Summary and Analysis
Scene 9 continues primarily in the restaurant, although the house is lit when Linda appears. Willy is still sitting at the table with Biff and Happy. Biff attempts to describe his visit to Oliver, but Willy does not hear him. Instead he hears young Bernard inform Linda that Biff failed math and will not graduate. Bernard also tells her that Biff took a train to Boston to talk with Willy. The exchange between Linda and Bernard ends as Biff finishes explaining why he took Oliver's pen; however, Willy did not hear Biff's explanation.
Willy overhears the operator at a hotel ring his room. Willy answers the operator, telling her he is not available. Biff is confused and upset because Willy is behaving irrationally. Willy tells Biff that he is "no good for anything," until Biff states that he is supposed to meet with Oliver and his partner about the Florida idea. This brings Willy back to the present. Willy becomes angry because Biff refuses to meet with Oliver and his partner since he stole the fountain pen. Biff then admits that he does not have an appointment with Oliver after all, that he only went to Oliver because of Willy.
Willy slips back into the past. The Woman from Act I, Scene 6 asks if he plans to open the door. Willy stumbles off in the restaurant, looking for a door. Biff begs Happy to help Willy, and he shows Happy the rubber hose he found. Happy refuses and blames Biff for Willy's condition. Happy tells the girls that Willy is not his father and then leaves with the girls without paying the tab.
Willy is mentally collapsing at this point. He had difficulty distinguishing between the past and present earlier in the play, but the possibility of things getting better still existed. By Scene 9, Willy knows that all is lost — both his job and Biff's chance of success — so he resorts to the past to escape the present. Biff's failure with Oliver immediately moves Willy back to his son's failure in high school. As Biff tries to explain what happened with Oliver, Willy is caught in the past, still trying to understand what it is that caused Biff to "lay down" in high school and how that connects to his failure today. Willy is desperately trying to regain order in the present by making sense of the past.
Learning that Biff stole Oliver's pen temporarily brings Willy out of the past. Willy feels responsible for Biff's actions, and he immediately moves back into the past to find justification for the theft. Biff states, "I didn't exactly steal it [the pen]!" but it is impossible for Willy or the audience to believe this based on his previous record that includes stealing the football, as well as the building materials. Willy is partially to blame for Biff's actions simply because he sanctioned his behavior every time before by not making Biff face the consequences. Therefore, because Willy taught Biff that he did not have to follow rules in high school, his behavior in the present is a reflection of his previous conditioning. As a result, Willy bears the primary responsibility for Biff's present failure.
Willy loses his grip on reality as the the scene progresses and blends Young Bernard, the hotel operator, and the Woman into his conversation with Biff. Once Biff realizes his father is hallucinating, he is compelled to lie to Willy in order to restore him to his senses. The only way he can effectively regain order for Willy is to deny his own need to accept reality. As a result, Biff is forced to contradict his own principles rather than watch his father fall apart before his eyes.