Death of a Salesman: Summary - Act 2

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Death of a Salesman: Act 2 Full Summary

A new dawn

      Act II begins with the possibility of a new dawn for Willy. Music is heard, gay and bright, which is suggestive of the rosy hopes, finding entrance and nourishment in Willy’s mind. Linda informs him that the boys were in fine shape when they left. This enhances the optimism in Willy’s thoughts and he feels hopefully about Biff: “He’s leading for a change.” He is almost convinced about this. “There’s no question, there simply are certain men that take longer to get—solidified.” Happily he announces that on his way home that night he would bring some seeds. But Linda is too down to earth to be swept away. She knows: “not enough sun gets back there. Nothing will grow anymore”. Ironically it is Linda who knows this. Willy is not prepared for this. He is not equipped with plenty of resources to bear the onslaught of sterile and oppressive forces.

Willy—an incorrigible dreamer

      Willy, we find, is an incorrigible dreamer. He lapses into dreams the moment he gets an opportunity. He begins to dream again. He dreams of getting “a little place out in the country”, of building “a little guest house” or two for his sons when they will visit him after getting married, of Biff’s getting fifteen thousand dollars to start the business and of himself getting a job in New York. Linda reminds him of the payments they owe on insurance premium, on the repair of the car and refrigerator and on the mortgage of the house. Willy is simply annoyed at having to pay installments for many goods: “I'm always in a race with the junk yard”. But he feels that to brave a twenty-five-year mortgage is an accomplishment.

      Willy is overjoyed to know from Linda that his sons have invited him that evening at Frank’s Chop House, where they will “blow him to a big meal”. Just as Willy is leaving, Linda gets a telephone call from Biff whom she tells coaxingly: “And be sweet to him tonight, dear. Be loving to him. Because he’s only a little boat looking for a harbor.”

Willy is fired by Howard

      The scene changes and we are suddenly introduced to Howard Wagner, Willy’s employer. Howard is trying to plug in a tape recorder when Willy appears on the scene. At the moment ironically, Howard is more interested in the machine than in any human being. When Willy Loman gets a chance to say something about himself, Howard observes that he should have been in Boston. Willy says that he could not travel anymore and should be provided with a job in New York. Howard replies at once that he has no other job for him but that of a salesman. Willy Loman confesses that he himself was attracted to the career of salesmanship as it provided him with opportunities to come in contact with people of standing. He adds that with the passage of time, this charm faded away. Howard’s replies are categorically negative. Willy pleads persistently that he be considered on humanitarian grounds but Howard turns a deaf ear to all his pleadings. Willyexpresses his need for sixty-five to forty dollars a week but Howard is not to be taken in. He dismisses the poor salesman without much ado. When Howard replies that he should depend on his sons, Willy replies boldly that he is not cripple and could stand on his own feet even in old age.

Scattered dreams and the vision of Ben

      Willy is once more plunged into the dark world of negatives. He is captured by an over-powering sense of failure and frustration. His thoughts go back to Ben. His failure seems all the more taunting in glaring contrast with Ben’s success. He conjures up a vision of Ben and tries to understand and lay hands to the key of success. The knowledge that Biff too was a failure adds to his sense of frustration and agony. All the dreams of Willy have been shattered and have ended up in nothingness.

Willy meets Charley—further shocks

      Willy finds himself back into the world of reality. And the proof of reality now is the vision of Charley and Bernard. Though Biff and Bernard were class mates, they form a set of contrasts. Bernard is a rising star while Biff is in the oblivion of anonymity. Willy tries to know from Charley the cause of Biff's failure. Bernard is very clear-headed and outspoken. He points out clearly that Biff committed a serious mistake by not going to the Summer School, when his Mathematics teacher had flunked him. Willy is shocked by Bernard’s frankness. Willy is pained to realize that despite a lack of interest in his son on the part of Bernard’s father, Bernard has made distinctive progress. Charley condescends to offer fifty dollars to Willy, who is a grateful recipient. He assures Charley that he has been keeping an account of every penny that he has borrowed and will return every penny back. As he did earlier, Willy again tells lies to Charley about his job and earnings but is unable to conceal his sense of frustration and confesses to Charley: “I am stabbed, I am stabbed. I don’t know what to do. I was just fired”. Charley knows the pulse of the industrialized, capitalist society. He tries to bring Willy out of his delusions. He tells him that it is not because of one’s charming personality, but because of one’s money that one is liked in society. Charley once more tries to make Willy accept a job with him, but is helpless to see him adamant.

