Act 2, Part 4: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on December 15, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1576

New Characters:Stanley: a young waiter at the restaurant where Biff, Happy, and Willy meet

Miss Forsythe: a woman whom Biff and Happy meet in the restaurant. (In the text she is referred to as simply “Girl” before her name is given.)

Letta: Miss Forsythe’s friend, who eventually joins her,...

(The entire section contains 1576 words.)

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New Characters:
Stanley: a young waiter at the restaurant where Biff, Happy, and Willy meet

Miss Forsythe: a woman whom Biff and Happy meet in the restaurant. (In the text she is referred to as simply “Girl” before her name is given.)

Letta: Miss Forsythe’s friend, who eventually joins her, Biff, and Happy at the restaurant

Part 4 covers the action up to when Stanley calls to Hap, “Mr. Loman! Mr. Loman!”

The scene has changed to a restaurant. Hap finds a table with the help of Stanley, a waiter who knows Hap and treats him very well. Bending the truth, Hap tells Stanley that Biff is an important cattle man out West; Hap orders champagne, announcing that Biff and Willy will soon arrive to celebrate the brothers’ new business. Before Stanley exits, Hap asks him also to bring some champagne to a very beautiful woman at a nearby table. Introducing himself to the woman, Miss Forsythe, Hap pretends to work for a champagne company. When Biff arrives moments later, Hap continues lying: he pretends that he attended West Point (the prestigious army college) and that Biff is actually the quarterback for the New York Giants professional football team.

Hap asks Miss Forsythe to sit with them and to find a friend for Biff. Hap sees that Biff is uninterested in the beautiful Miss Forsythe and asks, “Where’s the old confidence, Biff?” When she leaves to make a phone call, Biff explains that he did not receive the loan from Bill Oliver. In fact, Oliver did not even recognize Biff. Furthermore, Biff himself finally remembered that he had not really been a salesman for Oliver. As a result, Biff confesses, “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been! We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk.” When Oliver and his secretary momentarily left Biff alone, he stole an expensive fountain pen and then ran out of the building. Now in agony over his self-deception and lack of self-restraint, Biff wants Hap to help him speak to Willy. Willy has thought Biff fails so often simply to spite or anger Willy, but Biff just wants Willy to “understand that I’m not the man somebody lends that kind of money to.” Hap urges Biff to postpone telling Willy any bad news because “Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something.”

When Willy arrives, Biff (who is already slightly drunk) tells him, “Let’s hold on to the facts tonight, Pop. We’re not going to get anywhere bullin’ around. I was a shipping clerk for Oliver, not a salesman.” Willy treats this news as a minor detail, declaring, “I’m not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today.” Willy, however, does not want to discuss losing his job; instead, he wants to hear some good news from Biff so he will have something positive to tell Linda tonight.

After hearing this, Biff has even greater trouble trying to tell Willy about the loan. Willy keeps interrupting Biff, commanding he spit out the good news, and Hap pretends that Biff’s meeting with Oliver was in fact a success. As Biff’s anxiety continues to increase, Willy begins to think that either Biff never went to the office or Biff insulted Oliver.

While Biff struggles to finish speaking, Willy’s thoughts come alive: in the background, we see a flashback scene in which the young Bernard rushes to inform Linda that Biff has flunked math and will not graduate high school. Remembering or hallucinating this scene, Willy suddenly yells, “If you hadn’t flunked you’d’ve been set by now!” Biff and Hap cannot hear or see the flashback, but the audience learns that after flunking, Biff had gone to Boston to see Willy. Although Biff and Hap have no idea why Willy has begun yelling in the restaurant, Biff keeps explaining and finally finishes recounting the truth about his meeting with Oliver. Willy comes out of his daze momentarily to notice the stolen pen, but another flashback begins as we hear a hotel phone operator tell someone that Mr. Loman is not in his room. Willy’s frantic, scared anger seems directed at the operator’s voice now, but Biff and Hap become so confused and frightened at Willy’s crazy behavior that they change the story about Oliver.

