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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 2, Section 1

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

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



After an optimistic morning in the present, Willy visits his boss, Howard.

The sun is shining the next morning, and Willy cheerfully eats his breakfast, even smiling at Linda. Willy mentions that he would like to buy some seeds and plant something in the backyard. The pair discusses the future and their finances before Willy leaves to meet his boss, Howard. Hopes are high that he will get a local position and that Biff will get the financial backing he needs. Willy is thrilled to learn that his sons have issued an invitation for dinner at Frank's Chop House.

In a long conversation in Howard's office, Willy makes his request for a new job, referencing his long history with the company and his relationship with Howard's father. Willy has been with the company since Howard was born. Willy also tells Howard the story of Dave Singleman, the salesman who inspired Willy to follow this career path. Instead of listening to Willy, Howard talks only about himself, his family, and a new recording device he has purchased. Then he fires Willy based on his recent performance. Willy is defeated.


In the midst of an optimistic dialogue with Linda, the silk stockings appear again. Willy asks his wife to stop mending them—an ongoing symbol of both his long-standing lies to her about his affair and their true financial state.

In his optimistic state of mind, Willy tells Linda he will buy seeds to plant a garden—an impossibility given the lack of sunshine in the yard due to the high-rise buildings that surround the house. His desire to nurture a small piece of the natural world despite the reality of the situation reveals Willy's ongoing self-deception as well as his lack of control over the world around him.

Willy's battle continues with the advances of the modern, man-made environment—a world that Willy says he embraces. He is discouraged by the need to pay his insurance premium, the car mechanic, and the refrigerator repair. He bemoans the ongoing cycle of trying to get ahead. In Howard's office, the wire recorder creates a haunting sense of a future where people's voices can be disconnected from their bodies.

It is in Howard's office that Willy reveals his original motivation to be a salesman when he describes 84-year-old Dave Singleman, a man he met on a train. It is Dave Singleman who died "the death of a salesman," wearing "green velvet slippers" on a train during a business trip. Willy's long description goes unnoticed by Howard, a successful businessman who is too busy to listen to Willy.

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