At one point in Act 1 of Death of a Salesman, Happy offers to finance Willy's retirement. Willy scorns Happy's offer. Why?

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In act 1, Willy hallucinates about Biff's childhood and Happy comes downstairs after he hears Willy talking to himself. Willy suddenly becomes aware of Happy's presence and begins to lament about not following his brother to Alaska. In an attempt to cheer his father up, Happy tells Willy, "Pop, I...

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In act 1, Willy hallucinates about Biff's childhood and Happy comes downstairs after he hears Willy talking to himself. Willy suddenly becomes aware of Happy's presence and begins to lament about not following his brother to Alaska. In an attempt to cheer his father up, Happy tells Willy, "Pop, I told you I’m gonna retire you for life" (Miller, 28). In a rare moment of self-awareness, Willy demonstrates his grasp of reality by telling Happy,

"You’ll retire me for life on seventy goddam dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you’ll retire me for life!" (Miller, 28).

While Willy is depicted as a delusional, hopeful man with unrealistic expectations for his children, he reveals that he is aware that Happy is a failure by responding to Happy's claim that he will retire him for life. Willy's brief moment of self-awareness illustrates that he suppresses his negative feelings regarding the harsh reality of his situation in favor of entertaining delusional ideas. Willy recognizes that Happy is delusional for thinking he will retire him for life and criticizes his son's careless lifestyle and lack of success. Unfortunately, Willy does not experience an epiphany like Biff and refuses to accept reality, which leads to his decision to commit suicide.

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This part of the play occurs after one of Willy's many hallucinatory memories involving his brother, Ben. As we know, Ben was a successful man (at least the way Willy remembers him) who found luck in the diamond mines. As a rich man who made his money quickly, Ben would be the epitome of everything Willy would have wanted to become. However, Willy did not take the chance to go for it like Ben. He seems to deeply regret it now, when he needs money the most.

It is in this fog between reality and fantasy that Happy tells his father

HAPPY: Pop, I told you I’m gonna retire you for life.

However, Willy is not too detached from his own reality to understand that Happy is just like him: living in a dream world, not living "the" dream. For this reason, Willy snaps in a surprising turn to reality:

WILLY: You’ll retire me for life on seventy goddamn dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you’ll retire me for life!

This is perhaps the closest to reality that Willy Loman has ever been at this point. Not only is he accepting his fate but that of his sons. Surely, that will eventually change and will change again after that. Still, he is, perhaps for the first time, pointing out to Happy how ridiculous Happy's idea is, especially considering the expenses that Happy already has, plus the fact that it would never been enough to live comfortably. The traditional Willy Loman, the dreamer, may be likely to extend the fantasy and ramble more about it. This realistic version of Willy Loman is rare, for he is chastising his son for dreaming, when all the Lomans do is precisely that: dream.

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Willy's response to Happy's offer is as follows:

You'll retire me for life on seventy goddam dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you'll retire me for life!

Willy here draws scathing attention to the fact that Happy doesn't earn very much, is livng on rent, and also has other expenditures that eat into his income. Therefore he cannot realistically afford to retire his father for life - unless he starts earning a whole lot more and cuts down on his extravagant and womanising lifestyle. That is why Willy is so scornful of his offer.

Happy is shown to be a big talker, but he doesn't seem to have achieved very much in his life. He is like his father in that respect. He also seems to share Willy's unrealistic ideas about achieving success in the world, when he declares at Willy's funeral that he's going to make Willy's dream come true. Like his offer to retire Willy for life, this just comes across as another empty promise. 

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Happy and Biff are in their upstairs bedroom together when they hear Willy downstairs talking to himself. Happy comes down and tries to get Willy to go to bed. Willy admits he came back from his sales trip early because he "got an awful scare." He was almost in a car accident in Yonkers. Willy then reminisces about his brother, Ben, who struck it rich in diamond mining. Happy, probably just to humor Willy, says he'd like to know the secret of Ben's success. Willy lashes out at Happy for the comment, implying that Happy has too soft a life to "crack open" the "oyster" of success.

Happy, becoming defensive, reminds Willy that Happy has promised, "I'm gonna retire you for life."

Willy scoffs for two reasons. First, he points out how low Happy's salary is—$70 per week. With Happy's personal expenses, especially with his profligacy with women, Willy knows Happy has nowhere near enough money to carry out such a promise. Second, Willy scoffs because his sons have been absent despite Willy's recently deteriorating condition. Willy says, "I couldn't get past Yonkers today," referring to his driving problems. He then asks, "Where are you guys, where are you? The woods are burning! I can't drive a car!"

This outburst shows that Willy already needs help and that Happy hasn't been there for him. Happy has been in town while Biff hasn't, yet Biff is the one who immediately notices how his dad has gone downhill and that something is desperately wrong. Happy lives in his own self-centered dream world. Because of his own inability to move up in the business world, he has no money to help Willy, but worse than that, he doesn't pay enough attention to Willy to respond to Willy's needs.

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Willy has returned home late at night. He is exhausted and lost, and he's been talking to himself. Happy comes down from his bedroom to join Willy in the kitchen. Willy has just been remembering his brother, Ben:

WILLY: You guys! There was a man started with the clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines!

HAPPY: Boy, someday I’d like to know how he did it.

WILLY: What’s the mystery? The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich! The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress!

HAPPY: Pop, I told you I’m gonna retire you for life.

WILLY: You’ll retire me for life on seventy goddam dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you’ll retire me for life! Christ’s sake, I couldn’t get past Yonkers today! Where are you guys, where are you? The woods are burning! I can’t drive a car!

First off, there is no way that Happy, with his mere seventy dollars a week, can retire anyone for life. In addition, Willy cites Happy's own expenses: his propensity for womanizing, his car payments and the rent he has to pay... all of his money is used up on those things. Besides, Willy dreams of real success, real money... the kind of money his brother Ben made, Ben, the man who Willy sees as "success incarnate."

Like his father, Happy is a dreamer who believes his own dreams, and Willy knows it.

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