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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 2, Section 2

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

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



Willy talks to Ben in a daydream and then talks to Charley in his office in the present.

Ben reappears in Willy's mind, inviting him to join him on his trip to Alaska. Willy declines at Linda's urging. Willy brags to Ben about Biff and Happy and asks Ben to stay and help raise the boys. Willy is unsure that he is a good father.

Ben departs the memory, and young Bernard races in. It is the day of the big football game and hopes are running high. Willy calls it "the greatest day of [Biff's] life."

The next setting is the present-day office of Charley, where the adult Bernard, now a successful lawyer, is visiting. Bernard and Willy discuss Biff, and Willy claims that Biff's life ended after that big football game and the failed math class. Bernard suggests something different—something happened to Biff after he went to visit Willy in Boston that summer.

Willy asks Charley for more money, and Charley again offers him work. Willy is too proud to accept the work, despite the fact that he has been fired. There is a flaw in Willy's character here in that he is too proud to accept work but not too proud to ask for money. Not only does Willy reject Charley's offer, but he is rude and disrespectful to him.


The tension between nature and the man-made urban environment continues as Ben encourages his brother to embrace the natural world and travel with him to Alaska, but Linda pulls Willy back to the reality of his job in the city where he is "well liked." A defeated Willy breaks down and asks Ben, "What is the answer?"

Tension rises as it becomes clear that Biff discovered something during his summer trip to Boston that changed his life. Both Willy and Bernard trace the change in Biff to that time, although Willy associates it with Biff's failing math and Bernard associates it with the Boston trip.

When Willy turns to Charley, it seems that truth and friendship might win out. Yet Willy's self-deception is so deep that he cannot come clean and state how bad things really are. The self-deceived Willy turns down work from the one true friend he has and continues to repeat his mantra that "if a man [is] impressive, and well liked," he can be successful in this world.

Charley and Bernard do not brag about themselves, particularly about the fact that Bernard will present a case before the Supreme Court, thus underlining a sharp contrast between their family and the Loman family, whose false pride stands in the way of truth and fulfilling relationships.

Charley foreshadows the play's outcome when he reminds Willy to pay his life insurance and says "nobody's worth nothin' dead."

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