Death of a Salesman By Arthur Miller Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 10

Summary

Scene 10 begins in a hotel room. The Woman tells Willy that he has "ruined" her and that she will send him in to the buyers immediately whenever he is in Boston. They are in the process of getting dressed when someone knocks on the door. Willy orders the Woman to remain in the bathroom. Biff comes in and tells Willy that he failed math and will not graduate. Willy decides to leave immediately so that he can talk with Biff's teacher before the school closes for the summer. The Woman comes out of the bathroom. Willy pretends that she is simply borrowing his bathroom, and he tells her to leave, but she refuses until he gives her the stockings he promised. Willy orders Biff to help him pack, but Biff resists. Biff calls Willy a liar and a "phony little fake." The scene shifts back to the restaurant. Stanley helps Willy to the door because he is disoriented. Stanley gives him directions to a feed store.

Analysis

Scene 10 is the key to the play. Willy is finally forced to confront the point of disorder in his life. It is true that Willy has always exaggerated events and details to become "well-liked"; however, up until the affair, Willy had not sacrificed his principles or betrayed his family. Willy blames his behavior on loneliness, but it is the result of his need for attention. The affair is a betrayal of Linda and the boys, who center their lives on him. Once he cheats on Linda, Willy denigrates himself, and this diminution of his character is unrecoverable.

A selective process governs Willy's habit of denying the present in favor of a more satisfactory past. Willy does not randomly choose memories, nor does he allow himself to remember everything. For example, during Scene 5, Willy becomes defensive when questioned by Bernard. He reacts in this manner because Bernard triggers memories of the affair. Willy knows he was unfaithful to Linda, but he has successfully pushed that memory to the back of his mind because of the guilt associated with it. Bernard's question brings the affair to the front of Willy's mind, and he can no longer selectively forget it.

During Scene 9, Willy desperately sorts through memories of Biff's childhood in order to explain to himself why Biff failed with Oliver. He cannot understand why Biff let his last opportunity for success pass him by. It is only when Biff reveals his reason for going to see Oliver that Willy finally understands: "Why did I go? Why did I go? Look at you! Look at what's become of you!" Biff went to see Oliver to please his father and to prevent Willy from suffering a complete mental breakdown. Biff fails with Oliver, just as he did in high school, and Willy is to blame for failures of both the past and present. Even though Biff still wants to satisfy Willy, he cannot because his esteem for his father has been irreparably damaged by knowledge of the affair.

During Scene 10, once Biff discovers that his father is not perfect, and even worse, that he is a traitor to his mother, Biff loses all respect for Willy. He realizes that everything Willy said to him means nothing. The affair negates all of Willy's tales of greatness that have motivated Biff up to this point. Why should he attend summer school or hold a steady job? Need for his father's approval no longer guides his actions. As a result, Willy is responsible for Biff's downward spiral. Biff did not attend summer school or graduate because of Willy's perfidy. Now he is incapable of achieving success because he possesses no faith in his father or himself.

Glossary

self-centered occupied or concerned only with one's own affairs; egocentric; selfish.

ruin to deprive (a woman) of chastity.

chippie [Slang] a promiscuous young woman or a prostitute.

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