Death of a Salesman Act One Summary

Willy Loman lives in a house in New York City with his wife Linda. He is a man whose life is falling apart around him and he doesn't know how to cope with the changes he has to endure. He is a salesman who has worked for the same company for thirty-six years. Because he is no longer as productive a salesman as he once was, he has been demoted from salary to commission only wages and therefore his income is much lower than it used to be.

The stress of trying to bring in enough money has taken an enormous emotional toll on him. He is not able to concentrate on his driving anymore. This causes him to make mistakes such as crossing the dividing line between the lanes on the road and stopping for green traffic lights and going on red lights. He has to drive to Boston and Portland in order to make his sales pitches. The stress of all this driving on the sixty-three year old man is becoming too much for him to bear.

He is starting to have hallucinations about his life, before it began to fall apart. He thinks of his boys, Biff and Happy, as teenage boys. He is proud of Biff's achievements in sports and his popularity in high school. He is not as proud of Happy, but he is still proud of him. He has such high hopes for his sons, especially Biff. Biff is recruited by three colleges to play sports for them, but Biff's grades are so poor he is in danger of not graduating. Happy spends his time trying to garner some attention from his father, by telling him he has lost weight. All Willy does is to tell Happy other ways in which he can lose even more weight. Willy, while he is living in the past, talks out loud to himself.

He disturbs his neighbor Charley, who comes over to play cards with Willy. While they are playing cards, Willy again goes into his own world and he sees his brother Ben, who has passed away. He is begging Ben to find the time to talk with him, to tell him about their father, who left when Willy was about three years old. He is playing cards with Charley and talking to Ben at the same time. Eventually, Willy and Charley argue about the card game, causing Charley to leave. Willy continues to talk to Ben and even has his teenage sons in his hallucination. He needs Ben to tell him he is proud of him and impressed by Biff and Happy. He also wants Ben to tell him how he made his fortune in Africa. All Ben will tell him, is he walked into the jungle in Africa, at age seventeen and walked out rich, at twenty-one. He made his money working in the diamond mines in Africa. Ben leaves, even though Willy begs him to stay with him for a while.

Willy and his wife, Linda, have a good marriage. Linda always tries to prop Willy up by telling him how wonderful a salesman he is and how good a man he is, she truly believes what she is saying is true. Willy has a rough relationship with Biff, because Biff does not live up to the expectations his father has for him. Biff cannot find himself, instead he has been wandering the American West going from job to job looking for the one job which fits his needs, which is working on farms and with his hands. He has just come home from Texas, where he worked on a cattle ranch. He does not know about the problems his father is having and is stunned when he witnesses his father talking to himself about how well Biff and Happy have cleaned the car, an event which happened years ago. Biff is also surprised to see how gray his mother's hair has become, because he always thought of her as a young woman. Now he has to face the realities of life, which is his parents are growing older and he is also older. He, at thirty-four, knows realistically he should be settled down in a job and possibly have a wife and family, instead he is still going from job to job, which causes his father to lash out at him.

Happy, who is thirty-two, has a job and an apartment of his own. He lives in New York, but does not see his parents as often as he should. He is trying to live the life his father wants him to live, even though he is not content, he is not willing to give up trying to impress his father.

Their mother tells the boys their father's car accidents have not been accidents, but instead failed attempts to kill himself. A woman witnessed one of the accidents and saw Willy drive into a bridge on purpose. Linda has also found a rubber hose that attaches to the gas pipe in the basement, which she feels Willy put there with the intent to kill himself. Biff and Happy are stunned at the news, so they agree to try to garner funding from various sources to start a business. This would serve to make Willy happy and allow them to stay close to home to help their parents.

Willy Loman is a man caught between the real world and the world of his imagination, because he is disappointed by his life and the lives his sons are living. He does not know how to cope with the deterioration of his sales career. His wife knows he is suicidal, but she is incapable of talking to him about it, because she will not let him feel as if he is a failure.

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