Death of a Salesman: Summary - Act 1

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Death of a Salesman: Act 1 Full Summary

      The Opening: thematic implications
A subtle artist as Arthur Miller is, he endows the elaborate stage directions regarding the setting of the play with deep implications, pregnant with rich meaning.

      With the opening of the play, its keynote becomes vibrate “A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises”.

      This is a blueprint of the thematic implications of Death of a Salesman. The play deals with desires, longing, dreams of an American common man. Who has fanatically adhered himself to the pursuit of the mirage of ‘success’. In fact our hero Willy Loman is an Everyman and his quest is that of every sensitive individual trying to ascertain his identity in a world, where rapid urbanization and crumbling human values are corroding his soul perpetually. The reference to ‘grass’, 'trees’ and the ‘horizon’ is suggestive of the eternal world of fine and beautiful dreams and ideals, that act as the crutches sustaining the human spirit amidst growing materialism and mammon-worship.

The Setting: suggestive of the nonentity and fragility of Willy’s life

      The setting shows the “small, fragile—seeming home” of Willy amidst “a solid vault of apartment houses”. It suggests that Willy is no great man. He is an ordinary man and his life is small and fragile. He does not stand out from the ordinary rut; on the contrary he is constantly on the verge of being wiped out. He is consistently fighting against forces that are threatening to rub out his existence. Willy has been persistently pursuing 'success’ which has been consistently eluding him. “An air of dream clings to the place, the dream rising out of reality”. The play encompasses a dramatic clash between 'dream’ and 'reality’ which are responsible for shaping each other and yet are opposed mutually.

Glass House: its significance

      The protagonist and his family live in a kind of ‘glass house’. The entire setting is wholly or in some places partially transparent. This enhances the sense of fragility surrounding Willy. Moreover, it implies that Willy and his family are completely divested of any privacy and all their words and deeds are laid bare to the curious eye. The time of the present day is only twenty-four hours, but in the scenes encompassed by the allusions, a much larger part of Willy’s life is covered. The action of the play does not follow a straight line. It continually springs to and fro between ‘Past’ and 'Present’ like a person walking cautiously between ripples and pebbles, at moments losing balance and swaying towards either of them. “Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lives, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping ‘through a wall onto the forestage?

Willy Introduced: despair and dejection personified

      Now Willy Loman, the tragic protagonist is introduced to us. “He is past sixty years of age dressed quietly”. He enters carrying two large sample cases. The flute plays on. He hears but is not aware of it. All this indicates Willy’s state of mind. He seems to be sunken under the weight of despair. Willy is one of those innumerable people who lag behind in the rat race. He is an epitome of fatigue, despair and dejection. He is drained to the dregs and needs tremendous stimulus that can inspire him to a renewed struggle against the crushing mighty forces working against man.

Linda—a dutiful and devoted wife

      Willy’s wife Linda is most often jovial. She has developed an iron repression of her exceptions to Willy’s behavior—she more than loves him, she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him; longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end. Linda is an extremely sympathetic and devoted wife who finds to her great disappointment that even she is unable to do anything to prevent her husband’s gradual disintegration. In fact, she is the only one to sympathize with Willy on the one hand and witness his sinking into despair, on the other.

Willy is conscious that there is something wrong with him

      Linda is naturally worried at Willy’s unexpected return. To her eager inquiries, Willy is only able to reply that he is ‘tired to the death’. Almost helplessly, numb with despair, he utters: “I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda”. Linda tries her best to soothe him and asks him where he had been all day. To this, Willy replies that when he had reached “as far as a little above Yonkers,” he realized that he “suddenly couldn’t drive anymore. The car kept going off onto the shoulder if you know?” Trying to infuse him with hope and optimism, Linda suggests that something might be wrong with the steering; but “Willy knows better. He knows that there is something wrong within him, in his own self.” Putting it assertively he says clearly: “No, it’s me, it’s me. “If there is anything anywhere, it is not with things but with Willy himself. He himself is to blame for his failure. Linda tries to provide some relief to him by putting the blame now on his glasses, but Willy is very sure that this is not so and he sees ‘everything’. Now she comes to think of his tired mind and says: “But you didn’t rest your mind. Your mind is over active, and the mind is what counts, deaf. Perhaps by pointing this out, Linda is able to put her finger on at least half the cause of Willy’s failure, despair and disintegration.

Willy is aware that he is a dreamer

      We now find that Willy is conscious of the fact he has been a dreamer and a lover of beautiful things in life. When amidst nature, Willy is simply enraptured. He recalls that while driving along, he observed the beautiful scenery and felt delighted at the sight of thick trees and feel of the warm sun but suddenly he felt that he was going off the road. He says to Linda, almost in a confessional, confiding tone, “I am telling ya, I absolutely forgot I was driving. If I’d’ve gone the other way over the white line I might have killed somebody. So I went on again—and five minutes later I’m dreaming again”.

