Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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Act 1, Part 2: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Bernard: meek, younger acquaintance of Biff and Happy who helps Biff study math

Summary
Part 2 covers the action up to Willy’s line, “Good work, Biff.”

After Willy has wandered into the living room, where although unseen, he can occasionally be heard talking to himself, the scene shifts to Biff and Happy, talking to each other in their childhood bedroom. Biff is now 34, two years older than Hap. Hap tells Biff he is worried about their father’s absent-mindedness, but the conversation quickly turns to reminiscences about the brothers’ youthful sexual prowess with women. Biff moves their discussion back to the subject of their father, prompting Hap to reveal that it is Biff’s general unsettledness and lack of career to which Willy constantly returns when talking to himself. Biff tries to explain to Hap that he could not bear slowly working his way up in a career as a salesman or shipping clerk, but that neither has his latest job as a farmhand in Texas given him any sense of a stable future. Biff says, “Maybe I oughta get stuck into something. Maybe that’s my trouble. I’m like a boy. I’m not married, I’m not in business, I just – I’m like a boy.”

Hap, whose low-level job is the kind Biff has fled, admits that he, too, is lonely and bored, despite a decent salary and the possibility for eventual promotion. Biff suggests they escape their present situations and buy a farm out West. Hap declines the offer and states, “I gotta show some of those pompous, self-important executives over there that Hap Loman can make the grade.” Boredom and an empty sense of competition, he confesses, have contributed to a series of unsatisfying affairs with the girlfriends of executives in his company. Acknowledging his dishonesty, as well as the pleasure he derives from it, he likens his behavior to his inability to refrain from accepting bribes at work. Before the brothers fall asleep again, Biff announces that he intends to ask for a loan from Bill Oliver, for whom he worked years ago; Biff wonders for a moment, though, whether Oliver will remember or ever knew that Biff stole a carton of basketballs from him.

Biff and Hap hear Willy mumbling to himself downstairs as they go back to sleep. On stage, the light fades away from the brothers and focuses on Willy in the kitchen. The set changes to let the audience know a flashback is occurring: the surrounding apartment buildings disappear, green leaves appear, and cheerful music plays. Willy seems to speak to Biff and Hap, but no one is visible. Eventually, Biff and Hap enter as teenagers. Biff wears a sweater with a large “S” and carries a football; Hap carries the pail and rags that the boys have just used to wash the car. Willy, just returned from a sales trip, is in good spirits and gives his sons a punching bag as a gift. Biff, we learn, has borrowed the football from school without the coach’s permission. Without scolding him, Willy tells him to return it and proceeds in his enthusiastic mood to tell Biff and Hap of his great success and popularity as a salesman.

The conversation is interrupted when the young Bernard enters, dressed in knickers, to tell Biff he should be studying with him today. After he warns Biff that flunking the upcoming test will prevent him from graduating high school, Willy tells Biff to go study. Before Biff goes, Willy dismisses Bernard as an “anemic,” and, scoffing at his timidity and studiousness, remarks to his own sons that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.”

Analysis
This segment of the play works in a reverse order of sorts: the audience listens to the bedroom conversation between Biff and Hap and then through the flashback sees the childhood that led the brothers to their present states in life. In the stage directions to the bedroom conversation, Miller tells the reader that both men are athletically built, but Biff “bears a...

(The entire section is 1,134 words.)