Death of a Salesman Questions and Answers
by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Please answer this question about Death of a Salesman. How does Willy’s interview with Howard reveal that Willy transfers his professional anxieties onto his relationship with his family and conflates the professional and personal realms of his life?  

Expert Answers info

accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write13,728 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

In the interview that Willy has with Howard, his boss, we definitely see the pressures of Willy's existence forcing him to act irrationally and in a sense pushing Howard towards the conclusion of the interview, when he fires Willy. It is important to note the context of the interview: just before it, Linda reminds Willy to ask for an advance to pay off some outstanding bills, and then Linda is seen mending her stockings that reminds Willy of his infidelity. The personal shame of being an adulterer and also his lack of means are important to understand the desperate nature of Willy but also the way he acts.

Howard is presented as unsympathetic and as someone who does not understand. He suggests that Willy by the recorder he is playing with, even when Willy has no chance of being able to afford the money to pay for it. He barely listens to Willy's story about his inspiration of becoming a salesman. Willy sticks to his version of "reality" as he begins to shout at Howard and almost lecture him:

Now pay attention. Your father--in 1928 I had a big year. I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions...

Howard makes the truth clear by beginning to tell Willy that this is just not true, but Willy stops him, shouting out the truth. However, after Howard leaves, Willy realises how he was behaving irrationally. Rather than ushering in a period of sanity, however, he only goes on to sink into his delusions further, addressing Howard's father, the long-dead Frank:

Pull myself together! What the hell did I say to him? My God, I was yelling at him! How could I! Willy breaks off, staring at the light, which occupies the chair, animating it. He approaches this chair, standing across the desk from it. Frank, Frank, don't you remember what you told me that time? How you put your hand on my shoulder, and Frank...

Clearly the pressures of his life makes the delusions that he experiences worse. Note that after Howard exits, having fired him, Willy has an interview with Ben, his imaginary brother who he "calls up" in times of need.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial