Death of a Salesman (1949)
by Arthur Miller

Study Guide for Act II

Time: 11:00 am

1. pp. 71-76 Willy, Linda

  • Why was Willy able to sleep soundly for the first time in months? (71)
  • Willy tells Linda he wants to stop off on the way home and buy some seeds for his garden. He speaks with enthusiasm about moving to the country and then building a guest house for his sons’ families. Willy is an excellent carpenter. What prevents him from selling his house and doing just that? (72)
  • What will Willy be asking his boss Howard that morning at work? (72-73)
  • When will Willy and Linda make their last mortgage payment on the house? (73)
  • What will Willy, Biff and Happy be celebrating that night at Frank’s Chop House? (74)
  • Why is Willy irritated again when he sees Linda darning another stocking? What has happened to the little rubber tube? How can Biff save Willy’s life? Is it by getting a job? What does Willy really need to hear? (75-76)

2. pp. 76-84 Howard's Office: Willy, Howard (VIDEO)

  • Throughout the scene Howard is playing with a ‘wire-recording machine’. Do you find any poetic significance to this choice of props? (76-78)
  • How long has Howard known Willy? Why won’t he give Willy a desk job in New York? (79-80)
  • When Willy was getting started, why did he think selling had to be the greatest job in the world? (81)
  • Is Willy right? Does Howard owe him a job after thirty-four years of service? (82)
  • Why does Howard fire Willy? What does he suggest that Willy should do? (83-84)
3. pp. 84-90 Willy, Ben, Young Linda, Young Biff, Young Happy, Bernard, Young Charley
  • Did this scene with Ben ever really happen? In Willy's imagination, how did Ben make his fortune? What does Willy believe is the key to success? (How do you think Ben really made his money?) (84-85)
  • How did Willy finally justify his decision to remain a salesman and not follow Ben off to the gold mines of Alaska? Does Willy now regret his decision? What do you think of it? (86-87)
  • To which day in the past does Willy’s mind always travel? Why is Willy so convinced that Biff is destined for success? What is the key? Is Willy right? (86-87)
  • Where will Biff be playing football that day? How does Charley mock Willy's dreams? (87-90)

4. pp. 90-98 Charley's Office: Grown-Up Bernard, Jenny, Willy, Charley

  • Where has Willy wandered to from Howard's office? What is Jenny, Bernard's personal assistant, concerned about? (Note the off-color comment Willy makes to her.) (90-91)
  • What does Bernard do for a living? What qualities made him a success? (92)
  • When Willy asks Bernard why Biff never made the grade, Bernard recalls Biff's refusal to take summer school back when they were seniors in high school. What happened to Biff during that summer? Does Willy know? (93-94)?
  • Why is Charley insulted when Willy asks him for $110.00? Why won’t Willy take the job from Charley?
    What essential life lesson has Willy never learned? What has he believed instead? (96-97)
  • What way out suggests itself to Willy at the end of the scene? (98)

5. pp. 98-116 Frank's Chop House: Stanley, Happy, Miss Forsythe, Biff, Willy, Young Bernard, Young Linda, The Woman, Letta, Operator's Voice (VIDEO)

  • Listen to Stanley the Waiter chat it up with Happy: what kind of place is Frank’s Chop House? (98-99)
  • What is Happy’s sixth sense? Describe his ‘approach’ to women. (From whom did he learn his approach?) What is it Happy is selling? (100-03)
  • How did things go for Biff in his interview with Bill Oliver? What did Biff wind up doing? What did Biff realize about himself at that moment? What does Happy think Biff should tell Willy? Is he right? (103- 05)
  • Why does Willy get so angry when Biff tries to tell him the truth about what happened at Bill Oliver’s office? How is Biff forced into concocting a lie? (105-109)
  • Why does the memory of the day Biff flunked Mr. Birnbaum’s math exam enter Willy’s mind at the moment as Biff tells Willy the truth? Where is the operator who is ringing “Mr. Loman”? What memory is forcing its way into Willy's mind? What is happening to him? (109-113)
  • What confuses Willy when Letta and Miss Forsythe enter? Why does Biff run out? Why does Happy just leave Willy there? (114-116)

6. pp. 116-122 Willy, The Woman, Young Biff

  • Where is Willy actually sitting as he relives the scene in the Boston hotel room? (116)
  • The woman tells Willy that when he comes to her office now, he’ll be able to go straight through to the buyers. What kind of arrangement have they made? (116-17)
  • Why has Biff gone to Boston to find his father? Why is Biff so shocked when he sees the woman? What does Biff mean when he calls his father ‘a fake’? Can the trauma of this moment explain his behavior for the next seventeen years? (117-121)
  • Of course the scene is horrible and gut-wrenching, but how can it be seen as an important breakthrough for Willy? Did it take courage for him to finally confront the truth? Have we reached 'catharsis'? 
  • Why does Willy go off to buy seeds at the end of the scene? (122)

7. pp. 122-136 Happy, Linda, Biff, Willy (VIDEO)

  • For whom has Happy brought a bunch of long-stemmed roses? Why did he bring them? Is Linda right? Are Biff and Happy merely animals? (122-24)
  • What does Biff plan to say when he confronts his father? (124-25)
  • With whom is Willy talking as he plants seeds in his ‘garden’? What 'proposition' is Willy considering? (125-127)
  • Catharsis: What is the dream that Biff urges Willy to finally burn? Does Willy hear him? How does he respond? (127-136)

8. pp. 137-39 Linda, Happy, Biff, Charley, Bernard

  • How much money did Willy owe when he died?
  • When was Willy truly happiest? What profession should he have pursued?