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Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman


by Arthur Miller

Willy Loman Timeline and Summary

  • Willy Loman returns home from a trip early, carrying two bags and mumbling.
  • Willy explains that he came home early because he kept forgetting that he was driving.
  • At his wife’s suggestion, Willy decides to ask his boss tomorrow for a sales job in NY so he can stop traveling.
  • Willy and Linda discuss their grown sons, Biff and Happy, who are sleeping upstairs. Willy’s relationship with Biff is rocky because his son is thirty-four and can’t hold a steady job.
  • In his mind, Willy relives happy times when he and his teenage boys are celebrating their own supposed popularity.
  • Biff tells his father that he’s stolen a football (although he uses the term "borrowed") in order to practice his game. Willy tells his son to return it, but he obviously doesn’t care about the theft.
  • Willy goes into advice/bragging mode and tells his sons how great American towns are, and how welcome he is made to feel in all of the cities he sells in.
  • Linda enters and Willy can’t help but brag some more. He tells her he’s extremely well-liked, that he made a killing on his recent trip.
  • In actuality, he didn’t do well, he’s insecure, and they’re in debt.
  • Willy suddenly gets worked up at his failure in business and says people just don’t like him very much. His next public announcement is that he’s struggling because he’s ugly and fat.
  • Willy’s troubled mind flashes to a lady in his life... and it’s not Linda. This other woman is dressing and they are joking in a sexually suggestive way. Willy has given her some stockings, which really should have gone to his wife.
  • Willy’s mind flashes back to his conversation with Linda about his recent trip.
  • Willy notices Linda mending her old stockings and he snaps at her; he doesn’t want her to mend them when he’s around.
  • The scene shifts to yet another one of Willy’s flashbacks.
  • Bernard, the son of Willy’s neighbor Charley, comes running in, screaming and shouting that Biff is going to fail math.
  • Willy doesn’t like this nerdy kid and tells him to give Biff the answers on tests and then beat it.
  • Willy snaps out of his daydreams and realizes Happy’s in the room.
  • The old salesman now feels that he was dumb not to go to Alaska with his brother, Ben, when he was a young man.
  • Charley comes into the kitchen to check up on Willy. Charley also offers Willy a job, which Willy rejects.
  • Willy’s mind is starting to drift and a hallucination of Ben enters the stage.
  • Willy proceeds to talk aloud with imaginary Ben while also telling Charley that Ben recently died.
  • Charley bails because Willy is acting way too weird.
  • Back in Willy’s imagination, Ben is in a rush to catch a train. He repeatedly urges Willy to go with him to Alaska. Willy wants to know how Ben struck it rich. He is also wondering if Ben followed their father (who had abandoned the brothers) to Alaska.
  • An imaginary Charley enters the kitchen just as young Happy and Biff run off to steal some wood for a building project. Charley warns Willy that he’s got to stop Happy and Biff from stealing or they’ll end up in jail.
  • Willy takes offense and insults Charley’s manliness.
  • Now alone with Ben, Willy confesses that he’s scared he’s not raising his boys well and begs Ben to stay. Ben doesn’t stay.
  • Back in reality, Willy goes on a walk instead of facing his wife. At his return, he and Biff immediately start fighting.
  • Willy, however, perks up when he learns that Biff is going to ask Oliver for a loan to start a business. The adoring father is in his element as he tells Biff how to behave.
  • Willy manages to still go to bed mad.
  • The following morning, Willy and Linda have breakfast in the kitchen. Willy is expecting today to be happy; he’s going to ask his boss for a non-traveling job and Biff is going to go to Oliver to ask for some money.
  • Willy says he’s been thinking about buying some seeds. He wants to grow something.
  • Later that morning, Willy is at his boss’s office and asks if there’s a place for him in the New York office.
  • Howard repeatedly tells Willy that there’s simply no job for him. At all. He is fired.
  • Distressed, Willy goes back to imagining things. Again, he’s talking to Ben, asking his brother how he made it. Ben once again asks Willy to join him in Alaska.
  • Willy tries to convince Linda to let him got to Alaska, but she insists Willy’s job and life are good enough as they are. Willy feels lost, but brags to Ben that his boys can succeed solely on the basis of their good looks and charm. Struck by another wave of self-doubt, Willy begs Ben to stay and help him with the boys. He feels unsure of himself.
  • Willy now sees Biff as he was during his high-school-football-star era. He’s about to go play a big game, and his father is raving about it to anyone who will listen, and several who won’t (including Charley).
  • Willy verbally bashes Charley for making fun of his enthusiasm.
  • The scene flashes back to reality, where Willy is arguing aloud with himself in the hall.
  • Bernard approaches Willy to try to chill him out.
  • Bernard asks about Biff; Willy responds vaguely about how his son is up to big things.
  • Willy breaks down. He asks Bernard what the secret to his success is and confesses that Biff is a failure.
  • Willy defensively responds to Bernard’s questions about what might have happened the summer that Biff came to visit him in Boston, the visit that somehow "changed" Biff forever.
  • Charley comes in and offers Willy fifty dollars. Willy is appreciative, but asks for more, even while rejecting Charley’s second job offer.
  • Poor Willy can’t help but break down, and Charley gives him enough money to pay his bills.
  • That evening, Willy meets his sons at Frank’s Chop House for dinner. Willy says Biff better have some good news, because he was fired and feels lousy.
  • Biff doesn’t have good news. While telling about his "meeting" with Oliver, Willy persistently interrupts the story as if attempting to alter its outcome.
  • Now back in Willy’s memory land, a young Bernard rushes into the Loman house to inform Linda that Biff flunked math.
  • The scene flashes in and out of Willy’s imagination as he gathers that Biff stole Oliver’s fountain pen.
  • Very sadly, Willy keeps repeating "I’m not here" aloud, imagining that a telephone operator is trying to track him down.
  • The scene shifts fully into Willy’s flashback. He is dressing and chatting with a woman in a black slip, the lady he’s been sleeping with (gasp!) and giving stockings to (double gasp!).
  • Willy and the woman hear knocking on the hotel room door, but Willy refuses to answer despite the woman’s urging. He only agrees once she hides in the bathroom.
  • He opens the door and finds Biff, who has just failed his math class and wants his dad to fix everything.
  • Willy’s not thinking about math—he’s thinking about hiding the lady who’s in his bathroom. Too late.
  • Willy’s attempts a desperate cover-up, which utterly fails.
  • Willy is back in reality and finds that his wonderful sons have ditched him for some girls.
  • Willy pulls himself together and urgently asks Stanley (the waiter) where the nearest seed store is. He rushes off to buy seeds.
  • Back at home, Willy frantically plants seeds outside and talks aloud to an imaginary Ben.
  • They discuss Willy killing himself to get life insurance money so Biff can start a business. Willy also imagines his own funeral and how he’ll show Biff, by all of the mourners who come, how well-liked he was.
  • In reality, Willy finds Biff outside with him and repeatedly asks his son about Oliver.
  • On finding that the meeting was failure, he accuses Biff of being spiteful.
  • The two start to argue aggressively, as usual.
  • The fight continues on until Willy, astounded at Biff’s emotional outburst, realizes that Biff loves him and wants desperately to impress him.
  • In his mind, Willy hears Ben urging him to come find diamonds. This reminds Willy of the life insurance money, and what a successful man Biff could be if he only had that $20,000.
  • Despite Linda’s urging, Willy refuses to come up to bed. He remains at the table, absorbed in his flashbacks and basking in the realization of his son’s love.
  • Suddenly, Willy jumps up, runs out of the house, speeds away in the car, and crashes it, killing himself.