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Free Study Guide-Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller-Free Online Booknotes
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ACT 1

Summary (continued)

Willy returns to the present and tells Linda how lonesome he gets on the road. He also reassures her that things will get better and has her stop mending the stockings. Bernard then re-appears in Willy's mind and reminds Biff to study. Willy now gets mad at Biff for not studying and threatens to whip him. He then changes his mind and says that he does not want Biff to be a worm like Bernard, for Biff has got spirit and personality.

As the lights begin to return to indicate the present, Happy comes down to check on his father. He says that he is going to retire his dad, which Willy considers to be ridiculous. Willy then remembers his dead brother Ben and says that he should have gone to Alaska and become rich with him. At this point, Charley enters and sends Happy away. He sits with Willy to play cards and offers his friend a job; Willy, however, refuses. Charley tells Willy not to worry so much about Biff. As he and Charley are talking, Brother Ben appears to Willy in an illusion, but Ben is in a hurry. Back in the present, Willy insults Charley, who gets up and leaves.

Willy now turns his full attention to his illusion of Ben, who says that he went into the jungle when he was seventeen and came out rich at twenty-one. Willy asks Ben about their parents. Ben says that their father made flutes and then went about the country selling them. Biff and Happy appear as youngsters. Ben tells Biff to hit him in the stomach to show how tough he is. Before the boy can act, Ben trips Biff and tells him to never fight fair, especially with a stranger. Willy sends the boys to the neighboring construction project to steal lumber so as to show Ben how fearless they are. Ben says he must leave to tend to the stock exchange. Willy pleads with him to stay, to no avail. As Ben leaves, he assures Willy that his sons are "manly chaps."


Linda comes downstairs to check on Willy, who is going for a walk even though he is wearing house slippers. Biff asks his mother what is wrong with his dad. Linda explains how his coming home affects his father; Biff's presence seems to agitate him. Linda tells her son that he has to learn to respect Willy and pay attention to him. She also tells Biff that after thirty-four years of service, the company has put Willy back on straight commission. Biff says that the company is ungrateful. Linda tells him that the company is no worse than Biff and Happy. Biff refuses to take the blame and accuses his father of being a fake.

Linda tells Biff that Willy is trying to commit suicide. Sometime back, when he was in a car wreck, the insurance company investigated whether it was a deliberate attempt. Another time Linda found a rubber hose attached to the gas pipe. She pleads with Biff, telling him that Willy's life is in his hands. Biff's answer is that they should all be in jobs where they can work outside and whistle when they want.

In the next scene, Willy re-enters. Happy tells Willy that Biff is going to see Bill Oliver. Willy is excited over the idea. Happy even suggests that they form two Loman brothers teams and compete against each other for publicity. Willy says that if they do so they could lick the world together. Willy then gives some pointers to Biff to make his appointments with Oliver a success. He tells him to wear a dark suit, to talk little, and to tell no jokes. Biff says that he will ask Oliver for ten thousand dollars, but Willy says that ten is too little and tells him to ask for fifteen thousand. His advice to Biff is "if you start out big, you end up big." He then decides that Biff should begin with a couple of jokes because "personality" always wins the day. When Linda tries to say something, Willy yells at her. Biff resents this, and he and Willy argue again. Willy leaves, and Biff thinks with ten thousand dollars he can really do great things.

Linda follows Willy up to the bedroom and reminds him of the plumbing problem. He feels that suddenly everything is falling to pieces. Biff and Happy come in to the room to say good night. Willy gives more advice to Biff about what to do in the interview with Oliver and reminds him that he has greatness in him. Happy tells his parents that he is going to get married. Biff goes down to the kitchen and removes the rubber tubing.

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