Essential Passage 1: Act 1
BEN: [glancing at his watch]: I have an appointment in Ketchikan Tuesday week.
WILLY: No, Ben! Please tell about Dad. I want my boys to hear. I want them to know the kind of stock they spring from. All I remember is a man with a big beard, and I was in Mamma’s lap, sitting around a fire, and some kind of high music.
BEN: His flute. He played the flute.
WILLY: Sure, the flute, that’s right!
[New music is heard, a high, rollicking tune.]
BEN: Father was a very great and a very wild-hearted man. We would start in Boston, and he’d toss the whole family into the wagon, and then he’d drive the team right across the country; through Ohio, and Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and all the Western states. And we’d stop in the towns and sell the flutes that he’d made on the way. Great inventor, Father. With one gadget he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime.
WILLY: That’s just the way I’m bringing them up, Ben—rugged, well liked, all-around.
Willy Loman is unable to sleep after returning from the road, having barely missed another accident. Deciding to forego his sales trip, he comes back home, despite the fact that money is tight. Both his boys are staying at the house, with Biff back from the West. Biff and Willy continually have arguments whenever he is home, and Linda, Willy’s wife, worries about Willy’s health. Willy, however, worries about his status as a salesman, as well as the lack of success his sons, especially Biff, seem to have in life. He remembers a conversation, perhaps never having really happened, with his brother, Ben. Ben had achieved phenomenal success as a young man, first in Alaska and then in Africa, selling diamonds. Willy asks Ben to tell him about the father he never knew. Ben relates the success that their father was—a great inventor, a great father, a great salesman. Willy, in admiration of both Ben and his father, states that this is how he wants to bring up his two boys (now both in their thirties).
Essential Passage 2: Act 1
BIFF [starting to go after WILLY]: What the hell is the matter with him? [HAPPY stops him.]
LINDA: Don’t—don’t go near him!
BIFF: Stop making excuses for him! He always, always wiped the floor with you. Never had an ounce of respect for you.
HAPPY: He’s always had respect for—
BIFF: What the hell do you know about it?
HAPPY [surlily]: Just don’t call him crazy!
BIFF: He’s got no character—Charley wouldn’t do this. Not in his own house—spewing out that vomit from his mind.
HAPPY: Charley never had to cope with what he’s got to.
BIFF: People are worse off than Willy Loman. Believe me, I’ve seen them!
LINDA: Then make Charley your father, Biff. You can’t do that, can you? 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, attention must be finally paid to such a person....
Willy, sleepless and talking to himself, has awakened his wife, Linda, as well as his sons, Biff and Happy. As usual with Biff at home, an argument has broken out. There is an undercurrent of disgust in Biff’s relationship with his father, and he cannot help its coming out. Linda, however, resents that Biff does not appreciate Willy the way she does. Linda loves and admires her husband, seeing things that her boys somehow miss. Yet Biff resents how Willy is treating Linda, knowing that Willy had an affair with a woman in Boston, something that Biff discovered at the end of his high school career. Since that time, Biff has lost all respect for his father and does not see how his mother can continue to support him. Linda, however, sees...
(The entire section is 1770 words.)
The play opens to the protagonist, Willy Loman returning from a business trip that has been cancelled. After talking the matter over with his wife, Linda, Willy decides to speak to his boss, and ask to work closer to home. As well as Willy's dissatisfaction with his work, his son, Biff has returned home to visit. This opens up old issues about Biff's lack of achievements. When Willy begins muttering to himself, Biff and his brother, Happy begin to talk about their childhood and discuss the possibility of buying a ranch (farm) out in the West of the country. Meanwhile, Willy begins a series of complex daydreams.
In the daydream, Biff and Happy are younger, and they are washing Willy's car. Willy talks about his hopes for the future, including opening a business more successful than that of his neighbour, Charley. Charley's son Bernard encourages Biff to study for a Maths test, which leads Willy to tell Biff that while Charley is intelligent, Biff is popular, which is more important, particularly in the world of sales. Willy tells his wife that his business trip was extremely successful, although admits later that this was not the case. He worries openly about affording payments on the car and other luxuries, all of which have been bought on credit.
Willy then has a daydream within a daydream, and begins fantasising about 'The Woman', a lady he once had an affair with. After flirting with her briefly, this daydream abruptly ends, and he is back in the original hallucination with Linda. After shouting at Linda and Bernard in his dream, he snaps out and back to reality, where he is consoled by the adult Happy. Although Willy is no longer daydreaming, he begins to mutter to Happy about missing an opportunity to go to Alaska with his brother, who later became rich.
