In Death of a Salesman, what are some 20th-century references to the tape recorder, and where are they in the play?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The scene involving the tape recorder occurs early in Act Two when Willy goes to see Howard to tell him that he would like to give up traveling in his job. When Willy comes into the office, Howard is busy playing with his new tape recorder and shows no particular interest in Willy's visit.

One thing he has recorded and plays back is his daughter's whistling the contemporary song, Roll out the Barrel. Also heard is a reference to "Bulova watch time," an allusion to a popular radio commercial. Howard talks about being able to record Jack Benny's radio show, a popular comedy, allowing him to come home after work, drink a Coke, and listen to the program. 

Once they do speak, Willy becomes angry, yells at Howard, and Howard steps out of the office. While he is gone, Willy accidentally turns on the tape recorder, which frightens him. He does not know how to turn it off. Howard returns, pulls the plug on the machine, and then fires Willy. The scene with the tape recorder helps develop the idea that Willy's day is over. Time has passed him by, and he cannot function in the new modern age.

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Death of a Salesman

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