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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 1, Section 2

Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Section 2 of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman.

Death of a Salesman | Act 1, Section 2 | Summary



Biff and Happy talk in their bedroom in the present as Willy talks to himself downstairs.

The setting shifts to the Lomans' sons' bedroom, where both 30-something men are staying because of Biff's visit. The stage directions state that both are dreamers who are lost in their own ways.

Happy confesses to his brother that his father is showing strange behavior, including confused driving and talking to himself or an imagined Biff.

The boys reminisce, particularly about their past experiences with women. They then discuss Biff's relationship with Willy and Biff's ongoing struggle to decide what work will fulfill him in life.

Happy reflects on his own discontent with his low-level job, his loneliness, and the quality of people around him. Biff brainstorms about getting some investment money from a former employer, Bill Oliver, to start a ranch.

Downstairs, Willy is heard talking and laughing to himself in a confused way.


Happy is a womanizer who speaks about women only as conquests, but he also acknowledges that despite having his own apartment, car, and women, he is still lonely. Presented with the option to leave with Biff, however, Happy reveals his real drive to be a success in his need to "show some of those pompous, self-important executives over there that Hap Loman can make the grade." Happy is a victim of his own self-deception and has no real moral center: he sleeps with the fiancée of the vice president of the store, and he acknowledges behaving this way repeatedly.

The conversation also reveals more about Biff's tension with his father as well as his own inner tension between the craving for an adventurous outdoor life and the need to succeed according to his father's formula for success. Biff admits that he does not even know what he is supposed to want. Biff, in many ways much like Willy, has a longing for nature and an abhorrence of the business life—phone calls, selling, keeping stock, and so on—particularly "when all you really desire is to be outdoors."

Biff's past is marked by some deception, which is first revealed when he brings up the idea of visiting Bill Oliver to ask for an investment. Apparently, when he worked for Oliver years ago, Biff stole a carton of basketballs and lost his job as a result. However, Happy and Biff both spin the truth about what really happened for their own benefit and to avoid facing the truth about themselves.

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