After Happy goes to bed, Willy and Charley play cards. Charley offers Willy a job, although Willy turns him down. During the game, Willy hallucinates that his brother Ben has entered the room, and begins to talk with him. Charley sees Willy talking to himself and begins to question Willy's sanity. Willy shouts at Charley, who quickly leaves the house. Willy's daydream continues and he hallucinates Ben meeting the younger Linda. Charley and Bernard also enter the daydream to tell Willy that Happy and Biff are stealing wood. Willy continues to talk to Ben.
Outside of the daydream, Linda finds Willy muttering to himself outside. Biff and Happy witness their father's madness, although Linda warns the boys against judging him too harshly. Linda mentions that Willy has attempted suicide, and Biff states that Willy is a fake. Happy, defending his father, criticises Biff's failures in the business world. After Willy joins in the attack on Biff, Happy suggests that the two sons start a business together, and identifies Biff's old boss, Bill as a potential source of a loan. After peace seems to settle within the house, the characters all go to bed, and Act I ends on this scene.
Act II continues with the sense of peace that Act I finished with. Willy is eating breakfast, although he quickly becomes angry at the cost of the items in the kitchen, showing he is stressed about money. Linda passes on a message from Biff and Happy that they will take him out to dinner in the evening, and Willy reiterates his plan to ask his boss for a locally (New York-based) job. Biff and Linda speak on the phone, and Linda asks him to be nice to Willy at dinner.
Willy goes to ask his boss Howard, for a job change, but Howard only seems interested in playing a voice recording of his wife and children that he has made. When Willy eventually gets through to Howard, he rejects his request for a local job, and instead is told to take some time off because Howard is worried about his health. After Howard leaves, Willy again begins to daydream - talking to Ben and a younger Linda. The two represent different propositions: Ben wants Willy to move to Alaska, but Linda says that Willy must stay and look after his children. Willy states that Biff has great prospects because he is popular.
Willy continues to daydream about Biff, imagining that he is about to play a big American football game, talking to Charley and Bernard about the match. Willy is eventually snapped out of his daydream by the real-life Bernard. Willy tells Bernard that Biff is about to conduct a big business deal. However, when Bernard mentions that he is going to Washington D.C. to fight a case (Bernard is a lawyer), Willy seems to show vulnerability and asks Bernard why Biff has never made a success of his life. Bernard pinpoints an incident that took place in Boston that changed Biff's outlook on life. Willy clearly knows what Bernard is talking about and becomes defensive, although doesn't reveal what the event was.
Charley arrives, and Willy asks him for money. Willy implies that this is a regular occurrence. Willy asks Charley for more money, and Charley once again offers Willy a job. After Willy refuses but admits he was fired, Charley begins to criticise Willy for needing always to be popular. Willy is clearly upset by this and leaves.
Willy meets Biff and Happy at the restaurant. Happy has been flirting with a girl waiting for Biff to arrive, and Biff tells Happy that he failed to get the loan from Bill. Willy announces that he was fired, and so Happy tries to pacify Willy by hinting that they got the loan. Biff eventually has had enough and yells at Willy for never listening. This prompts Willy into another daydream. Bernard is telling Linda that Biff has failed his Maths class. At this point, in the real conversation, Willy criticises Biff for failing Maths. Willy then daydreams that he is in a hotel, and shouts that he is not in the hotel room. Biff attempts to calm Willy by suggesting that they may get the loan after all. Willy and Biff begin to argue, and when Willy hears The Woman laugh, he hits Biff. Biff helps Willy to the toilets to calm him down. When Biff returns to the table he finds Happy flirting and laughing with two girls. Biff and Happy argue, and Biff storms out. Happy leaves with the two girls, leaving Willy in the restaurant.
Willy then has a flashback to the hotel room in Boston. Willy and The Woman are in the room when there is a knock at the door. Willy hides The Woman in the bathroom when Biff comes in. Biff tells Willy that he failed his Maths class. While Willy tries to usher Biff outside, Biff does an impression of his Maths teacher that makes The Woman laugh. Biff realises what has gone on, and shouts at Willy. Willy is then snapped out of his flashback in the restaurant, where he is helped up.
Back at the house, Happy and Linda argue about leaving Willy in the restaurant. Biff goes looking for Willy, and finds him planting seeds in the garden. Willy is talking to the hallucination of Ben about a $20,000 'proposition'. Biff helps Willy into the house, although they begin arguing. After Happy joins in, Biff eventually begins to cry, which calms Willy down. After the boys go to bed, Willy begins talking to 'Ben' about the $20,000 sum, which is revealed to be insurance money. When Linda shouts for Willy, there is no response, and Linda and the boys hear Willy's car race away.
The play finishes with Willy's funeral, which is a depressing affair. There are hardly any attendees, and all of the characters have a different interpretation of Willy's death. Biff says that Willy should have kept his dreams in check. Charley says that Willy was a victim of the American dream, and sales in general. The boys talk about the future, although Happy says that he wants to stay in memory of his father. The play ends with Linda crying, and saying, "We're free", over and over.Back to top