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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Act 2, Section 4

Professor Kristen Over of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Section 4 of Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman.

Death of a Salesman | Act 2, Section 4 | Summary



The Loman men argue in the present, and Biff's discovery of his father's past affair is revealed.

Merging past and present, a young Bernard knocks on the door of the Lomans' house to tell Mrs. Loman that Biff has failed math. At the restaurant, Willy blames Biff for that past failure even as Biff tries to confess his theft of the fountain pen. Willy's frustration boils over, and he tells his son that "you're no good, you're no good for anything."

Willy's confusion and aggression increase. To calm him, Biff holds his father down and tells him that Bill Oliver is having lunch with them the next day. Just as quickly, Willy concocts a tale that Biff can tell to explain the theft of the fountain pen.

The two prostitutes, as well as the woman with whom Willy had an affair, appear amid the growing chaos. The action shifts to Willy and the woman in the hotel room in Boston. Biff shows up to confess that he has flunked math. He discovers the affair, begins to cry, and leaves shouting, "You fake! You phony little fake!"

Back at the restaurant, Willy, who has been abandoned by his sons, speaks to the waiter and leaves.


The stage direction "the light of green leaves stains the house" provides another connection to nature that overshadows the chaos playing out in the restaurant.

Time and memory play tricks again, overlapping and adding confusion. Willy blames Biff for failing math when the real failure revealed is Willy's infidelity and its effect on his son. No longer does the young Biff admire his father and want to be like him. Instead, he announces that Willy is a phony. This moment is the long-hinted-at turning point in Biff's life—the moment the older Bernard refers to when he says that something changed Biff during his trip that summer.

Yet although Biff knows his father's lies, Biff still cares for his father. Biff defends Willy to Happy, explaining that "you don't give a good goddam about him." It is Biff who takes the rubber hose out of the basement to protect his father, and it is Biff who tells the women that Willy is "a fine, troubled prince."

Willy's need to deny his guilt and shame muddies his memory and his ability to stay focused on the present. Unlike Biff, who wants to come clean, Willy's history of lies is too deep. He cannot face them in the light of day.

The stockings again appear as The Woman appeals to Willy for the stockings he promised. The stockings take on their full meaning as a symbol of betrayal when Biff sees them and says, "You—you gave her Mama's stockings!"

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