Death of a Salesman Act 1, Part 1
A flute plays softly as the light rises on a house surrounded by tall, angular buildings. The sparsely decorated kitchen is visible with a dark drape at the back leading into the living room. To the left and up a little is a second story bedroom with only a brass bed and a straight chair. Above the unseen living room is another bedroom with two beds; a stairway at the left curves up to the room from the kitchen. The empty stage between the house and the audience is the back yard, the scene of Willy's imaginings, as well as the city scenes. Whenever the action of the play is in the present, the characters act as if the imaginary walls are real and they enter and exit rooms only through doors. But when the action is in a memory, the characters step through the walls and onto the forestage.
Willy Loman, a sixty-year-old traveling salesman, enters his home late at night with two large sample cases. His wife, Linda, hears him coming up the stairs to their bedroom. She seems worried that something has happened, that he has wrecked the car again, or that he's ill, but Willy assures her that he is fine, just tired. Sitting on the bed with her, he explains that he came home because he was having trouble staying on the road while he drove, and he is unsure of what caused his distraction. It could've been the coffee he had at a roadside diner or the way he opened the windshield of the car and the scenery and sunshine just washed over him. Whatever it was, it kept taking his mind of the road, and he'd veer onto the shoulder before he knew what was happening. He was so spooked that he drove ten miles an hour all the way home, and now he's tired and grumpy because he's going to miss his morning meeting in Portland, Rhode Island. Linda urges him to talk to his boss about working in the New York area so that he doesn't have to travel anymore, but he says to her, "They don't need me in New York. I'm the New England man. I'm vital in New England." Act 1, Part 1, pg. 4 After more discussion of all the reasons why he should be working in New York, Linda suggests again that he go speak with his boss, Howard Wagner. Willy finally agrees to do it, emphasizing that if Wagner's father were still in charge of the company, Willy would have already had a New York job. Wagner doesn't appreciate Willy the way his father did.
Linda offers to make Willy a sandwich to calm him down, but he changes the subject to their sons, Biff and Happy, who are asleep in their shared room. Willy mentions the fight he and Biff had that morning, and Linda gently chides him for criticizing Biff just when he got home. Willy says, "I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?" Act 1, Part 1, pg. 5 They argue over Biff, Linda saying that he just has to find himself and Willy claiming that at thirty-four, he'll never find himself if he keeps working as a farmhand. Willy says he's lazy, but then he says he can't understand how such an attractive and hard-working man as Biff could be lost in America, the greatest country in the world. He gets caught up in remembering how Biff was so popular in high school, but Linda brings him back to the present.
Willy starts to complain about the way their house is surrounded by apartment buildings now. He goes on a tirade about the increase in the population that has caused so many people to move in around them, and his voice wakes Biff and Happy in their room. Linda hushes Willy and sends him downstairs, but before he goes, his confrontational mood subsides and he assures Linda that if Biff wants to return to Texas, he won't stop him. He says that he believes Biff will get it together soon enough. As he's walking out the bedroom door to go downstairs to the kitchen, Linda suggests that over the weekend they all go for a picnic; they can open the car's windshield like Willy did earlier. The flute music plays again, and Willy hears it as he corrects Linda about opening the windshield. He remembers that the Studebaker's windshield doesn't open. He'd spent the entire day thinking that he was driving the Chevy he owned when his sons were in high school. The flute music that only Willy can hear startles him, and Linda plays off the discrepancy. Willy goes downstairs to make a sandwich, mumbling to himself about the old days with the Chevy. The boys are awake in their room over the invisible living room, and they overhear the end of their parents' conversation and Willy's muttering.