Act One – Opening Scene
1. What is the value of the lengthy stage directions at the very beginning of the play?
2. How would you describe the relationship between Willy and Linda?
3. How does Miller suggest that Willy is on the verge of a breakdown?
4. What are Willy’s main problems?
5. What is Willy’s attitude to Biff?
Scene with Howard Wagner
1. What are your impressions of Howard Wagner?
2. This scene has some embarrassing moments. Explain.
3. What dramatic purposes does Howard’s tape-recorder serve? Why can’t Willy turn it off?
4. This scene tells us a good deal about the realities of the business world. Explain.
5. What lessons does Willy learn from Howard?
6. Why does Willy comment in such detail on Dave Singleman?
7. Do you believe Willy when he tells Wagner about his 1928 earnings?
8. Is Howard a shrewd businessman cutting off the dead wood or a compassionate man who has kept Willy on for as long as possible?
1. What is Willy’s mood as he enters the restaurant?
2. Comment on the various changes in Biff’s mood as the scene develops.
3. How does Miller convey Willy’s anxiety for good news from Biff?
4. Why does Biff become angry and frustrated?
Biff can no longer feed Willy lies and half-truths about himself. He wants to deal on ‘cold fact’ and painful reality.
Willy wants to hear good news, but he doesn’t seem to care whether the good news is true or not. He keeps interrupting to prevent Biff from telling him the unpleasant truth.
The attempt at telling the truth is interrupted by a memory sequence of Bernard letting him know Biff would flunk Math if he didn’t study. Reality and the memory of a past event are equally present in Willy’s consciousness.
The memory sequence of the other woman is a disgraceful incident from Willy’s past and the guilt associations are set in motion by Biff’s theft of the pen from Bill Oliver’s office.
Biff resorts to lying to comfort Willy but struggles to keep it up.
Parallel – the arrival of Miss Forsythe/Letta to the memory of the woman in the hotel room. (Willy tried to hide the woman he was having an affair with in the bathroom of his hotel room.)
Biff is deeply troubled by what is happening to Willy, “I can’t bear to look at his face”.
On the other hand, Happy is more interested in the girls and is prepared to disown his father, “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy”.
Scene with the unnamed woman
1. Why is the episode involving the unnamed woman introduced at this point?
2. Can you account for Biff’s response to finding Willy with the woman?
3. Why is this such a crucial episode?
4. Explain how this episode helps to focus much of the essence of the play.
Final Scene – before Willy’s death
1. In this scene, a lot of suppressed truths come to the surface. Elaborate on this idea.
2. Is it possible to admire Willy’s point of view in this scene?
3. Biff blames Willy for most of his troubles. To what extent is he justified in doing so?
4. Describe Willy’s and Biff’s feelings as Biff holds on to his father.
5. Comment on the repeated references to diamonds in this scene.
Biff comes to tell Willy he is leaving home for good. Linda accepts the fact that Biff and Willy are never going to get on. Willy still wants to believe that Biff can succeed with Bill Oliver. Biff confronts Willy with the piece of rubber tubing (suicide plan) and he also reveals a hidden truth about Happy – he is not an assistant buyer with his firm, but only “one of the two assistants to the assistant”. He forces Willy to confront the truth. Biff’s next revelation is shocking – he has spent 3 months in jail. He admits, “I’m a dime a dozen and so are you”, a painful truth for Willy to accept.
The darkness of the jungle and the jungle itself could be likened to Willy’s mind.
Willy’s suicide represents an act of affirmation. He goes to his death feeling that he is about to achieve, at a single stroke, all that life has denied him. Willy at the final extremity of his illusion can think only of wrestling magnificence and $20,000 for Biff from the darkness of his own death.
His end is presented ironically – Miller intends his audience to see that Willy is deluded, and that a way out exists for him other than suicide. His suffering and death are unnecessary.
1. How would you assess the various verdicts on Willy’s character and outlook given here? Which verdict is best supported by the events of the play?
2. Comment on Happy’s plans for the future. How much has he learned from the past?
3. Contrast Biff’s view of Willy with Happy’s. Which view would you accept?
4. From Linda’s point of view, was Willy’s death in vain?
5. How important is the music of the flute?
Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller A2 Drama/ A Reynolds