Willy is a victim of the law of success

      Linda tries to distract Willy into talking and thinking about his job and his employers. Willy Loman is a salesman in some companies and has to be constantly on tour because his employer is dominated by the desire for commercial success. Linda asks Willy to talk to his employers so that they might allow him to work in New York, but Willy’s experience knows better: “They don’t need me, in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England”. Linda hopefully expects to find a spark of humanity in the world of business, where it is only the law of success that operates, irrespective or unmindful of all human considerations. “But you are sixty-three years old. They cannot expect you to keep traveling every week.”

Willy’s bad luck

      Unfortunately for Willy, his old employer Wagner is now dead and his son Howard does not appreciate Willy’s contribution and services to the company. The realization dawns upon Willy that he has worked hard for his employer and has gained nothing in return. He finds himself a helpless victim to a callous world of relentless competition where the worth of a person is tested by the amount of money he is able to produce.

Willy—a failure with his sons

      There is another and a more personal front where Willy finds himself a failure. This is in his relationship with his sons. Though he has always made an effort to acquire the image of a successful father and has spared no pains, he is deeply shocked to find that his sons are almost non-entitization and bear no respect for him. He is almost estranged with his sons: this leaves deep scars of pain and frustration on him. He is continually enveloped in a benumbing mist of frustration and failure. The question of human relationships is brought to the fore, now. He is haunted by a sense of the futility of pursuing materialistic goals if he cannot enjoy and share them decently with people, with his family. He feels that efforts should be made to strengthen human ties. He laments the disintegrating and withering sense of ‘family’ in the modern age. Putting the tragic aspect of the problem in its proper perspective and depicting the central irony of the human situation he says: “Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it”. Linda tries to put up an attitude of philosophical resignation: “Well dear, life is a casting off. It’s always that way.” But Willy is haunted by a sense of failure. He is desperate and wants to achieve something. “No, no, some people—some people accomplish something”.

Biff: an example of an attractive man being lost—a disappointment to Willy

      Willy is greatly disappointed with his son Biff, who is a complete failure. After loafing around freely for more than ten years, Biff Loman has not been able to settle down or achieve anything. Willy thinks that Biff's laziness and moody temperament are responsible for his plight. Linda tries to explain it to Willy that their son needed only a little encouragement and a proper understanding of his real self. Willy is almost furious to realize that Biff Loman had not been able to find himself at the age of thirty-four. Alluding to their (Willy’s and Biff's) fight earlier, Linda tries to attribute Biff's strange behavior, to his being ‘lost’. On hearing this, Willy is provoked to utter an angry outpour against the entire atmosphere and social system which gives rise to failures. He realizes with great satiric bend of thought here, that a failure perhaps has no right to exist in the land of success. We see that in his fury, Willy expresses contrary views about Biff. He does not seem to know anyone or anything. In whatever Willy says about anybody, Willy is completely swayed by the line of thought his mind is following at that particular moment. Speaking with an ominous sense of doom in his voice, he puts across the tragic irony of the situation with remarkable simplicity and brevity: “Briff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such personal attractiveness gets lost.”

To Willy artificiality is imprisoning

      Willy feels suffocated in his apartment house. Though all the windows of the house are open, he feels that he is choked to death. Towering structures of brick and mortar, dwarfing the individual to nothing, surround him like large loomings of ominous shadows. To Willy, a house that does not permit a whiff of fresh air, is a prison. Huge, congested masses of concrete and cement have blotted out freshness, sunshine and natural beauty. Willy Loman feels that man’s withdrawal from Nature has led to self-estrangement and a growing sense of alienation. The increase in population and maddening competition also contribute their share to the moral and spiritual destitution of this greatest country (America) of the world. He observes with pain that in the freest country of the world, people were living huddled up together inhumanly. Contrasting the present day nostalgically with the good old days of the past when there was more breathing space and man lived amidst Nature. Willy goes on to say: “The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow anymore, you cannot raise a carrot in the backyard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there! When I and Biff hung the swing between them?” Willy wistfully yearns for the fragrance of lilacs and wistarias, of peonies and daffodils”. Population and commercialism are his main worries: “There’s more people! That’s what ruining this country: Population is getting out of control! The competition is maddening.” The maddening competition is another factor responsible for human tragedy on this country.

      Willy feels guilty that Linda is rather worried on his account. In trying to express his feeling of sincere gratitude to her, he expresses something which is very true. “You are my foundation and my support, Linda”. While he is in a mood of repentance, Linda tries to restore Willy’s optimism and good humor. Willy is finally brought out of his mists of despair and despondency. He gets hopeful about Biff, and thinks that he will find his way.

