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The Death of a Salesman . Act II: Dream, Self-Deception and Capitalist Reality. Starting Questions . Does Act II show Willy going insane? Is he a complete failure, or does he gain any self-knowledge or self-confirmation? . Outline. Plot Summary

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the death of a salesman

The Death of a Salesman

Act II: Dream, Self-Deception and Capitalist Reality

starting questions
Starting Questions
  • Does Act II show Willy going insane?
  • Is he a complete failure, or does he gain any self-knowledge or self-confirmation?
  • Plot Summary
  • Flashbacks & Illusions –a way to Reality and Dreams
    • Failure of the Lowman’s Dreams  their (Self-) Deceptiveness.
    • Willy pushed to face reality by 1) those around him; 2) Flashbacks
    • Biff and Reality
  • Minor Characters and their Reality: Stanley and the woman
  • Symbols in the Play
act ii
Act II–
  • two office visits (by the father and the son)
  • Two arguments (reality vs. dream) in the restaurant scene & at home
  • Willy (to Ben and Bernard): What is the answer (the secret)?
  • Biff’s self-realization vs. Happy’s maintenance of the dream
  • Willy’s final action (self-deception or realization of his dream?)
act ii plot summary
Act II: Plot Summary
  • (1229-) Willy and Linda: plans and dreams vs. money; Linda’s phone conversation;
  • (1232) Howard’s office: capitalist reality (+ machine) vs. Willly’s values & memories ( to Frank 1235)
  • (1236) Ben vs. Willy  Biff’s last game (Willy vs. Charley)
  • (1239)Willy vs. Bernard (about the past); (1241) Willy vs. Charley
  • (1243) restaurant Happy vs. Forsythe; Biff vs. Happy first about his visit and (1247-) then Willy
  • (1249-51-52)  Willy into the bathroom and to his past.
  • (1255) Stanley comes in
  • (1256 -) family together at home  Biff vs. Willy;
  • (1262 -) Willy’s last action ( Ben)
flashbacks a way to reality and dreams

Flashbacks: a Way to Reality and Dreams

“Like a young god. Hercules. . . And the sun, the sun all around him.” (1228)

the lowman family s dreams why do they fail
The Lowman Family’s Dreams: Why do they fail?
  • Reasons for the failure:
  • wrong dream
  • Environment: not possible in their times;
    • Sources of Dream: Willy’s father as a flute-maker on the road; Ben—an adventurer; Dave Singleman 1234)
  • Character: their lack of money, ability training and self-awareness  their self-deception
  • * Group report: The Lowman family vs. Charley’s family
the lowman family s self deception
The Lowman Family’s (Self-)Deception
  • Willy–dreams of his own and his son’s success;

 unable to face his own failure, Biff’s problem, the past conflict.

  • Linda: in support of her husband’s dream;

 blind to her husband’s weaknesses and failures.

  • Happy: deceptive -- lies to attract women (West Point, Champaign 1244; 45; about his father 1252) and to comfort his father (ask Biff to do so, too);

 e.g. “I’m gonna retire you for life” (1215); “I’m gonna get married”; “I’m gonna win it for him” (1264).

  • Biff:forced to support his father’s dream about his being a salesman;

 faces reality -- always a shipping clerk; habitual theft (steals things out of his failures)

flashbacks in act i disruptive and affirmative of dreams
Flashbacks in Act I: Disruptive and Affirmative of Dreams
  • The family in the present (worries and good memories);
  • Flashbacks  Biff in high school; Willy and Linda( the woman; Bernard)
  • Card playing  Willy and Ben(Willy: “I was right!”)

2. Linda vs. Biff and Happy; the three’s plans.

flashbacks in act ii willy pushed to face reality
Flashbacks in Act II: Willy Pushed to Face Reality

Memories can serve as an escape, if Willy chooses to dwell on the good part.

But for Willy, facing reality is inevitable, because he

  • Is fired by Howard,  “You never averaged …”“No time for false pride, Willy” p. 1235)
  • sees Bernard, Biff never trains himself; what happened at Boston (1240-41)
  • has to borrow money from Charley,  (1242-43) importance of what one can sell and money
  • Seeks comfort from Biff in vain (tell me what happened 1249),
  • Is left alone by his sons to search for Answers and Solutions.
willy illusions and reality
Willy, Illusions and “Reality”
  • Talk to Frank 1235– very short interrupted by the recording machine
  • After being fired 

(1236) “Oh, Ben, how did you do it? What is the answer? Did you wind up the Alaska deal already?”

 Ben vs. Willy – What Willy builds with the firm (name and connections) has no substance (1236-37)

 Biff’s last game – Charley: not important (1238)

flashbacks in act ii willy pushed to face reality12
Flashbacks in Act II: Willy Pushed to Face Reality

3. (1249-51-52)  the pen & Biff’s attempts to tell Willy that he is not a salesman, is not hired by Oliver, takes a pen, has no appointment, and is no good.

-- Willy cannot stops the past (the woman’s, operator’s and pager’s voices) from emerging in his mind.

-- “Open the door.” He goes to the bathroom to face his past.

biff and reality
Biff and Reality
  • The rubber tube:
    • takes it away p. 1231, not letting Linda keep her false optimism;
  • wants to tell the truth, but gets pushed to tell lies (1246 --; 1248 – 1251), because
    • Happy urges him to;
    • Willy is fired, and wants something good news for his wife;
    • His lies: warmly received by BO (1248), having an appointment (1250)
  • cannot face him first, and then later confronts his father on the issues of the rubber tube, his theft and his incompetence and insignificance 1259-61
  • Rids Willy of his guilt “no spite” 1261
willy reality ben in act ii
Willy & “Reality”: Ben in Act II:

(1262 -) Willy’s last action ( Ben)

A combination of realistic concern and dream.

  • Dream: planting seeds
  • Realistic concern: 20,000 in his pocket
  • Dream:

-- (1258) big funeral

-- The jungle is dark but full of diamonds.

-- The boat

  • Realism: his fear (1263)
reality as revealed by the minor characters
Reality as Revealed by the Minor Characters:
  • The woman – Willy’s being self-centered (1252), her being a football (1254)
  • Stanley: life’s tough for him, but he is kind to Willy. To Happy, he talks about how people cannot stand a quiet place because they are tired of staying home alone. (1243)
symbols re willy s dream
Symbols re. Willy’s Dream
  • Willy’s house vs. apartment buildings, etc. [e.g. the first stage direction]
  • Properties and Possessions:
    • Football and the sneakers with U. of V on them.
    • the house and the mortgage, Things {Fridge, car, vacuum cleaner ] that are broken/falling apart
    • Linda's stockings
    • Tennis
    • of power and status: wire recorder and pen
  • Nature and The West–
    • Seeds/plants/trees; light of green leaves
    • Working with tools/one's hands [e.g. Willy's argument with Charley towards the end of Act I: :A man who can't handle tools is not a man." "hammer a nail"]
  • Roads -- [being on the road] Cars/boats/trains: [e.g. Willy's Red Chevvy; Willy compared to "alittle boat looking for a harbor" by Linda; Ben's taking the train.]
symbols in stage direction
Symbols –in stage direction
  • flute [Willy's father]– beginning of act 1, when Ben appears,
  • Willy’s theme (1255);
  • Other kinds of music--e.g.
    • jarring trumpet note (1249),
    • Ben's theme (1236);
    • the end of act II (1263)