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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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In Death of a Salesman, why is Willy home and why is Linda alarmed?

Quick answer:

Linda and Willy are worried about his mental health.

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In the opening scene of the play, Willy returns home in the middle of the night when he should be in New England conducting business. Linda is alarmed when she hears Willy return home and is worried that he has been in another car accident. When Linda inquires as to why he is home and if everything is all right, Willy tells her that he is "tired to death" and simply couldn't make the drive. Willy goes on to say that he made it as far as Yonkers before he had to turn around, because his car kept going off the shoulder. Willy also admits that he can no longer focus while driving and is easily distracted by the beautiful scenery outside.

Later on, Linda tells Biff that Willy's car accidents were failed suicide attempts and that she even found a rubber hose in the cellar that he plans on using to inhale gas. Linda is aware that her husband is not mentally stable, which is why his return in the middle of the night is extremely troubling. She immediately thinks that he has committed another suicide attempt and is concerned about his well-being.

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Willy tells Linda that he is "tired to the death ... and couldn't make it." He claims he "couldn't drive any more. The car kept going off onto to the shoulder." Willy was afraid that he might have an accident. Linda fears he has smashed the car because his return is unusual, especially at this time of night.

Later Willy reveals to Happy that he "got an awful scare. Nearly hit a kid in Yonkers." He has begun not to trust himself behind the wheel of a car, and he shouts at Happy, "The woods are burning! I can't drive a car!" Driving a car is essential to his job as a salesman in New England.

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As the play opens, Linda very interestingly seems to be very concerned to hear Willy return back home earlier than normal. Her voice calls out with "some trepidation," and she very soon after asks if he has returned because he has "smashed the car," indicating that he has been having problems with driving recently. Willy replies that he "couldn't make it," and that he is "tired to the death." He tells Linda how he had to stop when he realised he had blanked out:

Suddenly I realise I'm goin' sixty miles an hour and I don't remember the last five minutes. I'm--I can't seem to--keep my mind to it.

Note his verbal hesitation in these lines as he tries to find the words to describe what happened to him. The dashes also possibly indicate a hesitation to admit that he wasn't able to keep focused on the job. The play therefore opens by revealing to us that Willy is getting older and unable to do the job that he has been doing for so long. He is a man of fading capabilities, and his wife is clearly concerned for him and his health.

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