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Study on death of a salesman

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2777 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Act 2 scene 7 of the play Death of a Salesman, the audience is given insight into Happy’s character and the theme Truth, Deception and lies is portrayed. The scene begins with Happy conversing with the waiter, Stanley, when he states that women will soon start entering the restaurant. A beautiful woman soon enters and Stanley is marvelled at Happy’s ability to sense a woman’s presence. Happy flirts with this young woman trying to find out if she is a prostitute when he states “you don’t happen to sell, do you?” Her answer being no, she then informs him that her name is Miss Forsythe and that she is in fact a cover girl as he queried. His brother Biff then joins him. Happy, like his father is living in denial as he is convinced that he is the assistant when he really is the assistant of an assistant. He too loves the thought of feeling like an accomplished success and lies to Miss Forsythe that he is a champagne salesman and that Biff is a professional football player from the West Coast. At this point the theme of deception and lies is highlighted. Happy lies to the woman so that he can feel like he measures up to her because of hearing her job and also to impress and lure her into entertaining him and his brother for the evening. Happy informs Biff that she is “on call” and persuades this young woman to cancel her day’s events and invite a friend to join him and his brother.

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Biff is upset that he had been waiting at Oliver’s office for six (6) hours to realize that he isn’t remembered. It is at this point in the play that Biff learns that he is not a salesman but in fact a shipping clerk. Biff had been fed with the lies of his father- Willy, his brother being an accomplice, that he was a salesman instead of allowing him to accept who he is and possibly push himself further in life to accomplish more if he so desired. To vent his frustration through living a lie to himself and not being remembered by Oliver, Biff steals Oliver’s pen from his office. The theme is highlighted once more when Biff seeks advice from Happy about what to tell Willy about his meeting with Oliver. Happy gave the advice that he should lie to Willy and tell him that Oliver is thinking over his proposition “… say Oliver is thinking it over. And he thinks it over for a couple of weeks, and gradually it fades away and nobody’s the worse” He states that Willy will soon forget about the meeting after a few months and until he forgets Biff should continue to lie.

Another theme that may be explored in this scene is that of guilt. Biff is guilty that he has stolen the pen from Oliver’s office, “I did a terrible thing today Hap- I stole his pen”. This could mark the possibility of hope for Biff because he is able to realise the wrongs that he has done and he makes the effort to vent about it unlike his father who bottles up his feeling about things that he has done instead of talking to someone which later leads to his death. This scenario is also symbolic of Willy’s bad parenting skills as he justified Biffs’ stealing previously in the play and now Biff uses it as a mean of releasing his frustration.





In Act two, scenes Eight Willy meets his sons in a restaurant. Biff is very eager to see Willy as he has something important to say to him. Likewise, Willy is eager to hear what Biff has to say to him, but little does he know that what he expects Biff to say is not exactly what he ( Willy) will hear.

Act two scene eight is significant because it is in this scene that Biff is honest about his life. He realizes that it is time to ‘hold on to the facts’. There is no sense in pretending or hiding the truth. Willy, on the other hand, refuses to face the truth as he continues to oppose Biff when Biff tells him he is not a Salesman for Oliver; he is actually a shipping clerk.

In addition, in this scene Biff desperately wants Willy to know of his ‘mishap’ as it relates to Oliver’s office and the pen. However, Willy does not give him the opportunity to do so; instead he constantly interrupts Biff every time he tries to speak. It is almost as if Willy senses that what Biff is trying to say is unfavourable and as a result he prevents Biff from saying anything, he does this by interrupting him, replacing what Biff wants to say with what he wants to hear. For instance, Biff says “well, it was kind of__”. Before Biff gets to finish what he is saying Willy interrupts, “I wonder if he’d remember you.” Another example is when Biff starts, “Well…he came in, see, and____”, and Willy interrupts Biff by saying, “what’d he say? Betcha he threw his arms around you.” Willy really wants to hear that Oliver and Biff had a very good conversation.

Happy also aids in interrupting Biff, however, he does not say as much as Willy.


Appearance and reality

Biff wants to be honest about his life and he wants Willy to be honest about it as well. He does not want to live a lie. He says to Willy “let’s hold on the facts tonight, Pop. We’re not going to get anywhere bullin’ around. I was a shipping clerk.” Biff wants Willy to see this truth and accept this truth as well.

