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Death of a Salesman Act 2 Summary

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on Act 2 of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'. Act 2 concerns Willy Loman's continuing decline and his inability to face reality.

Big Plans

As Act 2 of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman opens, Willy awakes, rested and hopeful about his son Biff's meeting with Oliver. Willy begins to tell his wife Linda of his plans to ask Howard, his boss, to take him off the road and let him work in New York. Linda reminds Willy to be sure to ask Howard for an advance because the bills are piling up. The final house payment is due, and Willy is no longer earning as much as used to.

The deterioration of the Lomans' possessions seem to parallel Willy's decline.

Linda tells Willy that Biff and Happy want to take him out for dinner. This invitation bolsters Willy's confidence for his meeting with Howard, 'I'm gonna knock Howard for a loop, kid. I'll get an advance, and I'll come home with a New York job.'

Rejections

When Willy arrives at the office, Howard is distracted by the tape recorder he has just purchased. Willy eventually manages to divert his attention from the machine, and he tells Howard that he would rather not travel anymore. Howard says there's no place for Willy on the local sales team. Willy reminds Howard that he worked for Howard's father and has been with the company a long time, but Howard refuses Willy's request.

In desperation, Willy finally agrees to go to Boston. Howard declines this offer, saying, 'I don't want you to represent us. I've been meaning to tell you for a long time now.' Howard suggests that Willy set aside his pride and ask his sons for financial help.

Willy goes once again to his neighbor Charley to borrow money. As he enters the office, he encounters Charley's son Bernard, now a successful attorney. Bernard remembers that Biff was not able to go to college because he failed high school math; that he was planning to make up the course in summer school, but he apparently changed his mind after going to Boston to talk to his father. 'I've often thought of how strange it was that I knew he'd given up his life. What happened in Boston, Willy?' Bernard asks.

Willy is immediately defensive about Bernard's questioning. 'What are you trying to do, blame it on me? If a boy lays down is that my fault?' As Charley joins them, Bernard rushes out to catch his train.

Charley offers Willy fifty dollars, but Willy says that he needs more to pay the insurance. Charley offers Willy a job, and Willy finally admits that he's been fired. Typically, Willy's ego stands in the way of him accepting work from Charley, and he leaves lamenting the fact that he's worth more dead than alive.

Dinner with Biff and Happy

Willy arrives at dinner, anxious for news of Biff's success at getting a loan from Oliver. Biff tries to tell him that he waited to see Oliver all day, and when he finally did, the man did not even remember him. Willy refuses to believe Biff and continues to insist that his sons are going to be a big success in their new sporting goods business. Biff reveals that after he saw Oliver, he went into his office and stole his fountain pen. Again, Willy refuses to see the act as anything but accidental.

Willy becomes distraught as Biff continues to try to force him to confront the truth. The boys direct him to the washroom, where Willy remembers Biff's visit to Boston after he flunked the math class.

Biff had gone to Boston to talk to his father, hoping Willy could convince the math teacher to change his grade. When he arrived at Willy's hotel room, however, he discovered a woman in Willy's room. The incident caused Biff to view Willy as a phony, and left him uninspired to succeed in school or go to college.

Willy returns to the dining room only to learn that the boys have left with a couple of women.

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