Biff and Happy converse at the Restaurant

      This scene fades out and ‘raucous music’ and ‘a red glow’ take us to the Restaurant, where Happy and Biff have invited their father. The scene may be divided into four parts for comprehension and to avoid any confusion. In the first part Happy is seen talking to Stanley, a young waiter of the Restaurant who is disenchanted with life. When they are talking, a call-girl appears and Happy at once decides to captivate her. Happy’s success in winning over the girl for date form the second part of this scene, during which Biff also appears. The third part of the scene comprises of Biff declaring that he has failed in his mission. Biff then plainly tells Happy that even after waiting for six hours, he did not get a chance of seeing Bill Oliver and finally when he did get a chance to see him, Oliver did not recognize him. He further narrates that when Oliver was gone, he (Biff) entered his office, took Oliver’s fountain pen and “Ran and ran, and ran”. Neither Biff nor the reader can account for this. Biff seeks Happy’s help in telling his father all about it but Happy tries to dissuade him from doing so and requests him to tell Willy something nice and good. Happy knows very well that Willy is too weak to face reality: He has constantly been confronting and fighting the brutal side of reality. By now he has been weakened into timidity and a hard shell of illusions.

Illusions—the supports leading to tragedy

      Willy arrives on the scene and contrary to his expectations, confronts a worried Biff. Desperately trying to cling to optimism, Willy asks him if everything went alright. Biff manages to say that he ‘had an experience today’. “Happy incites him to tell a lie by saying that it was simply terrific. Biff is perhaps tired of having to see Willy live on illusions; he is in a mood to prick the mighty bubble of Willy’s illusions. He realizes that Willy must penetrate to the core of naked reality; kidding and self-illusion will no more do.” “Let’s hold on to the facts tonight, Pop.” But Willy himself is already being tormented in the infernal fire of helplessness, worthlessness and despair. Had Biff said anything, it would just be the last straw on the camel’s back. Willy shows his concern for Linda. Willy asks Biff about the results of his meeting with Bill Oliver, but while Biff is halfway through, Willy intervenes to make him say what he himself wants him to say. Biff is too distressed to be able to talk to Willy anymore. Now there is a small flash into the past. Young Bernard is telling Linda that Biff had flunked Mathematics. Willy now comes on the offensive and tells, Biff that if Biff had not flunked Mathematics, things might have been different. Seeing a pen in Biff's hand, he asks Biff as to where he found Oliver’s pen. Biff tries to explain the circumstances but Willy Loman’s anger remains unpacified. Seeing Willy in a state of anger and exasperation, Biff gets scared and worried. In order to calm him down, he lies. After some moments Willy begins to feel reassured and he requests his son to go and return the pen. Then Biff tells him frankly that there was no hope of Biffs improving his condition.

Biff and Willy—in their worst conditions

      Now Biff and Willy are at the climax of their women's and despair. They have reached a point beyond communication. Willy sinks into his dream world. In the meanwhile the two call-girls appear and a worried Biff leaves the place asking Happy to help his father. Happy also leaves the place after him, accompanied by the two call-girls,

Boston—what happened there

      In a flashback we come to know what happened at Boston. We come to know that Willy had an affair with a woman. He now imagines that some woman was knocking at the door. When he opens the door he sees Biff standing before him. While conversing with him, Willy hears a woman’s laughter intermittently. Biff tries to divert his father’s mind from the woman, but lo and behold: she appears in person. Biff is shocked and surprised. Willy shows some presence of mind in saving the situation.

Biff's traumatic shock and Willy left alone

      Biff is completely shocked into stupor as he can not swallow the fact of his father’s infidelity. All of Willy’s attempts to justify himself and clarify the situation go waste. Biff is not to be convinced. Biff tells him that he does not intend going back to school as he was shocked by Willy’s behavior. He expresses his shock particularly at his father’s gesture of giving Linda’s stockings to the woman. Biff is terribly angry and walks out shouting at Willy, “You fake, you phony little fake, you fake.” Willy is left as lonely as ever.

The rootless man trying to plant seeds

      When the flashback is over, he shoots at Stanley and is informed that the boys had left and would meet him at home. Apparently irrelevantly, Willy asks Stanley if there was a seedstore somewhere nearby. This search of seeds on the part of the protagonist is symbolic of his desire to find his roots somewhere in this world, and to feel assured of having gripped the forces of life.

An enraged Linda

      At home Biff and Happy face a furious Linda. She rebukes them for having neglected their father. As usual, Happy is unaffected by her rebukes. But, Biff is filled with remorse and is eager to meet his father and to apologize. Linda stops him and tells him that he is planting the garden. Willy is shown sowing seeds in the backyard and is engaged in a crucial dialogue with Ben, his alter-ego. Here we get a glimpse of Willy’s idea of committing suicide. Biff finally goes to Willy and tells him that he has come to bid him good-bye. He points out that it was no use going to Bill Oliver. Willy is so enraged, that he pronounces a curse on Biff. Willy accuses - Biff of stabbing him but Biff replies that he himself is responsible for his own failure, and also that of Biff’s. He confesses to his father that his own existence is worthless because he can not taste the good things which are available to him in life. This realization of his essential nothingness and the existence of positive side of life provoke him into a longing for their enjoyment. It is for this that he wants to live. An overjoyed Willy speeds off in his car and Act II ends with Willy’s death.

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