Eventually they convince Willy that Oliver is actually still considering the business proposal and will have lunch with Biff tomorrow, at which time Biff will have another chance to “make an impression.” Once Willy becomes clearheaded again, however, Biff tries to say he cannot attend the meeting or return the stolen pen. If he does attend, Biff explains, Oliver will remember that Biff stole the basketballs years ago and thus will know that taking the pen was not an accident this time. Willy grows mad and hits Biff, convinced Biff is spiting him by refusing to attend the lunch meeting. “I’m no good, can’t you see what I am?” Biff responds, in a desperate attempt to show he is not acting out of spite.

As Miss Forsythe returns with her friend, Letta, Willy begins to hear the laughing voice of the Boston woman and excuses himself to go to the washroom. While he is away, Hap asks the two women where they should all go tonight; angry that Hap would leave Willy behind, Biff accuses Hap of not caring for their father and shows Hap the rubber pipe he took from behind the heater. Biff exits, almost crying, but Hap and the women follow him, planning to persuade him to join them for a fun night on the town. Leaving the restaurant, Hap tells the two women that Willy is not really his father: “He’s just a guy.” Shouting for Stanley and the check, Hap and the women leave the stage. When Stanley calls indignantly, “Mr. Loman! Mr. Loman!,” we begin to suspect that Hap’s shouting may conceal his intention of not paying the check, possibly a frequent habit for him.

This scene begins by exposing Hap’s tendencies to lie to impress people, especially a woman to whom he is sexually attracted. His untruths—about attending West Point, about working for a champagne company, about Biff being a cattle man, and then about Biff playing for the Giants—may seem relatively harmless. However, when he helps Biff lie to Willy about the meeting with Oliver, we perceive how his lies also keep other people from facing reality. Finally, when Hap denies Willy is his father, he does so in part to impress Miss Forsythe. That denial fits Hap’s pattern, as Miller described it earlier, of “never allowing himself to turn his face toward defeat,” especially in a circumstance in which a woman might reject him if he told the truth. The possibility that he may be trying to avoid paying the check signals one more instance of Hap’s comfort with cheating and betrayal.

Biff tries very hard to stop lying. After going to Oliver’s office and stealing the pen, Biff finally understands how his life has been a “ridiculous lie.” He realizes that he had begun believing the exaggerations and falsehoods that he, Willy, and Hap have always been so quick to make up. However, when confessing to dishonesty might mean pushing his father toward suicide, then Biff feels split and agonized. Hap, like Willy, can see no other alternative but continuing to deceive oneself and others (Linda, for example). Determined to remain “happy,” though he too may be suffering, Hap attempts to avoid both the agony Biff undergoes and the loss of control Willy experiences.

Willy feels despondent after being fired, remembering Ben’s Alaska offer, and visiting Charley. The principles and certainties by which he lived for so long have vanished in a “big blaze going all around.” Consequently, he asks for some good news for Linda, which suggests that Linda constitutes Willy’s last safe sense of himself; if she gives up hope, then he will never recover. Yet there is certainly irony in the fact that Willy asks for good news for Linda when Willy himself so desperately needs good news. And, while good news, to Willy, always means money, who knows how much happier Linda would have been if “good news” were that her husband has not been unfaithful to her? As Biff recounts bad news, Willy slips further into daydream and hallucination. Eventually, prompted by the Boston woman’s voice, he leaves the table seeking the door of the hotel room, then catches himself and says he is going to the bathroom.

Because the return of Miss Forsythe and Letta interrupts Willy’s argument with Biff, we do not know if Willy believed that Biff really could meet Oliver for lunch. Clearly, though, Willy is unable or unwilling to face facts or forgive Biff, as Biff hoped he would. Hap’s decision to leave the restaurant and avoid Willy is heartless, but we must remember that Biff has also left rather than deal with Willy. Neither brother wants to confront Willy; doing so would mean confronting themselves and their own failures, as well as increasing their father’s own emotional turmoil.

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