Act 1, Part 3: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on December 15, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1510

New Characters:Charley: neighbor of the Lomans, called Uncle Charley by Biff and Happy, even though he is not their actual uncle; father of Bernard

Ben: Willy’s older brother (Biff and Happy’s uncle); made his fortune in African diamonds as a very young man

The Woman: the woman with whom...

(The entire section contains 1510 words.)

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New Characters:
Charley: neighbor of the Lomans, called Uncle Charley by Biff and Happy, even though he is not their actual uncle; father of Bernard

Ben: Willy’s older brother (Biff and Happy’s uncle); made his fortune in African diamonds as a very young man

The Woman: the woman with whom Willy has an extramarital affair during his sales trips to Boston

Part 3 covers the action up to Willy’s line “I was right! I was right! I was right!”

As the previous section ends, we remain in the flashback. Willy and Linda are alone, discussing the outcome of Willy’s sales trip and whether there is enough money to pay the bills. Willy exaggerates his success, but is slowly forced to admit his trip was not very profitable once Linda begins listing the household expenses. Trying to keep his own spirits up, as well as Linda’s, Willy insists, “Oh, I’ll knock ’em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.” Willy’s optimism falters uncharacteristically, and the audience sees his desperation as he tells Linda that he fears people see him as fat, foolish, and too talkative.

Linda comforts her husband, reassuring him that he’s “the handsomest man in the world” and idolized by his sons. Willy replies earnestly, “You’re the best there is, Linda, you’re a pal, you know that? On the road—on the road I want to grab you sometimes and just kiss the life outa you.” As Willy finishes these loving words, he appears to daydream. On the left part of the stage, a woman appears silhouetted and then standing in front of a mirror as she dresses. From the conversation between Willy and this woman (whose name we do not learn), the audience can surmise she is Willy’s mistress in Boston. After Willy kisses her, and after she thanks him for a gift of new stockings, the woman’s laughter fades away; the woman is gone again—Willy’s daydream memory is over.

Willy wakes from this daze and chastises Linda for mending her stockings; as Bernard runs by, Willy demands he give Biff the answers for the upcoming test. Willy’s temper builds as Bernard and Linda begin to speak: Bernard cannot cheat for Biff on this test, Linda wants Biff to return the borrowed football, Bernard says Biff is driving without a license, Linda says Biff is too rough with girls. As the woman’s laugh rises in the background, Willy becomes overwhelmed, yelling “Shut up!” Bernard backs out of the room and Linda leaves almost crying as the flashback ends and Willy is left alone in the kitchen, where he originally came to make a sandwich.

Hap comes downstairs to help his father to bed but leaves when Charley appears and begins to play a late-night game of cards with Willy. Charley—“a large man, slow of speech, laconic, immovable”—engages in teasing banter with Willy, who feels insulted when Charley good-heartedly offers Willy a job. Charley urges Willy not to worry about Biff, but Willy is not soothed and begins talking aloud to his older brother, Ben, visible only to Willy and the audience. Charley and Willy continue playing cards, but half of Willy’s comments are directed toward Ben—“a stolid man, in his sixties, with a mustache and an authoritative air”—who made his fortune in African diamonds as a very young man. Charley quits the game after Willy accuses him of cheating, and the scene slips into a full flashback as Willy walks through a wall-line to shake Ben’s hand.

The flashback shows the audience the first time Willy and his family met Ben, years ago when Biff and Hap were teenagers. Willy did not know Ben or their father while growing up and thus asks Ben to tell Biff and Hap about their grandfather. “With one gadget,” Ben says of his and Willy’s father, “he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime.” Willy admires Ben tremendously and vigorously seeks his approval for the way he has raised Biff and Hap. Bragging about his sons’ resourcefulness, Willy tells Ben how Biff and Hap bring home lumber and other materials to help Willy with home repair projects. Shortly after Willy sends Biff and Hap to get some sand from a nearby construction site, Bernard enters to warn Willy and Linda that a watchman is chasing Biff and Hap after again discovering them trying to steal from the construction site. To calm Linda, Willy denies any wrongdoing on Biff’s part; yet, Willy turns around and accepts Ben’s praise of Biff as “nervy.” Willy then boasts of his sales achievements after Charley has lamented the failure of his own New England salesman.

Ben exits after congratulating Willy on “being first-rate with your boys.” Ben delivers his last words “with a certain vicious audacity,” saying, “When I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!” The flashback ends as Willy replies, “That’s just the spirit I want to imbue them with! To walk into a jungle! I was right! I was right! I was right!” Willy is now alone, talking to no one, until Linda enters, in nightgown and robe.

At the outset of this segment of the play, we find that Willy exaggerates about his ability and popularity as a salesman. Although this revelation may give us cause to call Willy arrogant, Miller makes Willy seem less pompous and more sympathetic by having him confess to his own anxieties about being fat, foolish, and too talkative. At this moment, Willy reminds us of Bernard, who “is liked but not well liked,” and Biff, who has not mastered a career. Thus, behind Willy’s blustering anger and constant boasting lies an intense insecurity about whether he is liked and whether he is a failure as a businessman.

It is that insecurity, in all likelihood, that turns into confusion and rage after Willy remembers his affair with the woman in Boston. Consumed with self-hate and frustration after hearing how much his wife loves him, he is overwhelmed by the fact that Linda must mend her own stockings (when he gives new ones to the Boston woman) and by the stealing and cheating he did not discourage in Biff. Rather than confront his own dishonesty, however, Willy renews his deception by remaining silent about his affair and telling Linda, “There’s nothing the matter with [Biff]! You want him to be a worm like Bernard? He’s got spirit, personality . . .”

Charley is an example of someone who, in Willy’s mind, does not have “spirit” or “personality,” whereas Ben represents the epitome of successful “personality.” Charley’s general slowness and lack of skill with tools prompts Willy to think of him as unsuccessful, unimportant, and unmanly, but Willy does admit that Charley has people’s respect in a way he does not. Furthermore, that respect has translated into business success for Charley, who can afford kindly to offer Willy a job. Willy’s swollen pride will not allow him to accept the offer or to treat Charley civilly; instead, Willy turns to his memory of Ben, someone who made a fortune on his adventuresome, charismatic personality rather than on simple hard work.

We never learn exactly how Ben made his money, and Willy never asks, by which Miller implies Ben was either merely lucky or very ruthless in attaining his wealth. At one point, Ben engages in some friendly wrestling with Biff, but reminds the boy, “Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way.” Willy’s view of the world reflects Ben’s world in a way. Willy has convinced himself and his sons that life is a jungle from which only some people will emerge victorious; victory, according to this logic, results from cleverness, not necessarily from an honest work ethic.

Characters are said to be “lost” or “finding themselves” in the play up to this point, reflecting the fact that they have substituted cleverness and personality for knowing themselves. After his vision and flashback of Ben, Willy has shed the self-doubt that threatened to overcome him earlier in this section of the play. Miller has suggested that Willy experiences cycles of anxiety and confidence, with any realistic self-assessment usually succumbing to his belief in the rewards of personal attractiveness. However, the renewed energy and confidence seem to indicate that when reality begins to overwhelm Willy, he reverts to reverie, flashbacks, imaginary conversations, and megalomania. Although Willy must bear heavy responsibility for his ongoing predicament, the play also shows the way Willy has been misled by the myth of charm and cunning, represented here by Ben. Lacking any stable, self-determined identity, Willy has failed to defend himself against that myth.

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