteers to go back to Boston. Howard then tells Willy that he cannot represent the firm anymore and instructs him to bring back his sample cases. Before leaving the office again, Howard suggests that Willy get some help from his sons.

Left by himself, Ben appears to him in an illusion. Willy asks him the same questions about his success. This time Ben offers Willy a job in Alaska, but Linda reminds her husband that Wagner has promised him a partnership. Willy tells Ben that he is building something on his own because of his personality. Ben abruptly leaves as Willy tells him that he will conquer the world in New York. Willy next sees young Bernard rushing off to see a football game in which Biff is playing. Charley appears and wants to know where everyone is going. Willy is shocked to realize that his friend does not know that this is the day for Biff's great game. When Charley teases Willy about the game, Willy gets mad. Charley responds by asking, "When are you going to grow up?" This question infuriates Willy.

Back in the present, Willy next walks towards Charley's office in hopes of borrowing some money from his friend. When he arrives, he stands outside, talking to himself. Bernard comes out to see Willy. Willy notices that Bernard is carrying a tennis racket, on his way to play on some private courts. Willy is obviously impressed by Bernardís apparent success. He lies and tells Bernard that Biff is working on some big deal.

Bernard tries to question Willy about Biff. He wants to know what has happened to him recently. The last things that Bernard can remember are Biffís flunking math and going to Boston. He also remembers that he and Biff fought one another for a long time, for no apparent reason. Willy becomes very angry with Bernard and accuses him of trying to blame him for something. Charley comes in and sends Bernard off to the tennis courts. He tells Willy that Bernard is going to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

Willy asks Charley for some more money to pay his insurance. Charley again offers Willy a job, but Willy at first insists that he has a good job and is well liked. Charley tells Willy that being well liked is not important. He also asks his friend, "When the hell are you going to grow up?" Willy then confesses that he has lost his job, but he explains that he simply cannot work for Charley. Feeling sorry for Willy, Charley gives him the needed money. Appreciatively, Willy tells him that he is his only friend. As Willy leaves, he tells Charley that a man ends up worth more dead then alive.


Happy arrives at the restaurant. He orders a meal and begins flirting with a woman who has just walked in. When Biff arrives, Happy asks the woman to find another female to join them. When the woman leaves, Biff tells Happy that he had to wait all day to see Oliver, and then the man did not remember him. Biff now realizes that his whole life has been a ridiculous lie. Today he stole Oliverís pen, just as he has stolen his basketballs in the past. Biff tells Happy that he wants to tell Willy the truth, to make him see that his oldest son is a failure and a cheat. Happy suggests that Biff tell Willy something nice rather than the truth.

Willy joins his sons in the restaurant and is anxious to hear about Biff's interview. Biff tries to tell Willy the truth, but Willy is not interested in the facts. He tells his boys that he wants to hear something good because he has just been fired. Willy imagines how Oliver must have given Biff a great welcome, throwing his arms around him. Unable to tolerate such fantasies any longer, Biff cries out that he cannot talk to Willy. Willyís response is to drift into his fantasy world. Young Bernard again enters, calling for Biff to come and study math.

Suddenly, back in the present, Willy angrily accuses Biff of flunking math. Biff is totally unable to relate to what Willy is talking about; he tries again to tell Willy what has actually happened at Oliver's, but Willy is again in his world of illusions, listening to Linda and Bernard discussing Biff's failure in math. Willy is suddenly jolted back to the present when he hears Biff say that he stole Oliver's fountain pen. Biff promises his father to find some kind of job. He then begs Willy, "Talk to me, Dad." Willy only hears an operator's voice paging him in his illusions, and he grows frantic. When Biff tells him that there is no opportunity for him with Oliver, Willy thinks that Biff is resisting Oliverís offer just to spite him. Even though Biff tries to show Willy that he is a failure, Willy will not listen.

The women return to the table to see Happy and Biff. Willy hears a woman's voice calling him, so he leaves to go to the bathroom. Happy and Biff then leave the restaurant with the women.

The scene shifts to the past in a hotel room in Boston. Willy is with a woman who is telling him how he has ruined her. When knocking is heard at the door, Willy tells the woman to stay in the bathroom and not to come out. Biff is at the hotel room door. He tells Willy that he has flunked math. Biff says that Bernard tried to give him some answers, but he still lacked four points to pass. He rationalizes that he flunked because the math exam was right before football practice, and his mind was on the playing field. Biff also attributes his failure to the fact that his teacher did not like him; he had once imitated his teacher in front of the class and was caught in the act. Biff and Willy both laugh at this behavior. The woman hears the laughter and comes out. Willy gets her out of the room quickly, but not before she demands the silk stockings which Willy has promised her. Biff is shocked and upset when he realizes what is going on. He accuses Willy of giving away "mama's stockings." He then calls Willy a liar and a fake. Willy's flashback is cut short by the waiter, Stanley, who informs him that Biff and Happy have left with the women. Willy then leaves to go and look for some seeds to plant.

Later that night, Biff and Happy arrive home with some flowers for Linda. She throws them away and tells her sons that they should not have treated their father the way they did. Happy tells her that they all had a great time, but Biff stops him. He agrees with Linda that he is the scum of the earth. He also says he wants to talk to Willy. Linda tells Biff that Willy is doing some gardening.

The scene shifts to Willy planting seeds in the garden. He is also talking to Ben about "a guaranteed twenty thousand-dollar proposition." Ben wonders whether the life insurance company will honor the policy. He also suggests that it is a cowardly thing to do and that Biff will hate him for it. Willy answers that the company will have to pay off. He adds that it would be more cowardly to live "ringing up a zero." Ben agrees that twenty thousand is something tangible. Willy thinks that many people from his New England territory would come to his funeral; then Biff would have to respect him and would not do things out of spite. Ben tells Willy that he will think about the proposition.

Biff comes outside to talk to Willy. He tells him that he is leaving and not coming back. Still believing in illusions, Willy tries to talk to him about Oliver. Biff explains that he must go and wants Willy to come into the house. Willy refuses to shake hands and warns Biff that he is cutting down his life to spite his father. Biff becomes angry and confronts him with the rubber hose. He tells Willy that it is now time they told the truth. Biff explains that the reason he has been unable to hold down a job is that he has always stolen from the company. Now, he simply wants to discover himself. Willy, not really hearing anything that Biff has said, again tells his son how attractive he is. Biff is completely frustrated; he just wants Willy to understand that he is not acting out of spite. Unable to make his father hear him, Biff suddenly breaks down and sobs and asks Willy to burn his phony dream.

Willy is surprised that Biff is willing to cry in front of him, for he has thought that Biff hated him. Willy now thinks that Biff will do magnificent things. Willy turns to Ben, who has just reappeared in an illusion; Ben confirms Willy's opinion of Biff. The two men then talk over Willyís proposition and agree that it is a good idea. Ben reminds Willy that it is 'time, William, time." Willy begins to go quickly towards the outside, talking to Biff. He advises his son about how to play football. Linda calls out to Willy, as a car is heard driving off at full speed.


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