Willy’s back-movement in time

      Suddenly, Willy finds himself re-living his past. He remembers his red Chevrolet that he had driven in 1928: “I was thinking of the Chewy...Nineteen twenty eight...when I had that red Chewy—(Breaks off). That Funny? I could’ve sworn I was driving that Chewy today”. Lost in his past, he further muses: "Remarkable. Ts. Remember those days? The way Biff used to simonize that car ? The dealer refused to believe there was eighty thousand miles on it.” After recalling these proud, golden moments of the past, Willy walks out of the bedroom.

Both the brother's Biff and Happy are lost

      Now we see Biff and Happy, the two sons of Willy Loman. Miller here gives a very vivid description of the two brothers, “Biff is two years older than his brother Happy, well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured. He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable than Happy’s. Happy’s tall, powerfully made. Sexuality is like a visible color on him, or a scent that many women have discovered. He, like his brother is lost, but in a different way, for he has never allowed himself to turn his face towards defeat and is thus more confused and bard-spinned, although seemingly more content”. Miller’s description brings out the points of similarity and those of contrast between the two brothers. Both are dreamers and both are lost but Happy is more confident and happy-go-lucky than Biff. Happy has never allowed himself to feel defeated. In his sex appeal and experience he seems to be akin to Casanova or Don Juan. Sexuality is very prominent in him.

      The two brothers discuss their father and his strange condition. Happy fears that Willy’s driving license might get canceled on account of rash and negligent driving. Biff attributes it to his eyesight which he feels is getting weaker, only to be immediately contradicted by Happy. He says that he does not feel so: “He sees all right. He just does not keep his mind on it. I drove into the city with him last week. He stops at a green light and then it turns red and he goes.” The real problem in car-driving springs from his absent mindedness. Now Biff tries to suggest that Willy might be color-blind, but is again contradicted by Happy who reminds him: “Pop? Why, he’s got the finest eye for color in the business. You know that.”

      Willy is still living in the past and from the living room we hear him muttering to himself: “Yes, sir, eighty thousand miles—eighty-two thousand: obviously referring to the mileage covered by his Chevrolet. Then thinking of the good job done by his-sons in maintaining the car, he mutters: “What a simonizing job, heh:”

Both talk about their affairs with girls

      Now Biff and Happy start recollecting affectionately the days and nights they had passed together: “All the talk that went across those two beds, huh? Our whole lives’, and Biff agrees: “Yeah Lotta dreams and plans”. Happy further observes with a deep masculine laugh: “About five hundred women would like to know what was said in this room”. With this they are steered into intimate confessional talks about their affairs with women. Though the elder brother introduced Happy to Betsey, he (Biff) has now been surpassed by his younger brother in his amorous adventures. Happy admits that though it was Biff who taught him everything, now he moves in the company of women with such ease and confidence that he stands in marked contrast with Biff who still hesitates in meeting women. Happy is quite surprised that Biff has lost his old confidence in dealing with women.

Genesis of Biffs disintegration

      Happy asks Biff as to where his old confidence had gone. Biff then tries to analyze and provide the genesis of his disintegration. He is very sensitive and says that his father’s mocking tone has undermined his earlier confidence in everything he said, did or undertook. Happy has been in contact with his father. He says to Biff that he knows that their father suffers from some deep, inner psychological crisis. Trying to rationalize Willy’s attitude to Biff, Happy says: “He just wants you to make good, that’s all. I wanted to talk to you about Dad for a long time, Biff. Something’s happening to him. He talks to himself.” It appears that Willy is busy most of the time in a dialogue with self. Happy says that he has heard his father’s reveries and unconscious soliloquies which are ample evidence to the fact that he is afflicted with anxiety about the uncertainty of his elder son’s future. Biff maintains that there are other things also which keep Willy’s spirits depressed, but Happy feels strongly that if only Biff got started somehow, everything would be all right. Now we see Biff's tragic predicament. He has lost all faith in future. Words like "hope’, 'future’ etc., have ceased to connote any meaning to him: they are empty words for him: “I tell ya, Hap, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to want.” A sense of a ravaging emptiness, a lack of any direction, breaking down of his father’s glorious image, a hollowing loneliness—the dark shadows of these feelings always haunt him. To make Happy understand what he means, he says that he has had twenty to thirty different kinds of job and is yet not fixed up. He describes it as a measly manner of existence. He loves nature like his father and lives his life in a continuum; he can live beyond the dimensions of time as something linear; he lives outside the present too, in the past as well as in the future. For a man like him, who is so conscious of time, his ironically tragic predicament is summed up adequately in “I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life”. Perhaps he realizes the fact that as he is wasting his time (though unwillingly and unwittingly), time will waste him one day.

