What is the significance of the tape recorder?
In Act 2 Willy goes to see his boss Howard to ask to be transferred to a local territory in which he wouldn't have to spend so many hours just driving. He is wearing out his car, and his car is wearing him out at the same time. He can't make any money until he gets wherever he is going. Howard is engrossed in a gadget he has just purchased, a recording machine. The time was around 1949. Home recorders were new on the market, along with many other new devices and appliances which manufacturers had waited to introduce until after World War II ended and production facilities for domestic consumption were again available. While Howard is out of the office, Willy starts to fool around with the tape recorder. He turns it on but can't turn it off. The simple device is too complicated for him. He becomes panicked. Howard returns and angrily turns it off by yanking out the electric plug. This little episode is intended to symbolize Willy's inability to adjust to changing circumstances because of his age. He is sixty years old. The recording machine is just one sign of how the world is changing while Willy is unable to change with it. Younger people can learn to operate new gadgets very quickly, as can be seen with all the young people playing with handheld gadgets on public transportation. People of the older generation don't even know the names or functions of all the gadgetry that enable the users to talk to people all over the world, take pictures, listen to music, follow the news, watch movies, and do many other things, all at the same time. The problem for older people, as someone has said, is that they have to unlearn too much, while younger people accept innovations as if they had always existed. Howard has recorded his young daughter whistling a song. That girl will grow up knowing all about many things which are complete mysteries to Willy. The recording machine might also be regarded as just another development in the Industrial Revolution, which is creating new jobs for new people while throwing old people out of work. Willy has old-fashioned ideas. He believes in interpersonal relationships, handshakes, verbal agreements. But people are becoming increasingly alienated. That alienation is taking place even in Willy's own home. The death of one particular salesman may be intended to symbolize the death of an entire way of life, largely due to capitalism, competition, and the juggernaut of the Industrial Revolution.