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WILLY: Oh, I’ll knock ‘em dead next week. I’ll go to Hartford. I’m very well liked in Hartford. You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.
[They move onto the forestage]
LINDA: Oh, don’t be foolish.
WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.
LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you? Don’t talk that way, Willy.
[Willy moves to the edge of the stage. Linda goes into the kitchen and starts to darn stockings.]
WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. (Act 1)
Willy contradicts himself by saying that he is both well liked and ignored, suggesting a gap between his hopes and the reality of his life. If he measures being successful by how popular he is, it looks like he might just be a total flop.
BERNARD: If he doesn’t buckle down, he’ll flunk math! [He goes off].
LINDA: He’s right, Willy, you’ve gotta—
WILLY: [exploding at her]: There’s nothing the matter with him! You want him to be a worm like Bernard? He’s got spirit, personality… (Act 1)
Willy's emphasis on reputation blinds him to the reality of Biff's academic problems. By constantly making excuses for his favorite son, Willy inadvertently stands in the way of Biff's success. Biff's reputation will only take him so far if he can't even pass high school.
WILLY: [continuing over Happy’s line]: They laugh at me, heh? Go to Filene’s, go to the Hub, go to Slattery’s. Boston. Call out the name Willy Loman and see what happens! Big shot!
BIFF: All right, Pop.
BIFF: All right! (Act 1)
Willy's insistence that he is well known and well liked reflects his increasing blindness to reality. To his family, associates, and definitely the audience, the fact that he is unpopular is totally clear by now.