The office scene (pages 59 – 66) is a crucial part of the play as it sees the turning point in Willy’s career and encourages the last part of his mental downfall towards destruction and dramatises many of the central concerns that are shown throughout. Willy is humiliated during his time in Howard’s office and the audience therefore have an increasing amount of sympathy and pathos for Willy.
The scene opens with Willy entering Howard’s office repeating the word “Pst!”. From the very beginning of the scene the audience see Willy as a pathetic character and a failure in business. He shows his inability to show confidence around his boss, possibly because Howard is a successful businessman and this is exactly what Willy cannot achieve. Willy is already contradicting himself as he had previously told Biff to “Walk in very serious”, yet he shows an undignified entrance which does not command respect from anyone around.
Howard refuses to give Willy instant attention and he repeatedly ignores what Willy is saying which automatically gives Howard higher status. Howard is preoccupied with a newly purchased wire recorder and so is slow to listen to Willy’s plea. This wire recorder highlights Willy’s isolation from technology in the continually modernising America and could be seen metaphorically alongside the drama of this scene where the communication is one way between Howard and Willy. The technology is grasping Howard’s attention, but at the same time blocking out anything that Willy is trying to say – similar to the new order of business taking over from the old order, including Willy. New businessmen and new technology are crushing Willy and he is getting left behind.
The wire recorder is playing Howard’s son reciting the capital cities of American states and is effectively recalling the American Dream. This also shows Howard’s relationship with his children and emphasises how proud he is of his children and this is seen in contrast to the relationships that Willy shares with his sons. The proud Howard exclaims that his son will “make an announcer some day” putting emphasis on the probability of his son having a successful future which is all that Willy wanted for his children.
Howard is constantly but unconsciously defining his comparatively higher status through embedded hints such as “the maid kicked the plug”, something which Willy has never been permitted to say as his poor wealth means that a maid would be never be a reality for his family. Willy, however, as normal lies about his financial situation, saying that he has a radio in his car when he of course, does not. He is still ashamed to admit to Howard and indeed to anyone his lack of money and of modern technology.
Willy uses a lot of closed vowels in his speech which make what he is saying sound harsh which relates to the reality of this situation. The repetition of the small word “Ts” again makes Willy look small and pathetic in the face of business. Willy’s speech is often broken and it becomes quite staccato. Willy is continually interrupted and his sentence structure is interjected. The punctuation is important in this scene – particularly where Willy is interrupted and the repeated use of exclamation marks demonstrates that this is a play about conflict and this scene is full of this. This helps the audience to react to the pitch and tone of the voices and as the scene progresses we see the crescendo of emotions and voices as Willy’s career explodes. We see Willy’s tone of voice changing as he starts his monologue about Dave Singleman.
Willy’s voice becomes child-like and we detect his excitement at this point. Willy wanted like Dave to “Die the death of a salesman”. Similar to the significance of Willy’s surname – “Low-man” we also see the significant surname of Willy’s inspiration – Dave “Single-man”, a single-minded man who knew what he wanted and achieved that in his lifetime. Willy wanted to die a success after living a life of luxury, after being loved and respected by other salesman, yet the audience see a man who is begging for a rapidly decreasing sum of money. Willy’s failure is certainly highlighted at this point as Willy himself contrasts his dream with his reality.
Again during this scene we see the inconsistency of Willy’s opinions as he yet again contradicts himself after telling Biff “If anything falls off the desk…don’t you pick it up. They have office boys for that” and then just a few pages later the stage directions tell us that Howard “looks for his lighter, Willy has picked it up and gives it to him”. Willy has reduced himself to the status of an office boy during this short period of time in Howard’s office. Willy knows his status but makes it clear by his pitiful entrance into the scene and then the shrinking and erosion of his personality and pride during it.
This scene for me can be summed up in just two lines.
“WILLY [desperately]: Just let me tell you a story, Howard –
HOWARD: ‘Cause you gotta admit, business is business”
In these lines we see Willy’s desperation which is clearly shown in this seen, and the way he is interrupted before he has been given his chance. This reflects his career as Willy seems to have missed his chance in the business world after being replaced be younger salesman. Howard’s line shows his dominating status over Willy as he interrupts, and also Howard’s line “business is business” shows his ruthless nature. This is in contrast to other characters in the play such as Charley who is both successful in business and a benevolent man. Howard, however, is certainly not benevolent and does not show much care for Willy and his family, and so Howard could be seen as a nasty character with no compassion, however, Willy’s dismissal could also be seen as the only sensible thing to be done in this situation.
Like the rest of the play, this scene helps to represent the realism in the play and there is continuous use of Americanisms and colloquial language such as Willy’s line “I tell ya, Howard. The kids are all grown up, y’know.” This reminds us of the reality of this play.
Willy uses a metaphor in this scene and instructs Howard that “you can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit! Now pay attention.” Willy is trying to take control of the situation and is saying Howard has gone back on his fathers “promise” by forgetting the salesman in his golden years, throwing the peel away after eating the orange. Willy feels that Howard has used Willy for all he is worth and so now is throwing him away, Howard consumes his employers. This may be a true statement as Willy is now of no use to Howard’s business, but it contributes highly to the growing pathos that the audience are feeling for Willy. Miller is now showing in unambiguous terms, the worthlessness of Willy to Howard. We see the clash between Howard’s ruthless but realistic nature, and Willy’s illusions and dreams of success and this causes dramatic tension and conflict visible to the audience.
There is a lot of emphasis placed on Howard’s corporate chair towards the conclusion of this scene and the lighting changes to highlight the chair as this is a symbol of the business world that Willy never quite fitted into. Willy’s mind spends only a very short time in the past during this scene and briefly sees Frank, Howard’s father. It is the sound of Howard’s son on the wire recorder which brings Willy back to the present and this could represent ironically how Willy never wakes up to the fact that modern technology, younger salesman and the American Dream have taken over from him and eventually kill him.
The conclusion of the scene is Howard’s line “Pull yourself together, kid, there’s people outside”. The use of the word “kid” shows Howard patronising Willy still as Howards sees him as nothing but a kid due to his lack of success. This scene shows us the business world at its most ruthless and we see Willy swallowed by a dream that can no longer become a reality for him.