Biff—a victim of the capitalist civilization

      Biff feels that he is a victim of the maddening world of cutthroat competition, in which there is no place for human sentiments and mutual respect. This mean, debased world is characterized by the boredom of daily routine existence, the very ordinariness of life, the insignificance of an individual’s individuality and a pound of labor yielding an ounce of rewards. He dreams of going out into the open, of enjoying the caressing breeze and the warm sun. He is restless and has changed many jobs. He is looking for some satisfaction, some purpose of life, a meaning for which life should be lived. He is tortured by a gnawing sense of lostness, emptiness, futility and aimlessness. Biff has not been able to find his roots anywhere. He feels that in his effort to make his life creative and his existence meaningful he has succeeded only in making it a desert, a wasteland, an abject failure. Spring pleases him, but it does not reinvigorate him, it reminds him of his life being a winter, unproductive, of no use to anyone.

Biff: spirit cramped by loneliness

      Biffs crushing stasis makes him feel frustrated rootless and frozen in the multicentric circles of vacuity. Happy is visibly moved by the sensitivity and the beautiful language of his elder brother and describes him as a poet and an idealist. Biff is not delighted by these compliments because they do not enable him to overcome his sense of failure. Biff's soul and spirit are continually tortured by a cramping sense of loneliness. Biff is surprised to know that even Happy is not happy and contented with life. He admits that he has everything that he could possibly want. He too is lonely. Happy suffers from a kind of existential boredom. In the midst of plenty he feels the pangs of scarcity. Though materially he has everything he wants, yet he is afflicted with a haunting sense of loneliness.

Biff makes an optimistic proposal

      Biff asks Happy to accompany him to West where they might buy a ranch, raise cattle, and use their muscles. Happy is simply enthralled with the idea of ‘The Loman Brothers’ and says that this has been his dream, too. But unfortunately for him his spirits have been dampened by surrounding degradation. The world of false values and ideals corrodes his dreams and values. “See, Biff, everybody around me is so false that I’m constantly lowering my ideals.” Together they might be able to fight away anything even loneliness and lack of humanity. In a world, completely devoid of faith and mutual trust, their being together would act as a bulwark against all hostile forces.

Biff and Happy—misfits in American acquisitive society

      A characteristic weakness of the Loman brothers which they do not fail to realize is that they were not brought up to grub for money, “making them misfits in an acquisitive society. They don’t know how to do it”. These two lonely individuals cannot feel themselves to be attached to this society. They lack a sense of belonging. Biff feels that it is no use wasting one’s life to build an estate and then not having the peace of mind to live in it. And this is what big business executives (like Happy’s friend) do. Happy agrees but still he feels envious of him because of his power and influence. He is almost a demi-god in this world. Happy’s physique is better than his (friend’s) brain. Happy wants to be like him.

Happy’s indulgence in sex

      Happy describes his sexual encounters and admits that money and sex do not provide him relief from boredom. Indulgence in sex leaves him more disgusted than ever before, he likes to spoil girls who are unable, engaged to these big executives, deriving revengeful satisfaction from it.

Biffs plans for future

      When asked by Happy what he intends doing, Biff replies that he would meet his former employer Bill Oliver, ask him to lend out eight or ten thousand dollars to enable him to buy a ranch. Happy is confident that he would help Biff because he has a high opinion of him. The problem with Briff, however, is that he wants to assert that he can do something. As pointed out repeatedly, Biff is always haunted by the haunting specter of “nothingness.” He is then seized by a guilt-laden memory. He tries to convince himself that he left the job with Oliver on his own, though he was sure that Oliver “thought the world” of him.

Willy’s unconscious admonitions to an absent Biff

      While the two brothers are talking, confiding, confessing and making plans, they are continually aware of Willy’s intermittent soliloquies and mumblings though they avoid it and go on conversing. Slowly and gradually, the reader’s attention is driven to Willy’s words rather than to the Lomans’ conversation.

Willy plunges into the past

      Now the light of the brothers’ room goes out. “The apartment houses are fading out, and the entire house and surroundings become covered with leaves. Music insinuates itself as the leaves appear.” “With overshadowing presence of leaves, it becomes obvious that Willy plunges headlong into the deep waters of the past. In his voyage into the backwaters of time, we discover Willy talking to his sons. We see that Willy is more concerned about Biff He warns Biff against getting seriously involved with girls, as time was not yet ripe for it. He is pleased and perhaps proud that Biff has such a magnetic personality that girls themselves hunt him out and are even willing to pay for him. Willy then gives his sons some tips as to how to clean the carpets properly. Then he declares his intention of chopping off the big branch over the house. He next announces that he has a surprise for the boys. Biff eagerly asks what it is when he gets a sound piece of advice: “No you finish first. Never leave a job till you are finished—remember that.” He then dreams of a beautiful hammock he had seen in Albany and had decided to purchase and "hang it right between those two elms’. Here we see Willy twice—distanced from the present in his journey into the past, he is landing into a remoter spot of time.

