Death of A Salesman Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Death of A Salesman: Novel Summary: Act 1, Scene 3

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This scene begins with a flashback to when Biff and Happy are in high school.  They are busy polishing the family car as Willy rambles on as usual.  Soon in becomes obvious that Happy is trying very hard to please his father, though Biff seems to receive all of Willy's attention.  "I'm losing weight, you notice, Pop?" he asks his father.  Yet Willy doesn't notice, choosing to talk to Biff instead. 
When Willy learns that Biff has stolen a football from the high school, Willy shrugs it off, saying, "Coach'll probably congratulate you on your initiative." It seems nothing can get in the way of Willy's belief in Biff's success.  This incident is just a further example of Willy's illusions about his sons.  These illusions are continued when Willy later tells his boys that he's a great, successful businessman who one day will be rich like Uncle Charley.  Yet unlike Charley, Willy intends to be "well liked." He brags about having friends all over the East Coast.  "I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own," he exaggerates.  It seems the idea of being liked is crucial to Willy's notion of success.
Yet these illusions begin to be disproved when Bernard, a neighbor and son of Charley, enters the scene, warning Willy that Biff won't graduate from high school if he doesn't study math.  It soon becomes apparent that Biff is only a football hero, not a good student at all.  Yet again, Willy shrugs off this shortcoming, telling his sons that personality is more important than smarts.  He explains, "the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.  Be liked and you will never want."
Later, Miller flash-forwards to the present.  The reader learns that the Loman family is deeply in debt and that Willy is only getting paid by commission because he has lost most of his ability as a salesman. 
Willy's mind also seems to be going.  Though near the beginning of his conversation with Linda he says that his Chevrolet is the best car ever built, moments later he contradicts himself, saying, "they ought to prohibit the manufacture of that car!" These contradictions continue, as Willy laments over the fact that he is not well liked, despite the fact that moments before he tells his sons that he is very well liked.  Yet Linda tries to reassure her failing husband, telling him that he is successful and handsome.  This statement causes Willy's mind to drift away to a time when he was with a prostitute on the road.  This short scene ends with Willy giving "The Woman" a pair of stockings as a present.  Though Willy certainly can't afford to buy these gifts, he does so anyway.  Here again, Willy shows himself to be anyone but a strong role model for his sons.  Later, when the scene returns to the present and Willy finds Linda mending some stockings, he feels very guilty.
Finally, Willy returns to his illusions-this time, of his rich brother, Ben.  Throughout the play, Miller uses Ben to represent the pinnacle of capitalist potential and the benchmark for Willy's success as a businessman.  According to Willy, Ben has made a fortune mining diamonds in Africa.  "The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he's rich!" Thus, Willy's illusions continue.  Many critics believe that Ben is simply a figment of Willy's imagination-not a real person at all.


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