Essential Passages by Character: Willy Loman
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,...
(The entire section is 1770 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Dreams
Essential Passage 1: Act 1
Before us is the SALESMAN’S house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry glow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens on to the apartment house at the side.
Arthur Miller spends some time describing the stage setting of the play, complete with commentary, because the setting, as much as the dialogue, establishes the theme of the play. It is a small, “fragile” home, cowering down among tall modern apartment buildings. It is simply furnished, with just the basics, so it is the home of a family “just getting by.” On the bedroom shelf belonging to the boys sits an athletic trophy, a reminder of past glory. The blue lighting is indicative of the dream-like state of the play, that this little house is separate from the reality of the apartment houses around it. It is a throwback to another time, before World War II, when people lived in houses, not apartments, and when the American Dream was still alive. Yet off to the side is a menacing orange light, suggesting that something is trying to invade the dream. It is a sign that the American Dream’s days are numbered.
Essential Passage 2: Act 2
BIFF: He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could’ve torn the walls down! How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and—I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk.
Biff is meeting Happy and Willy at the end of the day for a “celebration” dinner, in honor of Biff’s getting a loan from Bill Oliver, and Willy’s securing a non-traveling job in New York. However, both plans fall through. Biff had counted on Oliver’s remembering his working for him fifteen years before and procuring a loan from him in order to start a sporting goods business. Yet when Biff goes for his appointment, Oliver does not remember him at all. In the face of his dashed dreams, Biff confesses that he was never a salesman, as he had told his family. He was a lowly shipping clerk, which is not the type of experience one would need in order to get a loan to start a business. Biff had been deluding his family, and most importantly himself, all these years. He has been living in a dream.
Essential Passage 3: Requiem
BIFF: Why don’t you come with me, Happy?
HAPPY: I’m not licked that easily. I’m staying right in this city, and I’m gonna beat this racket! [He looks at BIFF, his chin set;] The Loman Brothers!
BIFF: I know who I am, kid.
HAPPY: All right, boy. I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can...
(The entire section is 1540 words.)