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Free Study Guide-Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller-Free Online Booknotes
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Notes (continued)

When Willy meets with Charley, he again offers Willy a job, but Willy is too proud to accept. At first he even lies and tells Charley that he has a very good paying job. Then he confesses to his friend that he has just been fired, but still refuses to take Charley up on his offer of employment. Willy' words to Charley, that a man is worth more dead than alive, foreshadow Willy's suicide at the end of the play. The scene ends with a rare moment of Willy facing the truth; he admits to Charley that he is his only friend in the world, a sad statement from a man who thinks that being well liked is the most important thing in life.

The restaurant scene depicts Happy's totally irresponsible behavior. Although he knows he is meeting his father for lunch, he picks up a woman and has her at his table before Biff or Willy arrives. When Biff tries to explain to Happy that he needs to make Willy see the truth about Biff's failures, Happy counsels him to tell their father something that would make him happy rather than telling him the truth. Like Linda, Happy encourages Willy to continue his world of illusion.

In contrast to Happy, who is only interested in living life for the present moment, Biff is trying to come to on understanding of who he really is. After the interview with Oliver, who does not even recognize him, Biff realizes that his whole life has been a ridiculous lie, fed by Willy's compliments and dreams. During the interview, Biff has stolen a fountain pen from Oliver, just as he has earlier stolen basketballs from him. In fact, stealing is a compulsion with Biff and the reason he has been fired from every job. Biff would like to tell his father the entire truth about himself, but Willy refuses to listen. It is no wonder that Biff cries out that he cannot communicate with his father.

Ironically, Willy thinks that Biff is a failure to spite him. He is unable to accept any of the blame for his son's failures in life; he does not see how his permissiveness in the past has contributed to Biff's current problems. Instead, Willy convinces himself that Biff has not accepted Oliver's offer to hurt him. In actuality, Biff is trying to make Willy see the truth so he will not be hurt in the future. He even tells Ms. Forsyth that Willy "is a fine, troubled Prince. A hardworking, unappreciated prince. A good companion always for his boys." Biff, in his search for truth, is able to evaluate his father in a realistic way. He feels that Willy has lots of faults, but lots of values too.

The young women at their table cause Willy to have another flashback - to the important scene in Boston. He is in a hotel room with a woman, when he hears a knocking on the door. Telling the woman to stay hidden in the bathroom, he goes to the door to find Biff, who has come to confess to his dad that he has flunked math and cannot continue his education. Biff gives all kinds of lame excuses for his failure and even confesses that he has cheated on the exam in order to pass, but even that did not work. Willy simply laughs it off. When the woman hears the laughter, she enters the room and demands the silk stocking that Willy has promised. Biff, realizing what is going on, is horrified and calls his father a liar and a fake.

Out of the three Loman men, Biff is the most honest. He admits that he is the lowliest sort of human and a total failure in life; he says, "Nothing! I am nothing!" He desperately wants Willy to realize the same thing about him and see how he has contributed to his son's problems. Biff says that Willy "blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody." Now Biff just wants all of them to look at each other honestly; perhaps then they could make lives for themselves. Unfortunately, Willy is incapable of facing the truth, even though Biff tells him to burn his phony dreams. Happy has no desire to face the truth; he is totally content in his petty, live-for-today existence.

When Biff breaks down and sobs, over Willy's blindness and his own failures, it is a climactic moment in the play. Ironically, Biff's attempts to make Willy face reality turn out the very opposite of what Biff wants. Willy feels that Biff needs him more than ever and is desperate to give his son something to make him a success. The depth of Willy's desperation has become apparent in this act. He talks to his dead brother Ben, in couched terms, about committing suicide. He believes that if Biff has the twenty thousand dollars from his life insurance policy, he can make something of himself and become successful. He also believes that Biff, whom he feels hates him and spites him, will be impressed when he sees how many people attend his father's funeral.

It is important to realize that the jungle that Ben keeps mentioning in Willy's illusion is the jungle of death. Ben's caution to his brother, "Time, William, Time," reminds Willy that life is closing in on her and time is running out. At the end of the act, Willy leaves in the car to commit suicide.

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