      Young Biff and young Happy appear and ask Willy how he liked their work. Willy says very encouragingly and appreciatively: ‘Terrific, Terrific job, boys Good work, Biff.” Then the boys find their surprise. It was a punching bag with Gene Tunney’s signature on it. Willy remarks that in the present day it is the name that matters and a punching bag with the name of a champion boxer on it is a prize acquisition indeed. Biff here takes his chance and proudly displays the new football he has got, which ultimately turns out to be a stolen one. To our shocking surprise, Willy only laughs it out and does not scold or reprimand Biff.

Willy’s dreams of his son’s success

      Biff inquires of Willy about his recent trip and says that his sons were lonesome for him. A little display of affection lights up Willy’s spirits and in his moment of affectionate pride in them, he confides in them, and tells them of his dream of setting up his own business one day. Happy immediately starts comparing Willy’s imagined success to that of Charley’s. But Willy retorts confidently: “Bigger than Uncle Charley because Charley is not liked. He’s liked but he’s not well liked.”

Willy’s excursion into imagined future

      Willy Loman then talks about the places he has visited telling them that he was welcomed everywhere and because of his amiable nature and popularity, he made huge sales. Evidently proud, Willy says: “America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people. And they know me, boys they know me up and down New England ... I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England and the cops protect it like their own...”. In his boasts we find Willy meeting wish fulfillment that of having connections and friends all over America.

      When he sees Biff practicing football, Willy asks him: ‘What do they say about you in school, now that they made you captain”. Happy pours out admiringly: “There’s a crowd of girls behind him every time classes change.” Willy is simply excited at this double achievement of popularity and captainship. While Biff's skill in football is in question and under discussion, Bernard, the young son of Charley, appears. Bernard seems earnest and legal and is worried on Biff's account. He feels that Biff should devote more time to his studies and says so because he knew that Biff had “got regents next week.” He also tells Biff what he had heard their teacher say: “Listen Biff, I heard Mr. Birnbaum say that if you don’t start studying Math he is gonna flunk you, and you won’t graduate. I heard him!” Now Biff proudly displays his sneakers to Willy who is pleased to see the name of the University beautifully printed on them. Here Bernard puts in very sensible warning. “Just because he printed University of Virginia on his sneakers doesn’t mean they’ve got to graduate him, Uncle Willy?” A large dose of reality and too much of sense upsets and waves of anger Willy and Bernard is dismissed as a pest and an anemic. Willy asks if Bernard was liked. Biff promptly replies that he is liked but not well-liked. Here he is echoing Willy’s words about Charley. We see Biff to be inheriting his father’s false values. Despite Willy’s fatherly concern about his sons, they are following his footsteps.

Willy a victim of his own illusions

      Willy sincerely believes that a man can achieve anything, accomplish any feat, if he has got a pleasing personality. As he is illusion-ridden he tells his sons that Bernard might get the best marks but in the practical world of business, they would be five times ahead of him. “That is why I thank Almighty God you are both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want!”. He cites himself as an example of a man who is liked immensely and gets his business done anywhere he goes. Going deeper and deeper now totally immersed in the world of illusion, dreams and fantasy, Willy boasts of having “knocked them cold in providence, slaughtered them in Boston” and greets his wife as "sweetheart’. He is all praise for his car. “Chevrolet, Linda, is the greatest car ever built.” Seeing Linda carry the basket of washing he admonishes his sons, “Since when do you let your mother carry wash up the stairs?” In a minute, a whole lot of boys gathered in the cellar, come out at Biff's command and begin to “sweep out the furnace room” and “hang up the wash.” A pleased Linda points out the “way they obey him.” Willy tries to live and make Linda also live under the happy illusion that he had earned two hundred dollars, but Willy is ultimately compelled to speak out the truth that his total earnings from the trip was a meager seventy dollars. Linda tries to keep her spirits high and does not allow herself to get upset at her husband’s poor show. She encourages him by commenting: “That’s very good.” Then the husband and the wife discuss the extent of their indebtedness on household goods and equipment like refrigerators and washing machines. When Linda tells him that they owed Frank too, Willy cries out furiously: “I’m not going to pay that man, that goddam Chevrolet, they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car”. We realize, our hero Willy is a bundle of contradictions—just a few moments earlier, he had praised Chevrolet as the best car in the world.

