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ACT II (continued)
What does Linda fear they will lose by going? She has swallowed Willy's golden lie of the promise of success and happiness. Willy has been having a good year and his boss, Frank Wagner, has said he'll be a partner in the firm someday if he keeps up the good work. He's "well liked," and doing well enough to be happy right here, right now, Linda insists. She has taken Willy's optimistic fantasies so to heart that she defends them against even him.
Willy is bouncing back and forth between Ben's and Linda's reasoning, two sides of his own mind. I'm building something here, he tells Ben, who simply replies, "What are you building?... Where is it?"
Ben is leaving to board his ship back home to Africa. In an effort to keep him a moment longer, Willy shows off Biff, who is about to go and play his big football game at Ebbets Field. Three universities want to give him scholarships. "It's who you know and the smile on your face" that get you places in life, according to Willy. You can make your fortune from the contacts you develop.
Willy feels insecure enough about this philosophy to want a final encouragement from his older brother whom he probably will never see again. "Ben, am I right?" he asks. "I value your advice." Ben says only that he could get rich in Alaska, and leaves. For the rest of his life Willy will be tortured by the idea he was wrong not to go to Alaska.
Charley's boy, Bernard, runs in. When he sees the Lomans he is relieved that they haven't left for the game without him. Happy has the honor of carrying Biff's helmet, and Bernard settles for carrying the shoulder pads, which will entitle both of them to accompany Biff into the locker room. Willy hands out pennants and gives Biff a fatherly pep talk, and Biff replies, "I got it, Pop. And remember, pal, when I take off my helmet, that touchdown is for you." There is a strong bond of closeness between them. They are both taking the competition of this day very seriously.
As they are all about to leave for Ebbets Field, Charley saunters in. Knowing how much the football game means to Willy, he teasingly asks him where he's going, a baseball game? Enraged by his jokes, Willy retorts, after the others have gone, "I don't think that was funny, Charley. This is the greatest day of his life." But Charley merely asks him when he's going to grow up. He can't see getting so worked up about sports, and that's one big difference between the two men. Willy is now so angry he's ready to fight-"Put up your hands!"- probably partly because he has always been jealous of Charley, who seems to succeed without doing any of the things Willy feels are important: sports, working with tools, impressing people with stories of a lot of money.
Of course Charley doesn't fight, he just walks away laughing. Willy follows him, shouting names at him. We now notice the two signals that the scene is changing: lights coming up on a different area of the stage, and music, in this case rising to a "mocking frenzy" to indicate Willy's anger and disorientation.
Offstage Willy is still shouting as the lights come up on Bernard, now a grown man. He's sitting in his father's office as Willy's voice gets louder and nearer. Charley's secretary, Jenny, asks Bernard to go out in the hall and quiet Willy down, but before he can get up Willy comes in. He jokes coarsely with Jenny and is shocked to realize who the self-assured young man is.
Bernard, now a young lawyer, is on his way to Washington to argue a case. He'll be staying with friends who have a tennis court. Willy is impressed, and, to counter Bernard's obvious success, tells him that Biff is "doing very big things in the West," but is in town now because Bill Oliver, a sporting goods dealer, has offered him a job.
But for once Willy Loman runs out of words. Nearly breaking down with emotion, he asks Bernard what the secret is that he learned and Biff so clearly missed. After 17, after the Ebbets Field game, Biff never went anywhere. His life fell apart. Does Bernard know why?
Bernard: Willy, do you want to talk candidly?
Willy: I regard you as a very brilliant man, Bernard. I value your advice.
We remember that Willy has said those same words to Ben: "I value your advice." Now here he is asking advice from the once-scrawny kid Bernard, whom he scornfully used to call "anemic."