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Free Barron's Booknotes-Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller-Free Book Notes
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ACT I (continued)

It's so important to Willy to see himself as well liked that he fills his sons full of pictures-lies, really-of his popularity. His wife Linda, however, isn't as easily fooled. She arrives onstage carrying a basket of washing, and when the boys go off to hang it up for her, she greets Willy warmly and asks, "Did you sell anything?" Willy names a large figure. She excitedly takes a pencil and paper from her apron pocket to figure his commission. At that, he backs down and tells her the true figure. They calculate how much money they owe: monthly payments on the refrigerator, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, new roof, and so on. When he has to face the bills, we learn how contradictory Willy's thinking really is:

Willy: A hundred and twenty dollars! My God, if business don't pick up I don't know what I'm gonna do!

Linda: Well, next week you'll do better.

Willy: 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 tells her that people seem to laugh at him or not notice him, that he talks too much, and that he's too fat. She's never before heard him speak this way. We are witnessing a private and painful moment, a crisis of self-doubt and self-recognition. Linda, however, loves him as he is, not as he wishes to be. She tells him that to her he's the handsomest man in the world.


The scene is about to change. Through Linda's words we hear a woman laughing from the darkness at the side of the stage. The signals of music and lighting draw our attention away from Linda. As Willy is saying how lonely he gets for her on the road, and how worried he is about not being able to make a living, he walks across the stage toward a woman who is just finishing getting dressed.

The bridge between the scenes is Willy's unfinished line, "There's so much I want to make for-" The woman picks up the words and changes the meaning. "Me? You didn't make me, Willy. I picked you." They are in Willy's hotel room in Boston, and Willy doesn't want her to leave. She is about his age, "proper looking," works in one of the stores he visits.

It's clear they're having an affair. She thanks him for the silk stockings he's given her. She promises to see him again next time he's in town because he's a kidder and makes her laugh. She's laughing as they kiss and say goodnight. Her laughter as she leaves blends with Linda's laughter, returning us to the scene of Linda and Willy's conversation. Stage lights come up in the kitchen.

Linda is darning a pair of silk stockings, and still talking about how handsome he is. In a frenzy of guilt about the other woman Willy angrily tells Linda to throw out the stockings. Everything starts caving in on him. His memories are clamoring in his brain. Bernard runs in, shouting that Biff has to study and he's driving the car without a license. Linda chimes in that Biff shouldn't have taken the football and he's too rough with the girls. The other woman is laughing in the background. To all of them he yells "Shut up!" but they continue finding fault with Biff until Willy explodes, "There's nothing the matter with him!" Linda leaves the kitchen almost in tears. Alone, Willy seems to wilt in defeat. All the warm light of the scenes from the past is gone. When we notice the apartment buildings towering over the house again, we know we are back in the present.

Happy comes downstairs to try to calm Willy. He promises to give his father enough money to retire. Willy scornfully reminds him he makes $70 a week and wastes most of it on women. "Where are you guys, where are you? The woods are burning! I can't drive a car!"

We see that this is the final disaster for Willy. As a traveling salesman his life depends on being able to drive. But today he nearly hit a child on the side of the road, and was so scared he had to turn back. Why hadn't he gone to Alaska, years ago, with his brother Ben?

Charley arrives from next door in his bathrobe. He has heard the noise and wonders what's the matter, but Willy takes his presence as an insult. Sending Happy to bed, Charley takes out a deck of cards and offers to play a game of casino. As they play, he casually mentions that he wants to take a trip and could use Willy's help in his business. It's not the first time he's offered Willy a job, and as usual Willy takes offense. He refuses to admit defeat in front of Charley, whom he views as a man with no personality. "I got a good job," Willy lies. He seems to resent Charley out of all proportion.

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