A depressed Willy

      Willy Loman now realizes that all his boasting has gone in vain; it has produced no favorable impression on Linda. He confesses to his wife: “You know, the trouble is, Linda, people do not seem to take to me.” He feels that he is ignored by the people. But Linda tries to cheer him up and says: “But you are doing wonderful, dear.” Willy now finds it impossible to live in world of day-dreams. He is conscious of his faults and is analyzing himself for other faults. He feels that he jokes too much and tells his wife: “I’m fat. I’m very foolish to look at, Lind a.... they do laugh at me. I know that.” Linda is now mending her stocking. The devoted wife that Linda is, caressing him with her voice, she says to Willy that he is “the most handsome man in the world.” The devotion and nobility of Linda’s character causes his hidden guilt, his infidelity, to come to the fore. Willy Loman painfully and perhaps ashamedly thinks of his extra-marital affair with a woman—breach of the sanctity of marriage vows. He recalls how he had given her a pair of Rocking, kissed her roughly and slapped her bottom vulgarly. The dream laughter of the woman blends with the real laughter of Linda—a concurrence of the past and the present. His gift of pair of silk stockings to the woman reminds him of the genuine need of his wife. He asks her to throw the stockings away and obeying him instantly, she puts them in her pocket.

Willy—back to the world of reality

      Now that Willy abandons the realms of the dream world, he encounters the grim reality. Now he is able to see Biff, and his romantic image. The popular college hero that he was minutes earlier, seen in his true colors, is good for nothing. In the first flush of emotion Willy asks Bernard to give Biff the answers, but Bernard replies that he could not do so in a Regents, as it was a state examination. Willy feels like whipping up Biff. The reality of Biff suddenly starts dawning upon Linda and Willy, as if in a trail: “He’d better give back that football.” “He’s too rough with the girls.” “He’s driving the car without a license.” “Mr. Birnbaum says he is stuck up”. Linda asks Willy to pay heed to Biff, but Willy explodes suddenly: “There is nothing the matter with him! You want him to be a worm like Bernard? He’s got spirit, personality....” Willy Loman’s words reveal that he is still living under a great deal of stress, emotion and conflict. His paternal pride and fondness of his son comes in clash with his son’s obvious worthlessness.

Darkness reigns supreme

      The journey into the past is over. “The leaves are gone. It is night again and the apartment houses look down from behind.” Willy feels lost as he is at the heart of darkness talking away to himself. “Loaded with it. Loaded! What is he stealing? He is giving it back, is not he? Why is he stealing? What did I tell him? I never in my life told him anything but decent things.” Willy is having a futile dialogue with himself about his treatment of Biff and the possible cause of his degenerate behavior. To his despair, Willy finds that in spite of many plus points, Biffis a failure.

Willy—a contrast with Ben who is success incarnate

      At this moment, Happy comes down and tries to distract Willy from his grief. When Happy asks him what brought him back that night, Willy replies: “I got an awful scare. Nearly hit a kid in Yonkers. Then Willy recalls that he had been asked by his brother Ben to go with him but he did not go. He repents it now “...God: why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time? Ben: that man was a genius, that man was success incarnate: What a mistake: He begged me to go”. Ben could perhaps have molded him into a genius, too. Ben is Willy’s ideal of success and he presents him as an ideal to his sons too. ‘You guys: There was a man started with the clothes on his back and, ended up with diamond mines”. And continuing further, he says: “What’s the mystery? The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it, walked into a jungle and comes out the age of twenty-one and he was rich. The world is an oyster but you don’t crack it open on a mattress.” He thus dwells on the mystique of success. As far as he himself is concerned, Willy realizes that it has always eluded him. He confesses to his sons that the agony of failure and the fatigue of the quest have left his energies pent up and have exhausted him. He is desperate and looks upto his sons for help.

Charley: the successful businessman

      While Willy is talking to his sons, Charley, another image of success appears. “He is a large man, slow of speech, laconic, immovable. In all he says, despite what he says, there is pity, and, now trepidation.” He is an embodiment of all those virtues which make life tolerable. He symbolizes “good neighborliness” and the natural bonds of human sympathies. As Charley and Ben sit down at cards, we find that Willy has been spuming the good-intentioned offers of Charley. Willy tells lies about himself and his work too deliberately but Charley knows the reality about him and can see through the facade of his salesman-personality. This irritates Willy. At every intelligent comment or suggestion by Charley, Willy feels insulted. In every item of conversation Charley gets the better of him. At one point Willy gets angry too. He tells Charley that Biff has decided to go back to Texas and Charley advises him to let Biff go. Willy pathetically pleads that his sons were most dear to him: he desperately tries to cling to the only reality in the world of illusions which he has spun around himself. And this reality is his sons. While talking to Charley, Willy starts thinking about Ben and talking to him. He listens to Charley, but replies to Ben’s imagined queries. Charley is surprised to be addressed as Ben by Willy. It takes only minutes for Charley to realize that Willy is absent-minded. Giving up the game, he makes an exit.

