Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1519
Part 5 covers the action up to when Linda says, “He’s planting the garden!”
After Biff, Hap, and the two women leave the restaurant, Willy’s daydream involving the Boston woman becomes a full-fledged flashback. The Woman is in a black slip and Willy is buttoning his shirt. We hear raw, sexy music as The Woman teases Willy, telling him to stop dressing in the middle of the night. The audience must suspect that The Woman is Willy’s mistress, with whom he just finished making love in this hotel room. When Willy says he’s lonely, The Woman – a secretary at a company that Willy sells to – tries to cheer and console him by telling him that from now on she will send him right through to see the buyers without delay. Willy then tries to pull himself out of his depression by kissing The Woman after she only somewhat jokingly teases him about being sad and self-centered. Willy tries to ignore someone knocking at the door, but finally opens it after making The Woman hide in the bathroom.
Willy discovers the young Biff at the door, extremely upset over flunking math. Biff asks Willy to persuade his math teacher to let Biff graduate: “[I]f he saw the kind of man you are, and you just talked to him in your way, I’m sure he’d come through for me…. He’d like you, Pop. You know the way you could talk.” Willy agrees – partially as a way to keep Biff from entering the room and discovering The Woman – but Biff keeps talking. When Biff recounts how he once mocked the teacher, Willy laughs, but so does The Woman, unseen in the bathroom. Discovered, The Woman emerges from the bathroom, and Willy lies to Biff, explaining that she is simply “Miss Francis,” a buyer whom he allowed to take a shower in his room while the hotel paints hers. Biff stares open-mouthed and horrified at her, realizing that his father has been cheating on his mother, Linda. Willy hurries The Woman out the door, but not before she demands the silk stockings Willy promised her.
Alone with Biff, Willy assures a weeping Biff that The Woman is merely a business associate. However, Biff clearly senses the truth and even Willy’s promising to fix the flunking grade cannot win back Biff. Biff no longer believes the teacher would listen to Willy. Willy finally admits his infidelity: “She’s nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.” Biff will accept no explanation or excuse; seeing The Woman receive stockings that should have been his mother’s, Biff rushes out of the room, weeping and yelling at Willy, “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!”
As Biff leaves, Stanley enters, indicating to the audience that the flashback has ended and Willy remains in the restaurant. In a move of bravado, Willy tries to force a large tip on Stanley even though Biff and Hap have already paid the bill and tip. Stanley slips the money back into Willy’s pocket when Willy is not looking; this gesture of common decency toward someone showing poor judgment contrasts Stanley with Willy and the other Loman men, who think nothing of lying and stealing. Learning from Stanley that his sons have left without him, Willy leaves to find seeds at a hardware store. It is late at night, as he exits, remarking anxiously, “I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.”
The scene shifts back to the Loman house, where Biff and Hap enter late at night, finding Linda outraged at them for abandoning Willy at the restaurant. Anticipating Linda’s anger, Hap has brought roses to calm her; he proceeds to pretend Willy had a terrific time tonight with them. Still enraged, Linda violently asks Biff whether he cares if Willy lives or dies. “Get out of here,” Linda orders, “both of you, and don’t come back!” Hap goes upstairs after Biff yells at him to stop pretending Willy spent a great evening with them. Biff had tried to deny Linda’s accusations at first, but now he feels guilty and self-hating, calling himself the “scum of the earth.” With determination – but still clearly ashamed of himself – Biff declares, “I gotta talk to the boss, Mom. Where is he?” A hammering noise is heard, and although Linda desperately wants Biff to leave Willy alone, she replies that Willy is in the yard planting a garden. Alarmed that Willy would plant a garden in the middle of the night, Biff goes outside, followed by Linda.
In this crucial section of the play, we plainly see that Willy has had an affair with a woman in Boston during his sales trips. Miller may refer to her as simply “The Woman” for a number of reasons; her lack of a name may indicate the way Willy does not really love but merely uses her to satisfy his sexual desire and to soothe his loneliness. Similarly, her giddy, laughing behavior contrasts sharply with Linda’s warm, sensitive loyalty. By calling her “The Woman,” Miller almost suggests she is ghostlike, a memory that has haunted Willy’s guilty conscience for many years. Her appearing in silhouette in Act I, Part 3 and laughing unseen in Act II, Part 4 also lend her a ghostlike quality.
A “proper” woman of Willy’s age, this woman does not strike us as someone whom Willy has chosen merely for her looks. More likely, her attraction to him flatters his pride, allowing him to feel “well liked,” which has always been so important to him. Willy’s contention that “she means nothing to me” may possibly be true, but neither Biff nor we can know for sure. Moreover, cheating on Linda without loving The Woman would simply signify the great extent of Willy’s selfishness. While Willy may feel lonely on sales trips, Linda must suffer the same loneliness at home; she, though, is not unfaithful to Willy.
When Biff discovers Willy’s affair, we understand that Biff’s anger with Willy over the last 17 years stems from his knowledge of Willy’s dishonesty. Rather than reveal Willy’s infidelity to anyone, Biff has remained silent and held a grudge against his father. As we know from Act I, Part 4, Willy threw Biff out of the house because Biff knew he was a “fake.” Although Biff never explained his reasons for calling his father a fake and phony, we now recognize Willy’s affair as the source of Biff’s hostility. Biff’s discovery has a ripple effect: after discovering the affair, Biff dismisses his father’s chances of convincing the math teacher to let Biff graduate. Biff now sees Willy’s entire personality as a sham. Once the loyal son who took pride in his father’s self-confidence, Biff feels disgusted at the salesman’s arrogance and hollowness. Biff probably did, as Willy has suspected, decide not to attend summer school and graduate as a way of hurting, or spiting, Willy. Nevertheless, Biff may have deliberately or indeliberately never pursued a career with any true seriousness because he feared becoming “fake” like Willy. Nevertheless, it is clear that Willy would rather accuse Biff of spiting him than take responsibility for his own actions and their effects on his young son when he visited him in Boston.
Linda’s anger with Biff and Hap recalls her desperation in Act I, Part 4. Apparently she has never learned of the affair. Linda’s love of Willy requires that she defend Willy. Biff and Hap’s insensitive behavior, she fears, will push Willy closer to despair and suicide. We do not know if Willy has told her he has been fired, but she already seems to know that she must keep Willy’s hopes high – not to preserve any myth of future success but merely to keep Willy from killing himself. Because she loves him, she cannot abandon Willy – as Biff and Hap are ready to do. Although Linda does not strike us as a “fake,” her life has depended heavily on seeing Willy not as a phony but simply a weary, well-meaning man; admitting or discovering he is a fake could throw her own sense of herself into complete confusion.
A strange resolve or sense of determination accompanies Biff’s willingness to call himself the “scum of the earth.” Hap may have cheered him up after leaving the restaurant, but now Biff succumbs again to the self-hate we saw him express to Willy in the restaurant. We cannot know why Biff wants to see Willy now, but we do know that Biff is once again more upset with himself than with Willy. For Biff, planting a garden at night signals another aspect of Willy’s loss of sense and control. Planting evidently signifies some sort of necessity for Willy; he must plant soon not because cold weather will come soon, but because he must apparently prepare for something, though we cannot know what.
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