Willy is also truthful in this scene as he was able to tell his boys that he was fired from his job.

Love and family relationship

The theme love and family relationship is evident in this scene. Willy and his sons are able to sit inside the restaurant and have a discussion. They were being somewhat honest with each other.

Guilt and Tension

Biff feels very guilty about ‘stealing’ the pen and he tries desperately to tell Willy how it happened. However, he does not get the chance to do so because he is constantly interrupted by Willy who wants Biff to say exactly what he (Willy) wants to hear. There is also tension in this scene as Biff wants to be honest, but he is not given the chance to do so and for this reason he seems very angry, irritated and frustrated and he asks questions, such as ” Why don’t you let me finish?” and “…will you let me finish?”. He also shuts at Willy close to the end of the scene. He says, “Jesus, dad!” which symbolizes is frustration.


Willy refuses to be truthful about Biff’s life; nevertheless Biff is honest with himself. Willy opposes opinion of himself; he continues to say Biff is a salesman for Oliver. This is ironic because Willy was able to admit something truthful about his life, that he was fired from his job, yet he will not allow Biff to be truthful to himself about his life.

It is also ironic that Willy tells Happy not to interrupt when Happy cuts into the conversation and says, “He told him of my Florida idea,” because he (Willy) constantly interrupts Biff when Biff tries to speak. This also significant because it is as if Happy does not really have a say.


Symbolism is evident where Willy says the “The woods are burning”. This is symbolic of the fact that his time is running out. His life is deteriorating. So many unfavourable things are happening.

Biff’s words, “let’s hold to the facts” is also symbolic. It symbolizes Biff’s realization and honesty to himself about his life.


The scene is a continuation from scene 7 and8 in Frank’s Cook shop. However it begins with Willy entering one of his reveries in his house with young Bernard frantically entering to inform Mrs. Loman of Biffs’ failure in mathematics and that he has left for Boston to seek his father’s help. In the present situation we see Biff trying to make every attempt to inform his dad about his meeting with bill Oliver honestly but Willy makes no attempt to listen. With all that is getting Willy stressed we see him once again blocking out Biff by entering a semi-day dream. Disoriented he shouts at Biff emphasizing that he is not to be blamed for Biffs’ failure in math. Frightened or confused as to why his father would be carrying things from the past he ignores this and continues talking about his meeting. Miss Forsythe and Letta returns and Biff along with Happy engage in deep conversations with the where we see Biff occasionally mentioning his father out of concern. Biff becomes overwhelmed and emotional about the situation and runs out of the restaurant. The scene ends with happy pushing Miss Forsythe and Letta through the door chasing biff and Willy in the restroom mumbling to himself.


Despite the lies shared between Willy and his sons, it is evident that Biff is frustrated and wants to change by being truthful. While Biff attempts to do this we see in several instances where Willy tries to block out all Biff has to say by entering his reveries. Entering his reverie at this stage in time highlights his inability to cope with reality or to accept that all he has are dreams. Willy seems disoriented in the first parts of the play and behaves out of the ordinary:

‘No, No! You had to flunk math! … Math! Math! Math! …

If you hadn’t flunk math you’d be set by now! …Don’t

blame everything on me, I didn’t flunk math you did!

What pen?”

In addition to Willy’s inability to cope with reality or the truth, him stating to biff that he should not blame him for everything highlights or shows that he feels responsible for Biff’s failure but wants to make it clear that he is not.

Biff becomes flustered in his attempts to relay the truth to willy and based on willy’s behavior is forced to lie about his interview and it is here we see willy gaining some interest in what Biff has to say.

Willy- “No, no…”

Biff- (desperately standing over Willy) Pop, listen! Listen to me!

I’m telling you something good. Oliver talked to his partner

about the Florida idea. You listening? He- he talked to his partner

and he came to me…I’m going to be alright, you hear? Dad, listen to

me, he said it was just a question of the amount!”

Here we also see Biff begging for his father to listen in order to get him to calm down. He does this to the point that he seems desperate, he wants to reach his father and connect with him. At this stage biff is reassuring Willy through lies.

The following themes are highlighted in this scene; Truth, Deception and Lies, Love and Family relationship and male/female relationships.