Another flight into the past—Willy’s conversation with Ben

      Left alone, Willy is now free to make another excursion into the dream world of the past. Facing Ben, he finds himself asking: “Ben: I’ve been waiting for you so long: What’s the answer? How did you do it?” Ben answers that it was because of a sheer accident that when he was going to meet his father in Alaska, he ended up in Africa owing to his inadequate and wrong knowledge of Geography. In Africa, he found diamond mines. Willy asks his young sons to listen carefully to their Uncle Ben, who says: “Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the Jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. (He laughs) And, by God I was rich.” Willy asks Ben to tell them about their grandfather whom Ben describes as a very wild hearted man’, Great inventor’ who with one gadget...made more in a week than a man like you could make in a life time.” Now Ben thinks of testing Biffs guts. He asks him to give him a punch in the stomach. Biff hesitates and then fights following the rules of boxing. Once Ben catches Biff all unawares. Ben gives a piece of practical advice to Biff the, key to success in the so-called free, open and democratic society. It is actually based on the jungle law: “Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way.” When he prepares to leave, Willy requests him to stay for some more days because he needed him. Willy now tells Ben that though he holds a fine position, he does not belong anywhere. Ben tries to cheer him up by talking, about his sons. He describes them as outstanding, manly chaps, Ben goes, and with him fades away Willy’s excursion into past, bringing him back to the present which has given him only failure and regrets.

Willy—dissatisfied with his son

      Linda enters the kitchen in a nightgown and robe. She comes looking for Willy. Willy is still engaged in a mono dialogue with Biff. His imaginary conversation with Biff brings out clearly the fact that he is concerned about Biff and is oppressed by a sense of frustration and suffocation in his apartment house. She suggests to him gently: “It is very late, darling. Come to bed heh?” Willy can only say “Gotta break your neck to see a star in this yard”. Linda reminds him that the diamond watch brought by Ben was pawned thirteen years ago for Biff's radio correspondence course”. Instead of going to bed he decides to “take a walk”. Biff comes down the stairs and asks his mother, what Willy was doing there. Biff is perturbed and shows his concern for Willy’s condition: “Shouldn’t we do anything?” He says to his mother. But Willy seems to be past all help as Linda observes: “Oh, my dear, you should do a lot of things but there, is nothing to do, so go to sleep.” What an irony! There is so much to be done in this household and yet there is nothing that can be done. Happy also comes down and says that he never heard Willy so loud. Biff complains to Linda for not informing him about this only to confront Linda’s helplessness. Biff had no address for three months. When Biff expresses his hope that Willy was not like that all the time, Linda observes: “It’s when you come home he’s always the worst.” Linda has perhaps guessed intuitively that there is something wrong between Willy and Biff: “Why are you so hateful to each other? Why is that?” Biff tries to evade the question by saying that he was not hateful. Biff's conversation with his mother shows that his sense of uncertainty has not decreased with the passage of time and he is perhaps as much laughed at as Willy. He is a chip of the same block and as the father the son: he is a greater failure than his father. Linda makes a very sharp, down to earth realistic comment: “Biff, a man is not a bird to come and go with the spring time.” This aptly sums up the type of life Biff is leading.

Linda speaks up on behalf of Willy

      Linda takes up arms on behalf of Willy and asks Biff either to mend his ways with his father or quit. She was provoked to say this because she could not tolerate Willy being criticized by Biff. She tells Biff: “Biff dear, if you don’t have any feeling for him, then you can’t have any feeling for me”. She declares further: “He is the dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue. You’ve got to make up your mind now darling, there’s no leeway anymore. Either he’s your father and you pay him that respect, or else you’re not to come here. I know he’s not easy to get along with—nobody knows that better than me but...”

Willy’s tragic predicament envelops Linda

      Only Linda understands Willy’s tragic predicament. She herself shares a portion of it and lives from day today. Now Willy’s voice is heard and Biff starts off to go away. Linda asks him not to go near him but Biff makes a curt retort: “Stop making excuses for him!” Happy’s intervention on behalf of his father raises Biffs anger and he observes: “He’s got no character—Charley would not do this.” Linda is visibly hurt and concerned about Willy. She replies: “Then make Charley your father, Biff you can’t do that, can you?” Now Linda comes forward with a very strong, passion' ate, humane plea on behalf of Willy. This plea brings out Willy’s tragic predicament very pointedly:

      “I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention must be finally paid to such a person.”

