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

Ben, speaking for Willy's subconscious mind, raises possible objections: the insurance inspectors might not honor the policy; it might be called cowardly; Biff might hate you and call you a damned fool. Willy can refute all but the last, and because he's doing this for Biff, he can't stand the idea of Biff hating him. How can we get back to the wonderful past, he laments, when we always had something good to look forward to?

Biff intrudes on Willy's conversation and brings him back to the present. He wants to say goodbye and leave on good terms. They argue again about Oliver. Biff realizes he can't talk to his father rationally, and finally just says it would be best if he left no forwarding address. Going into the house, Willy refuses to shake Biff's hand, and then prevents him from going by saying,

Willy: May you rot in hell if you leave this house!

Biff: Exactly what is it that you want from me?

Willy is moved almost to poetry by the intensity of his emotion: "Spite, spite, is the word of your undoing!" Biff answers, and we feel that at last it is the truth: "I'm not blaming it on you!" but Willy isn't listening, nothing seems to make him hear what Biff is saying. So Biff does the thing everyone dreads most: he is direct and confronts Willy with the rubber tube, evidence of Willy's intention to commit suicide. This will not make a hero of you, warns Biff. Now lets lay it on the line: "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!" Biff starts listing the big lies: Happy is not the assistant buyer but a lowly assistant to the assistant. He himself had no address because he was in jail for stealing:

Biff: I stole myself out of every good job since high school!

Willy: And whose fault is that?

Biff: And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! That's whose fault it is!


This is the moment of truth for Biff, and for the family. "I'm through with it!" he says. He's going to stop stealing, admit that he's not "a leader of men" and start over. During this scene he has begun to call his father by his first name, Willy, as man to man, rather than Pop. But Willy rejects it all with "You vengeful, spiteful mut!"

Seeing that all his words mean nothing, Biff grabs his father as if to shake sense into him. He is furious. "Pop, I'm nothing! I'm nothing, Pop. Can't you understand that? There's no spite in it any more. I'm just what I am, that's all." He breaks into sobs. Willy holds his face. He's astonished and moved to see Biff clinging to him and crying. Exhausted and empty, Biff pulls away and goes upstairs, saying he'll leave in the morning.

Willy's mood has changed completely. From raging anger to defensiveness, he has come to gentle wonderment. To Linda and Happy he says, "Isn't that-isn't that remarkable? Biff-he likes me!" He loves you, he always has, Linda and Hap assure him.

Willy is ecstatic. "He cried! Cried to me. That boy-that boy is going to be magnificent!" Has Willy learned anything from Biff? Has he listened to the truthful, hurtful things Biff has been saying to them all? No. Here he is, dreaming his same old dream again.

Full of the feeling of promise for the future, of forgiveness for the past, Willy can hardly wait to rush out and do what he has to do. When Linda, urging him to come to bed, says, "It's all settled now," the words have different meanings to the two of them: for her it means Biff will leave and you won't fight anymore; for Willy it means Biff loves me and the only thing I have left to give him is $20,000.

On his way upstairs Happy chimes in with his customary attention-getting line: he's going to get married and be head of his department before the year is up. As usual, no one pays any notice to him.

Ben is on the scene again, on the edge of the shadows. He is not a remembered figure now, but a personification of Willy's own feelings. "The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy," says Ben. This means Willy is frightened of what he has to do, but the reward is worth it.

Sending Linda to bed, saying he just wants to sit alone for a few minutes, Willy imagines what Biff will be like with a fortune of $20,000 behind him. When the insurance check comes "he'll be ahead of Bernard again!" The old competitive drive races in him, the only credo Willy has ever lived by.

As Ben drifts away, Willy is wrapped up in a moment fifteen years before when he was giving advice to Biff on how to win the football game. Suddenly realizing he's alone, Willy is now the one who needs advice. "Ben, where do I...? Ben, how do I...?" Hearing Linda calling him, hearing the high, screaming music, Willy rushes offstage and we hear the car roaring off.

Though we don't hear the actual car crash, the music crashes and then dies, becoming one sad note as Linda, Biff, Happy, Charley, and Bernard slowly gather. As they put on their coats, the music becomes a funeral march, the light changes from night to day. They come forward, and Linda lays down a bunch of flowers on a spot that is Willy's grave.

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