Describe the dramatic effect when Howard listens to the voices of his family while Willy tries to talk business.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is, indeed, a tremendous dramatic effect during this scene in Act Two of Arthur Miller's playDeath of a Salesman.

Here we witness Willy Loman entering the office of Howard Wagner, his boss, to inquire about the possibility of obtaining a full-time job in New York instead of the endless driving hours it takes Willy, now 63 and tired, to go from New York to New England every day.

There are many factors that aid to produce the effects of nostalgia, loss, shame and sadness in this scene. First, Howard is 36 years old and the son of Willy's former boss. This means that, while the Wagners have complied with the generational expectation of letting the younger take over the enterprise of the elders, the Lomans have remained in the same rut and Willy is still doing the same thing he has been doing forever, to no particular benefit to himself.

Second, Howard is showing Willy a tool of the modern times during this scene in the form of a wire recorder. In this wire recorder, Howard films the voices of his children saying random things such as the state capitals, the time of the day, and basically this shows Howard's love and devotion to his children. He even asks Willy at one point to be quiet so that they can hear Howard's daughter talk.

This being said, let's look at the ironic contrast that we find in the lives of Howard and Willy and how this causes the dramatic impact: Here is Howard, 36, being the boss of Willy, who is 63. Howard has followed the path that he is meant to follow and, at a relatively young age, has the chance to share with his children, and teach them good things. In contrast, Willy, 63, has followed "the wrong dream" and all he could do with his children was to teach them to follow the wrong dream, likewise. His children are around Howard's own age, and none of them has a clue on what to do with their lives. Compared to Howard's own children, Happy and Biff seem even more childish and immature than the children we hear in Howard's wire recorder.

Moreover, observe Howard's complete indifference to Willy's needs. This is Miller's way of representing the modern business man's tendency to look after himself (and his business) first. While Willy depends on Howard to fix his broken dream, Howard moves on the "totem pole" of society simply because he does not need Willy any longer. In the end, all is fair in the world of business.

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Death of a Salesman

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