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Death of a Salesman - Act 2

Act 2 - Scene 1

Act 2 – Scene 1

When Willy comes down for breakfast, Biff and Happy have left. There is an optimistic tone, and Willy wants to buy some seeds to plant in his backyard. Willy sets out to tell Howard, his employer, that he needs a New York job. As he leaves he is reminded by Linda that today is the last mortgage payment on the house. Linda also informs him that the boys want to meet him for dinner later that day.

In a classical tragedy there usually is hope and joy in the middle, which works as a contrast to the inevitable tragic outcome at the end. The debt motif comes up again – “everything gets used up” – which in fact is what is happening to Willy’s life.

Act 2 - Scene 2

Act 2 – Scene 2

Willy goes to see his boss, Howard Wagner, who is occupied with a tape recorder, a new gadget he has got. Willy reminds Wagner of how long he has been working for the company, and states his wish to work in New York. He also tells him about Dave Singleman, a very successful salesman, and how when he died at 84, people came from all over the country to his funeral. The meeting ends with Willy being sacked from the company, and Howard suggesting that Willy gets some help from his sons.

The pun on Willy’s name (Low man) is clearly in contrast with his ideal (Single man). Singleman’s funeral is a foreshadowing of what will happen later at Willy’s funeral. It is extremely humiliating for Willy to be laid off by Howard whom he has known since he was a kid and even helped to name him. And again, Willy is trapped by his own past – he has bragged about his fine sons whom Howard now wants to help him, though the fact is that they are no good at all.

Act 2 - Scene 3

Act 2 – Scene 3

When Willy is left alone Ben appears again. But Ben is in a hurry, as always, and offers Willy a position in Alaska. However, Willy states how important he is in the Wagner Company, they have even offered him a partnership.

This is a pathetic and ironic scene since Willy has just been fired. Willy’s illusions and lies are closing in on him, and he was in reality never able to take advantage of his golden opportunity, nor is he able to take in reality. Ben leaves, but Willy shouts after him that he will make it in New York – another empty and pathetic self-delusion.

Act 2 - Scene 4

Act 2 – Scene 4

Back in 1928 again, on the day of Biff’s great football game, Willy is enthusiastic and argues with Charley who does not even know that there is a game on. He tries to tease Willy who reacts by getting mad at Charley.

In this short scene Willy once again demonstrates his childish and immature approach to life. In the argument Charley asks Willy: “When are you going to grow up?” – which is a question with a perspective that runs through the whole play.

Act 2 - Scene 5

Act 2 – Scene 5

After leaving Wagner, Willy goes to Charlie’s office to borrow money for his life insurance. In the office he meets Bernard who has become a successful lawyer. Willy tells him that Biff is in town working on a big business deal. Bernard asks Willy what happened in Boston that summer after Biff had flunked math. He tells Willy how Biff had changed and how they for no reason had a fight in the basement. Willy gets angry and seems bewildered.

This scene is ironic in many ways – Bernard has of course made a success of his life, and he is even a sportsman playing tennis in private clubs. Compare the previous scene. Willy responds to Bernard’s question about Boston in a way that reveals a strong feeling of guilt. So he takes a defensive position and accuses Bernard blaming him for the change in Biff.

Act 2 - Scene 6

Act 2 – Scene 6

As Bernard leaves Charley comes in, and Willy asks him for money. Charley offers him a job, but Willy insists that he has a job, even though he has just been fired. When Willy admits that he has been fired Charley repeats his offer, but Willy says he cannot work for Charley. As Willy is about to leave he says that it is ironic that a man is worth more dead than alive, and he confesses that Charley is his only friend.

Bernard is going to argue a case before the Supreme Court, but Charley doesn’t even mention it. Willy would have bragged about it if it had been his son, but Biff has not achieved anything that his father could brag about. The dialogue with Charley gets aggressive and Charley repeats his question “When are you going to grow up?” – which makes Willy furious and he tries to pick a fight. The issue of suicide comes up again as Willy says that he is worth more dead than alive. Willy takes the money for his life insurance policy and leaves Charley’s office, realising that his all-time enemy now is his only friend.

Act 2 - Scene 7

Act 2 – Scene 7

We are at the restaurant where the boys and Willy are going to have dinner. Happy has arrived and is flirting with a girl who comes in. When Biff arrives, Happy tells the girl to call a friend so they can all go out together. Biff now tries to explain to his brother that his meeting with Bill Oliver was a failure; Oliver did not recognise him, and in desperation Biff stole an expensive pen from Oliver’s office. Biff says that he wants to confront his father with his life’s failure, but Happy suggests that he should tell Willy something nice rather than the truth.

This scene is building up to a climax. Biff has realised what a failure he has been and wants to confront Willy, and for a moment we feel sympathy with Biff who wants to come to terms with his life. His stealing comes up again as a pattern for his behaviour whenever he feels neglected. Note that Happy only wants to go out with girls and encourages Biff to tell Willy another lie.

Act 2 - Scene 8

Act 2 – Scene 8

Willy enters and is eager to hear how Biff did at the meeting with Oliver. He says that he needs some good news as he has just been fired. Biff can’t believe that they could fire him, and for a moment he truly feels sorry for his father. But he still wants to tell Willy the truth. But Willy is so intent on his own vision of how Oliver remembered Biff and puts his arm around his shoulder. Biff, with tears in his eyes, eventually cries that he cannot talk to Willy.

Biff is now making a sincere attempt to communicate with his father, but he realises that Willy is so in the grip of his own illusions that Biff simply cannot get through to him. “The woods are burning” comes up again; time is up for Willy.

Act 2 - Scene 9

Act 2 – Scene 9

Willy’s mind wanders and takes him back to when Biff had flunked math, and he does not listen to Biff’s desperate efforts to tell the truth. Suddenly Willy hears that Biff has stolen Oliver’s pen and that he has no appointment with him at all. This makes Willy frantic and he accuses Biff of spiting him. With tears in his eyes Biff tries to make his father see that he is no good, and has been a failure all his life. The girls return, Willy leaves for the bathroom and the boys leave with the two girls.

The failure motif comes strongly in focus here, not only Biff’s life failure but also his failure in math, which was the reason why he came to Boston where he caught his father cheating on his mother. This comes up in retrospect in the next scene. Biff shows a different attitude towards his father in this scene – he has always called him a fake, but now he tells the girls that he is a prince, a hard-working unappreciated prince. This is part of Biff’s awakening to reality, since he now sees that his father is a man who is broken down by his surroundings. As they leave, Happy refers to his father as “just a guy”, he is the neglected son who has not understood a single thing.

Act 2 - Scene 10

Act 2 – Scene 10

Willy leans up against the lavatory wall and his mind wanders to the Boston affair. He is in his hotel room with a woman and there is a knocking on the door. The knocking continues and Willy sends the woman to the bathroom and answers the door to find Biff who tells him that he has flunked math. Willy is nervous and they laugh together and the woman comes in from the bathroom. Willy nervously sends her away with a stupid excuse. She refuses to leave without the silk stockings that Willy has promised her. Biff understands what is going on and starts to cry, calling Willy a liar and a fake and accuses him of giving away “mama’s stockings”. The waiter at the restaurant comes into the lavatory and asks if Willy is OK. Willy asks if there is a seed store in the neighbourhood and leaves.

This is the climax scene of the play as it partly explains the complicated relationship between Biff and his father. Biff had no personal values of his own, he totally relied on his father’s set of values, and when he sees his father for what he really is, his world collapses. This scene brings together previous hints, like Linda mending her stockings, and the woman’s laughter. Willy’s world is crumbling around him and he has nothing to leave his sons. (“I don’t have a thing in the ground.”) So in desperation he wants to plant some seeds, which is his last effort to leave something behind.

Act 2 - Scene 11

Act 2 – Scene 11

Linda is waiting for the boys when they come home later that night. They bring her flowers, but she is furious about how they have treated their father. (“You would not treat a stranger that way.”) Happy tries the old lie again, that they had a good time, but Biff wants no more of that. He agrees with his mother that he is bad, and that he wants to talk to his father. Then they hear Willy talking to himself outside while he is planting seeds in the garden.

It is obvious that Biff needs to share his realisation (“I am the scum of the earth.”) with his father. They have to talk eye to eye to eventually put things right in their lives. Like before, Happy still cannot face reality, he wants to cover up by telling more lies.

Act 2 - Scene 12

Act 2 – Scene 12

Willy is in the garden trying to plant the seeds, and he is talking to Ben about a “twenty thousand dollar” proposition. They discuss the deal, and Ben thinks it may look cowardly, but agrees that twenty thousand is something you can feel in the hand. Willy goes on about the funeral and how many people will come to it, which will eventually make Biff look at him with respect.

Willy is desperate for respect and acknowledgement from Biff, and thinks that with so much money in his pocket Biff will become something magnificent. He is obviously planning suicide, because he sees his life as finished; being laid off at his age and with his ambitions he sees no other option.

Act 2 - Scene 13

Act 2 – Scene 13

Biff comes out and tells Willy that he is leaving never to come back. He wants Willy to come in and make a last effort to talk to him. But Willy still talks about the deal with Oliver and that Biff someday will make it big. Biff’s anger is building up and in a desperate effort to get through to his father he confronts him with the rubber hose. Willy says that he has not seen it before. With tears in his eyes Biff tells his father what a failure he is, and that he is no longer bringing home any prizes. Willy goes on about Biff’s greatness, and Biff breaks down in frustration. He sobs on his father’s shoulder, “burn that phoney dream”.

This is another climax scene. Biff has finally gained self-insight enough to move on in his life, but he is frustrated because he cannot get his father to face the truth. As Biff now is able to see himself realistically he can also see his father and his phoney dreams. But Willy still does not understand, and when Biff breaks down and cries he sees this as a sign that Biff needs him. Ironically this is Willy’s final motivation for his suicide, because then he will be leaving something for his son.

Act 2 - Scene 14

Act 2 – Scene 14

Willy goes on about how Biff is going to be something magnificent. Then Ben reappears and supports Willy in his proceedings. The others leave for bed while Willy is still in the kitchen talking to Ben, who keeps reminding Willy that “it is time”. Linda calls that he must come to bed, but Willy leaves and a car is heard driving off at full speed.

Biff’s efforts to make his father see the truth are all in vain. Willy thinks how remarkable it is that Biff loves him. Ben’s lines about diamonds and jungle must be interpreted as insurance money and death.

Requiem

Requiem

This is Willy’s funeral, and, not unexpectedly only a few people have turned up. Linda says that ironically for the first time in thirty-five years they are clear of debts. Biff says silently that Willy had the wrong dreams, and Happy reassures Willy that he will justify his dream by being the manager of the store. The others leave and Linda stays behind to tell Willy goodbye, and says that she made the last payment on the house that day, but now there is no one to live there.

The requiem in a way puts the whole play into perspective. We see that Willy never was well-liked because nobody comes to his funeral. Happy has not changed at all, and wants to take up his father’s dream. Biff on the other hand seems to have got a grasp on his life. The motif of “all used up” closes the play, as Willy’s life is used up when they are clear of debt and the house is finally paid for.




Learning content

Literature after 1900

What is core content and additional content?
SubjectEmne

Fagstoff

SubjectEmne

Oppgaver og aktiviteter

SubjectEmne

Kildemateriale

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