Death of a Salesman Act 1, Part 8
Linda comes downstairs in her nightgown and robe and sees Willy out in the yard talking to himself through the door, so she goes out to check on him. In his mumbling, he asks her what happened to the diamond watch Ben gave him, and she reminds him that he pawned it almost thirteen years before to pay for Biff's radio correspondence course. Despite Linda's urging him to come inside, Willy wants to go for a walk, so he disappears around the left corner of the house in his slippers, muttering the whole way. Biff comes downstairs into the kitchen and asks Linda how long Willy's been this way. Happy comes down the stairs not far behind him, and Linda gives them both a verbal lashing about the way they treat their father -- they don't write or visit often enough, and they don't care enough about him to ask how things are going with him. Biff, touching her hair, notices that it's gray, that she's looking older, and she tells him that he can't keep coming home just to see her. Every time he comes home, he and Willy fight, and she doesn't know what's come between them, but she doesn't want Biff around if he's going to treat his father poorly. She tells him that she won't allow him to make Willy feel bad anymore. He's either got to pay him the respect a father deserves or not come back again. Biff can't understand why she's so quick to protect Willy when he's always wiped the floor with her, and Hap pipes up to defend his father. Biff insists that Willy has no character, that he's weak, and Linda again defends her husband.
"I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person." Act 1, Part 8, pg. 40
She tells the boys that Willy is no longer a salaried salesman, but has been demoted to earning only commission, just like a beginner. He drives seven hundred miles to Boston and back, and he makes no money on the trips because all the contacts he once had are retired or dead. No one knows him any more, and he has to borrow $50 a week from Charley to pretend it's his salary so that Linda won't know he's been demoted. He's spent his entire life working for the benefit of his children, and now they are both immoral failures.
Biff, out of a sense of obligation to his father, agrees to live at home and find a job in the city, but Linda insists that he can't stay if he's going to be hateful to Willy. She wants to know what turned him against his father; he used to admire him so much and do anything to make him proud. Biff says that Willy threw him out because Biff knew he was a fake, but Biff won't explain any further. He agrees to stay and pitch in half of his paycheck, but before he can go upstairs to bed, Linda has one more confession to make to the boys. She tells them that Willy's been trying to kill himself. She says that the insurance inspector has evidence that all the times that he's smashed up the car over the last year haven't been accidents. Linda reveals that there's some woman (this gets Biff's attention but he won't explain why) who saw Willy deliberately smash the car into the railing of a bridge. He wasn't driving fast, and he didn't skid before he crashed. The only thing that saved him was that the water was shallow. Biff tries to chalk it up to falling asleep behind the wheel, but Linda tells them that she found a short length of rubber piping in the basement with an attachment that fixes on to the rubber nipple on the gas valve of the water heater. She accidentally came across it and every day she takes it out of the basement, but puts it back before he comes home because she can't bear to insult him by confronting him about it. She blames his suicide attempts on the fact that he's put his whole life into the boys, and now they've turned their backs on him. They ignore him the way everyone else does now that his contacts are gone. Sobbing, she tells Biff that Willy's life is in his hands.
This accusation makes Biff feel bad for fighting with his dad, and he promises her that he'll behave better. Although he hates the business world, he'll go and be successful at it. Happy tells him that his problem in business was that he never tried to please people, that he did crazy things like whistling in the elevator. Biff and Hap begin arguing about whistling in the elevator and taking a day off in the summer to be outside. Hap insists that if you're going to play hooky, you've got to cover yourself so that your boss can't pin you for lying. Hap says that some people in the business world think Biff's crazy, and Biff says that he doesn't care. He says that the business world has laughed at Willy for years, too, because they don't belong in the city; they should be out in the country working with their hands and whistling when they want to.
Willy walks into the house in time to hear the end of the argument. He says that Biff never grew up, and that Bernard doesn't whistle in the elevator. The argument flares again as Willy disputes Biff's claim that people in the business world consider Willy Loman crazy. He insists that his name still carries great weight in New England stores. As he's heading up the stairs to bed, Hap tells him that Biff is going to see Bill Oliver the next day to convince him to stake Biff's business. Willy suggests selling sporting goods, and Biff, still tentative about the plan, tries to explain that he hasn't met with Oliver yet. Willy is sarcastic and Biff gets angry; he walks toward the stairs to go to bed and Willy keeps jabbing at him. Hap tries to end the argument by telling Biff his idea for going into the sporting goods business together as the Loman Brothers; they would sell their products by traveling and having sporting exhibitions where they could form teams and play against each other using the products they're selling. That way they'd be able to play ball, be the executives, work together, and make money. The American Dream -- doing what they love, being their own boss, and getting rich off of it. Willy thinks it's a great idea and he gives Biff instructions on how to approach Oliver about the money -- wear a suit, don't make jokes, don't talk too much, but tell his good stories and laugh because "personality always wins the day." Act 1, Part 8, pg. 48
As he's talking, Linda keeps chiming in and Willy keeps snapping at her about interrupting. Biff tells him not to yell at her, and he and Willy start arguing again just when everything seemed peaceful. In the middle of the yelling, Willy just stops arguing and walks away from them and into the living room, but he doesn't leave in a rage. He seems to be giving in for now, feeling guilty and beaten. Linda asks Biff why he picked another fight with Willy just when he was being nice and things were sounding hopeful. She asks the boys to tell him goodnight so that he doesn't go to bed angry, and they agree before she leaves the kitchen to go upstairs. On their way upstairs, planning for the next morning's meeting with Oliver, Biff begins to talk confidently to Hap, and things start looking up. Meanwhile, Willy is in the bathroom upstairs putting on his pajamas and telling Linda how bumming around was the best thing for Biff because it's given him caliber for success. Biff overhears him as he and Hap come into Willy and Linda's room to say goodnight. Willy keeps giving him more advice for the meeting, like how he shouldn't pick up anything that might fall off the desk because that's a job for an office boy, not Biff. Willy tells him to lie about his work out West -- say it was business, not farm work. Throughout all this advice, he interrupts Linda and snaps at her some more, and Biff nears his breaking point again. He leaves the room before he picks another fight, and Willy tells him that he'll do well tomorrow because he's destined for greatness. Hap sticks his head in his parents' room to tell his mom that he's going to get married. She just dismisses him like Willy does, and he leaves.
As they're drifting off to sleep, Willy reminds Linda of the championship football game when Biff waved to him from the field in front of everyone while the fans were chanting Biff's name. He knows Biff will be great because, "[a] star like that, magnificent, can never really fade away!" Act 1, Part 8, pg. 51 He ignores Linda when she asks what Biff has against him, but promises to talk to Howard, his boss, in the morning about working in New York. The light on Willy fades to darkness.
Biff goes back downstairs and onto the forestage to smoke a cigarette. Through the kitchen wall, the water heater's gas flame begins to glow while Willy talks to Linda upstairs. Biff walks in the kitchen and goes down into the basement to find the piping Linda told them about. He takes it upstairs with him and the curtain falls.