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The Death of a Salesman

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  1. The Death of a Salesman Act II: Dream, Self-Deception and Capitalist Reality

  2. Starting Questions • Their Dreams I. Willy • What is his dream and why does he fail to accomplish it? • What roles do the Woman, Linda and Ben play in his pursuit of dream? • Is he a complete failure, going insane, or does he gain any self-knowledge, self-confirmation and retain his sense of dignity? II. Happy and Biff • What are their dreams? Do they fail? • Why does Biff steal, and Happy womanize? • How do they respond to their father differently?

  3. Starting Questions A. Their Dreams • How do Charley and Bernard serve as a foil to Willy and Biff? • Why does Willy refuse to work for Charley? • Jobs: What does “being a salesman” mean? How is it different from being a shipping clerk or a lawyer? B. Stage Directions and Symbols • How do flashbacks happen in this act? • Besides cars, flute and rubber tube, what symbolic meanings do the recorder and the fountain pen have?

  4. Outline • Plot Summary & Passage Reading • Reality vs. Dreams 1) Failure of the Lowmans’ Dreams 1) their (Self-) Deceptiveness; 2) reality checks: Act 1; Act 2: Willy pushed to face reality by a) those around him; b) Flashbacks 3) Biff and Reality 4) Willy’s Last Action • Minor Characters and their Reality: Stanley and the woman • Symbols in the Play

  5. Act I: Plot Summary

  6. Act II: Plot Summary

  7. Act II: Plot Summary • (1676-) Willy and Linda: plans and dreams vs. money; Linda’s phone conversation; • (1678) Howard’s office: capitalist reality (+ machine) vs. Willly’s values & memories ( Ben 1683) • (1684) Biff’s last game (Willy vs. Charley) • (1685)Willy vs. Bernard (about the past); (1687) Willy vs. Charley • (1691) restaurant [Frank’s Chop house] Happy vs. Forsythe; Biff vs. Happy first about his visit and (1247-) then Willy comes in • (1698-)  Willy into the bathroom and to his past. • (1698) Stanley comes in • (1702 -) family together at home  Biff vs. Willy; • (1704, 1708 -) Willy’s last action ( Ben)

  8. Act II– Pattern • Reality checks: two office visits (by the father) vs. one (by the son)  • Two arguments about job (with Howard and Charley) • Two arguments about reality (vs. dream) in the restaurant scene & at home • Willy (to Ben and Bernard): What is the answer (the secret)? • Two propositions: Act I from Ben, Act II to Ben • Two father-son relationships • Two brothers’ differences: Biff’s self-realization vs. Happy’s maintenance of the dream • Willy’s final action (self-deception or realization of his dream?)

  9. Readings • Act 1 Willy, Biff, Happy and Linda about their plan: pp. 1671-1675 • Act 2 Biff to Willy about his visit to Bill Oliver (Happy, Young Bernard, Linda, Operator and The Woman): pp. 1694-1697 • Act 2 Willy and Biff at Boston (Stanley) pp. 1699-1701 • Act 2 Willy and Biff’s final confrontation (Linda & Happy) pp. 1705-07 • Act 2 Willy, Ben, Linda: Willy’s plan pp.1703-04; 1708-1709

  10. Flashbacks: A Way to Reality and Dreams “Like a young god. Hercules. . . And the sun, the sun all around him.” (end of Act 1)

  11. The Lowman Family’s Dreams: Why do they fail? • Reasons for the failure: wrong dream • Capitalist-industrialist environment: wandering salesman no longer possible • Sources of Dream: Willy’s father as a flute-maker on the road; Ben—an adventurer; Dave Singleman 1681) • Character: their lack of money, solid training and self-awareness  their self-deception • The Lowman family vs. Charley’s family [More about Charley later]

  12. 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 1691; about his father 1698) and to comfort his father (ask Biff to do so, too);  Aggressive in womanizing as a means of competition  e.g. “I’m gonna retire you for life” (Act 1); “I’m gonna get married” (1708); “I’m gonna win it for him” (1710). • 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)

