Silhouette of a grinning person wearing a top hat with a skull-like face and a red nighttime sky in the background

Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Act 2 and Requiem Summary

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Last Updated January 11, 2023.

Act 2 begins with Willy and Linda at the kitchen table. Willy has slept well for the first time in months and resolves to buy some seeds for the garden, a sign that he has hope for the future. Linda mentions that Biff and Happy want to take him out to dinner that evening to celebrate, and Willy only becomes more determined to ask for a New York job. The scene transitions to the Wagner Company office, where Willy has asked for an appointment with the company owner, Howard Wagner. Having known Willy all his life, Howard chats genially until he realizes that Willy ought to be in Boston. Willy explains that he isn’t able to travel anymore and asks for an office job, but Howard insists that there isn’t a place for Willy in New York.

Howard’s coarse rejection angers Willy, since he has worked for the Wagner Company for over thirty years and was good friends with Howard’s father, who founded the business. However, Willy’s appeals do not sway Howard, who tells him he has other meetings to attend. When Willy begins to shout, Howard leaves his office so that he can cool off. When Howard comes back, he says that he’s been meaning to let Willy go for some time now but hasn’t been able to bring himself to do it. Willy is dismayed, and Howard gives him an empty reassurance that he will find a job for him when he is feeling better. Howard leaves, and Willy begins to hallucinate once again. In his vision, Ben offers Willy an opportunity to take care of some timberland he’s purchased in Alaska. Willy is tempted by the prospect, but Linda urges him to be content with who and where he is. Rather than accept this advice, Willy tells Ben that he’ll make it in business, or at least Biff will. Ben is unconvinced, and the scene returns to the present at Charley’s office.

Willy is still hallucinating, and Charley’s secretary asks Bernard to try and calm him down. They chat about Bernard’s trip to Washington before Willy bluntly asks Bernard how he managed to become a success when Biff hasn’t. Bernard evades the question but counters with one of his own. He mentions that when Biff flunked math, he was determined to get his teacher to change his grade or make up the class in summer school so that he could still go to university. When he couldn’t change his teacher’s mind, Biff went to find his father in Boston, and Bernard observes that when Biff came home from that trip, “he’d given up his life.” He asks Willy what happened in Boston that affected Biff so dramatically, but Willy becomes enraged.

Charley enters and sends Bernard off to catch his train. Charley offers Willy fifty dollars, but Willy awkwardly asks for one hundred and ten dollars. Charley becomes frustrated and repeats his offer of an office job that would pay Willy fifty dollars a week. Willy refuses and, when pressed, cannot articulate why he won’t take the job. Unable to change his mind, Charley gives him the hundred and ten dollars and sends him on his way.

The action onstage shifts to Happy, who is sitting at a restaurant table waiting for Biff and Willy. Biff enters, crestfallen, and explains to Happy that he waited six hours to see his old boss, Oliver. Finally, when Oliver came out of his office at five o’clock, Biff intercepted him in the hall, only to realize that Oliver did not remember who he was. Embarrassed and angry, Biff went into Oliver’s office when no one was looking and stole his fountain pen. The encounter has sparked a sudden understanding in Biff, and despite Happy’s plan to string Willy along until he forgets about the whole thing, Biff is determined to tell his father the truth.

Willy arrives at the restaurant and announces that he’s been laid off. The boys are shocked by the news, and although Happy tries to obfuscate the truth, Biff tells Willy that Oliver didn’t remember him. However, Willy refuses to understand what Biff is telling him and clings to Happy’s comforting lies. Biff and Willy start to argue, but their argument is interspersed with fragmentary lines from Willy’s audible hallucinations. Eventually Biff gives up on trying to talk to his father, and he leaves with Happy and two young women. 

Willy’s hallucinations take over the action, and Willy is suddenly in a hotel room in Boston with “the Woman.” Both the Woman and Willy, who are in a state of undress, are annoyed by persistent knocking at the door. The Woman hides in the bathroom while Willy opens the door, only for a young Biff to burst into the room talking about how he flunked his math class. Willy attempts to calm Biff down and reassures him that he will speak to the math teacher, but the Woman’s laughter gives her away and she is discovered. Biff, disgusted with his father, starts weeping and calls Willy a “phoney little fake.” As Willy yells, the hallucination dissolves, and a waiter shakes Willy back to reality and sends him home. 

The scene returns to the Loman household, where Biff and Happy are arriving after a night on the town. Linda is distraught and chastises them, telling them both to leave permanently and not to bother Willy anymore. However, Biff is more determined than ever to have it out with his father, and he finds Willy in the garden.

In the climactic scene of the play, Biff tells Willy that neither of them is a great man. They’re working men, “a dime a dozen,” and to pretend otherwise only robs them of any chance to be content with their lives. Biff stresses that he isn’t a failure because he wanted to spite his father over his affair; he is a failure because he isn’t particularly smart and isn’t particularly likable. He doesn’t have the ability to “make it,” and Willy’s expectations have only held him back from living a life that could make him happy. Finally, Biff collapses, sobbing, at his father’s feet. After Biff leaves, Willy does not seem to have taken in any of his words but rather becomes ecstatic that Biff actually does love him and has loved him all this time.

The family retires to bed, except for Willy, who says he needs a few minutes to compose himself. There is the sound of a car starting as Willy prepares to drive away, and the family’s frenzied pursuit of him slowly turns into a funeral procession.

Requiem

In the final scene of the play, Charley, Linda, and the boys all stand around Willy’s grave. Linda cannot understand why no one came to the funeral. Biff reminisces about happy memories but concludes that “the man didn’t know who he was.” This upsets Happy, who has not shaken off Willy’s delusions of grandeur and is resolved to carry on his legacy and “make it” in business. Linda gives a closing speech to the grave, telling Willy that she made the last payment on their mortgage today and that they are “free and clear” at last.

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Act 1 Summary