      It is only Linda who realizes that ‘a small man can be just as exhausted as a great man’. She knows that Willy is basically a human being undergoing deep spiritual crisis. Willy is a failure because he is a misfit in his society. He cannot come to terms with the inhuman laws of success operative in business culture. In this culture, when people grow old, weak and infirm and lose their utility, like Willy, they are not supposed to exist anymore. ‘Profit, seems to be the only motive, the only justification for existence. Once one outlives one’s charm of personality, one deserves extinction. With all his frailties and limitations, the basic point is that Willy is essentially a human being and deserves attention, sympathy and warmth. Infuriated at his father being treated almost inhumanely, Biff calls these selfish mammon-worshippers “un-grateful bastards”. Linda observes: “Are they any worse than his sons?” She goes on to say that all those that had loved him earlier had now deserted him, leaving him a broken, lonely man. Even now at the age of sixty-three, he drives seven hundred miles but oh what a contrast! Instead of cheers and smiles welcoming him, he confronts jeers and neglect. Linda knows her husband—his reality at the core.

      Despite his failures and weaknesses she can accept him and love him with his faults. She even goes to the extent of justifying his talking to himself. She expresses her shock at her sons having adjudged Willy as having no character. She reminds them that the fact is that Willy never worked for a day but for the benefit of his sons. She makes them realize how painful and disappointing it could be for a man of sixty-three to discover that both his sons are good for nothing: one is a ‘Philandering bum’ and the other does not even deserve mention. She challenges her sons to prove their worth as human beings. She asks them to care for their father out of a sense of humanity if not out of filial love, when Biff complains that Willy threw him out of the house. Linda will not be quiet by this alone. She must know the reason. She is puzzled by the turn of events. Willy and Biff were such pals: What happened that estranged them from each other? Biff hints at a secret weakness of Willy: “Because I know he’s a fake and he does not like anyone around who knows”. When Linda insists on knowing “Why a fake? In what way? What do you mean?” Biff tries to evade a proper reply: “Just don’t lay it all at my feet. It’s between me and him—that’s all I have to say.” Biff tries to wind up the discussion by trying to console his mother by saying that “he’ll be all right’. But Linda here makes a prophetically tragic statement: “He won’t be all right”. She tells with a deep feeling of pain and concern that Willy has been trying to kill himself and she adds that “I live from day-to-day”. Until now unaware of the enormity of Willy’s tragic predicament, Biff is roused into a scared concern for Willy and his condition. When Linda tells Biff that all the accidents in the previous year were actually unsuccessful attempts at suicide, a bewildered and shocked Biff listens to all this. At this point, the stout Linda breaks down, and wiping her tears, tells Biff that Willy had been trying to kill himself by smelling the poisonous gas from a piece of rubber pipe. She passionately implores her sons to save Willy, as his life was in their hands. To all appearances, Happy is unaffected and unconcerned by all this. Biff is shamed into a feeling of guilt. He promises his mother that he would do his utmost to set everything back on the right track.

A distant rainbow—the Loman line

      After an initial exchange of some bickerings between Willy and Biff, the former is glad to learn that Biff is going to Bill Oliver to ask for a loan to start his business. Meanwhile Happy puts forward a million-dollar idea of starting a sports business with the name “The Loman Line”. Their plan is to put up a couple of exhibitions, some matches: two basket ball and two water polo. Willy has started drifting away into the sea of fantasy. He has started counting his chickens before they are hatched. A thrilled Willy ejaculates: “Lick the world: You guys together could absolutely lick the civilized world.” After this Willy, enthused into concern for Biff, starts giving detailed instructions to Biff as to how to dress up, behave and talk, when face to face with Bill Oliver. “It’s not what you say, but how you say it—because personality always wins the day...”

      Willy is reminded of Biffs superb performance in the past particularly in the Ebbets field game.

Linda—a gem of a woman

      We get a further glimpse into the strength, magnanimity and inexhaustible patience of Linda’s character. When Linda tries to say something, Willy rebukes her rudely. Though Biff interposes on her behalf and asks Willy to “stop yelling at her”, Linda does not seem to have, felt bad about it. She seems to have completely effaced her personality. She wants to live for Willy and make him live. She tells Biff to ask forgiveness of his father and to “just say good night”. She knows that “it takes too little to make him happy” and he should not be deprived of it. This invokes a compliment from Happy, a compliment with which the readers fully agree: “What a woman: They broke the mold when they made her”. Just before retiring to bed, Linda tries to elicit from Willy, the reason for Biff's hostility to Willy. Willy evades the answer and simply says that he is very tired. Linda then reminds him in a soft, gentle voice, that he should ask Howard to allow him to work in New York. Willy promises to do so. With this he sinks into the fantastic optimism of his poetic dream world. Gee, look at the moon moving between the building.”

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