  13. Flashbacks in Act I: Memories & Dreams vs. Reality • The family in the present A. worries vs. good memories • Flashbacks  Biff in high school Willy and Linda ( the woman; Bernard) • Card playing  Willy and Ben(Willy: “I was right!”)  Bernard and Charley about Biff’s failure and stealing B. Linda defending Willy in front of Biff and Happy C. the three’s plans– another dream

  14. Flashbacks in Act II vs. Reality Checks:Willy Pushed to Face Reality Memories would serve as an escape, if Willy could 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. 1681; 1682) • sees Bernard, Biff never trains himself; what happened at Boston • has to borrow money from Charley,  (1688-89) importance of what one can sell and money • Seeks comfort from Biff in vain (tell me what happened), • Is left alone by his sons to search for Answers and Solutions.

  15. Willy and “Reality”: Howard & Charley • Talk to Howard: • – very short and matter-of-fact (no personal feeling for him or the past) • Willy interrupted by the recording machine (1682) • (After being fired) another reality check in Charley’s office: • Willy, when are you going to grow up?” • Charley as a businessman: • My salvation is that I never took any interest in anything • Love shooting casino • Also aggressive and proud  “Knock a homer, Biff, knock a homer!”  “Knock’em dead, Bernard!”

  16. Reality in the past (Act 1: Financial problems; Willy’s difficulties at work.) Act 2: 3. To Bernard: what’s the secret • “Oh, Ben, how did you do it? What is the answer? Did you wind up the Alaska deal already?” (1683) • Ben vs. Willy – What Willy builds with the firm (name and connections) has no substance (1683) • Biff’s last game – Charley: not important

  17. Flashbacks in Act II: Willy Pushed to Face Reality 3. (1694-1697)  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.

  18. Biff and Reality • The rubber tube: • takes it away (1675), not letting Linda keep her false optimism; • wants to tell the truth, but gets pushed to tell lies (1694-1697), because • Happy urges him to; • Willy is fired, and wants some good news for his wife; • His lies: warmly received by BO, having an appointment the next day • cannot face him first, and then later confronts his father on the issues of the rubber tube, his theft and his incompetence and insignificance 1705-07 • Rids Willy of his guilt “no spite”

  19. Biff’s realistic statements:about his father and himself Act 1 – about his work and his real interest • "To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. " Act 2 – about himself and his family • "Pop, I'm a dime a dozen and so are you.” • "We never told the truth in the house for ten minutes." Requiem – about Willy • "He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong."

  20. Biff – Act 2: Facing Himself I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.

  21. Willy & “Reality”: Ben in Act II: (1708 -) Willy’s last action ( Ben) A combination of realistic concern and dream. • Dream: planting seeds • Realistic concern: 20,000 in his pocket • Dream: -- big funeral -- The jungle is dark but full of diamonds. -- The boat • Realism: his fear 1709

  22. Reality as Revealed by the Minor Characters: • The woman – Willy’s being self-centered, her being a football (1700) • Stanley: life’s tough for him, but he is kind to Willy (returning W the money he gives him). To Happy, he talks about how people cannot stand a quiet place because they are tired of staying home alone. (1690)

  23. Symbols re. Willy’s Dream (1): Materialism • 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 • power and status: Tennis vs. football, wire recorder and fountain pen

  24. Symbols re. Willy’s Dream (2): Ideal for Freedom and Nature 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 "a little boat looking for a harbor" by Linda; Ben's taking the train.]

  25. Symbols –in stage direction • flute [Willy's father]– beginning of act 1, when Ben appears, • Willy’s theme – flute? • Other kinds of music—to evoke Willy’s emotions; e.g. • gay music of the Boys [happy moment] • Gay music at the beginning of Act 2 • jarring trumpet note [reality; Bernard’s information of B’s failing math) • Ben's theme (idyllic田園 music) • the end of act II –a single cello string; dead march