Death of a Salesman Act 2, Part 4: Summary and Analysis
by Arthur Miller

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Act 2, Part 4: Summary and Analysis

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 attend 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 has 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...

(The entire section is 1,578 words.)