Act 2, Part 2: Summary and Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on December 15, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 937

SummaryPart 2 covers the action up to when Willy says “Put up your hands!” to Charley.

The previous section ends with Howard leaving his office. Willy remains, and the lights change. Ben’s music begins to play, and Willy begins talking to him as he enters from the right carrying...

(The entire section contains 937 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Death of a Salesman study guide. You'll get access to all of the Death of a Salesman content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
  • Critical Essays
  • Short-Answer Quizzes
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Part 2 covers the action up to when Willy says “Put up your hands!” to Charley.

The previous section ends with Howard leaving his office. Willy remains, and the lights change. Ben’s music begins to play, and Willy begins talking to him as he enters from the right carrying a suitcase and an umbrella. Ben tells Willy he has finished his business trip to Alaska and must soon board a boat to return to Africa. From this information the audience realizes that after getting fired, Willy has begun daydreaming again and that a flashback has begun. Even though Ben is in a rush, Willy needs to talk to him: “Ben, nothing’s working out. I don’t know what to do.” Ben offers Willy a job supervising his lumber operations in Alaska; encouraging Willy’s desire to do manly, outdoor work, Ben says, “Screw on your fists and you can fight for a fortune up there.”

Linda joins Willy and Ben, but she does not approve of moving the family to Alaska. Frightened of Ben and angry with him, Linda insists that Willy is doing well enough already: “Enough to be happy right here, right now.” Then she asks Willy, “Why must everybody conquer the world?” To convince Willy not to go, Linda reminds Willy that old man Wagner said Willy could one day become a member of the firm, causing Willy to think Alaska may not be necessary: “I am building something with this firm, Ben, and if a man is building something he must be on the right track, mustn’t he?” Willy gains additional confidence when Linda reminds him of Dave Singleman’s success.

Biff and Hap (as teenagers) enter. Biff is in his football sweater and Hap carries the rest of Biff’s uniform. “Three great universities are begging” for Biff, Willy tells Ben, “and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do, Ben. It’s who you know and the smile on your face.” As Willy continues to claim that in this country a person’s fortune can be built on the basis of being liked, Ben begins to leave. When Willy asks once more, “Ben, am I right?,” Ben responds only by repeating that Alaska could make Willy “rich!”

After Ben has gone, Willy and the rest of the family get ready to leave for Biff’s big football game. Bernard arrives and pleads to carry some of Biff’s equipment so he, like Hap, can accompany Biff into the clubhouse at Ebbets Field, the famous baseball stadium where the All-Scholastic Championship of New York football game will be played. Charley enters just as everyone is about to leave. Pretending not to know it is the day of Biff’s important game, Charley asks Willy if he wants to play cards. Charley continues to joke with Willy, telling Biff to hit a home run at Ebbets Field, but Willy becomes very angry. Willy tells Charley he won’t be laughing after Biff becomes as famous and wealthy as Red Grange. Charley continues to tease Willy, pretending not to recognize Red Grange (an extremely well-known football player at that time). Willy becomes so frustrated that he challenges Charley to a fight: “Who the hell do you think you are, better than everybody else? You don’t know everything, you big, ignorant, stupid. . . . Put up your hands!” Charley walks away as Willy follows him.

This section of the play can be read as Willy’s daydream or memory. After being fired, he thinks back to this moment many years ago when he chose a life as a salesman rather a new life of adventure and possibility in Alaska. Because he has not enjoyed Dave Singleman’s success and popularity, he must now concede that his many years of work did not really “build” him anything. The fact that Biff has not become a famous football player also adds to his regret: Willy did not prove Charley wrong.

Willy sees himself teaching his sons the same masculine sense of adventure and self-reliance that he admires in Ben. Finally, though, Ben’s sense of superiority may differ from Willy’s own arrogance and belief in “personality.” Whereas Willy often tries to use a smile as a shortcut, Ben appears to have made his fortune without depending on the approval and favors of others. Ben appears selfish, but he is also “self-made” in a way Willy is not.

When Linda argues against Alaska, we notice how she is repeating what Willy has told her. We begin to doubt if old man Wagner ever really promised Willy a promotion. Likewise, we become suspicious of the Dave Singleman story: was he really so popular? What makes Willy believe such success is possible? At the very least, we recognize that Willy has always childishly based his life’s hopes on only a few promises and stories. In order to continue in his job and present social position, Willy needs to believe that he may one day be successful and widely liked. When he cannot laugh at Charley’s teasing, however, we see the way Willy’s need to believe in himself has made him into an angry, resentful person. He has based his self-esteem heavily on his wealth, his popularity, and Biff’s success as a football player. Linda’s contention that Willy should “be happy right here” shows how she distrusts the impulse to always “conquer”; however, it is hard to believe that Willy will ever be happy as long as he expects successful results from cheating, smiling, and a rude “personality.”

Illustration of PDF document

Download Death of a Salesman Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act 2, Part 1: Summary and Analysis


Act 2, Part 3: Summary and Analysis