The theme truth, Deception and Lies is conveyed through the characters of Biff, Willy and Happy. Biff attempts whole heartedly to relay honest information about his meeting with Oliver to Willy,

“Now, look, I’m gonna tell you what happened, and you’re going

To listen to me… I waited six hours… I kept sending in my name but

he wouldn’t see me . So finally he…”

Even though he makes an attempt to tell his father the truth it was all in vain and he is later forced to lie. Even happy has to do the same. As highlighted above. When Willy responds positively to the lies this highlights that he is a liar and believes lies and in essence his entire life Is a lie that is the foundation on which it is based. In Biff’s lies we see that he really does not want to do it and later we see him being truthful but in a sarcastic way, when Letta says she has jury meeting;

Letta- “I gotta get up early tomorrow. I got jury duty. I’m so excited!

Were you fellows ever on a jury?”

Biff- “No, but I been in front of them! ….”

We see Happy lying to the women after Biff runs out after been overwhelmed by his father’s behavior. He does this because he feels embarrassed by Willy:

Happy- “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on,

We’ll catch Biff, and, honey, we’re going to paint this town!”

A male / female relationship is highlighted in Biff, Happy, Miss Forsythe and Letta’s brief relationship. Their relationship can be described as a ‘one night stand’ relationship. It is based on sexual attraction and satisfaction thus it has no meaning or is not serious. Through the relationship prostitution is highlighted. The women are high class prostitutes who work with a particular clientele list, ‘rich men’. It is obvious that Happy is all about sexual satisfaction and based on what he says makes it even more obvious.

Happy- ” Well, girls, what’s the programme? We’re wasting time.

Come on, Biff gather round. Where would you like to go?”

It is obvious that sex revolves around their world especially Happy. And it is obvious that they inherited this strong sex drive from their father’s genes separate and apart from it being in their nature. As Willy and the woman in the hotel room in Boston relationship was characterizes based on sexual attraction and satisfaction.

Finally, the theme love and family relationships. It is in this scene that we realize that despite Biff resentment towards Willy, he deeply and genuinely cares about his welfare. And it is evident that he still wants his father to feel proud of him:

Willy- “No, you’re no good. You’re no good for anything.”

Biff- “I am, dad, I’ll find something else, you understand? Now,

don’t you worry about anything. (He holds up Willy’s face) Talk to me dad.”

In this instance and a previous one the way in which Biff speaks to his father is in a calm and caring tone like a father talking to his child reassuring him. We notice here that the roles have changed. He will go the extra mile to defend his father no matter what and this is evident from his response to Miss Forsythe’s line:

Miss Forsythe-“Oh, he isn’t really your father!”

Biff-(at left turning to her resentfully) “Miss Forsythe, you’ve just seen a prince

walk by. A fine troubled Prince. A pal, you understand. A good companion

always for his boys.”

Biff- “Why don’t you do something for him?”

Happy- “Me!”

Biff-“Don’t you give a damn for him, Hap?”

Happy-“What are we talking about, am the one who-“

Biff-“I sense it, you don’t give a good god damn about him.

(He takes out the rolled- up hose from his pocket and puts it on the table

In front of Happy). Look what I found in the cellar, for Christ sake. How can you

Bear to let it go on?”

Happy- “Me? Who goes away? Who runs off and-“

Biff- “yeah, but, he doesn’t mean anything to you. You could help him. I can’t.

Don’t you understand what am talking about? He’s going to kill himself,

don’t you know that?”

Happy- “Don’t I know it! Me!”

From this dialogue the critic analyses that Happy is not too concerned about Willy’s welfare as he denies almost everything or having knowledge of Willy’s situation. He seems to blame it all on Biff because he is Willy’s favorite. Some jealousy comes out here. He does not want to take responsibility in any way for Willy’s behavior. This highlights that he I s just like Willy unwilling to face the truth or take responsibility for anything as Willy did before regarding Biffs failure in math.


Sarcasm is one figurative language used in the scene and is seen in biff’s response to Letta’s question:

Letta- “I gotta get up early tomorrow. I got jury duty. I’m so excited!

Were you fellows ever on a jury?”

Biff- “No, but I been in front of them! ….”

The hose is symbolic of Willy’s attempt to kill himself and highlights that Biff was the only one ready to help his father. Willy’s disorder has become dangerous.


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