Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1915 -2005)
Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem
WILLY LOMAN THE WOMAN JENNY
LINDA CHARLEY STANLEY
BIFF UNCLE BEN MISS FORSYTHE
HAPPY HOWARD WAGNER LETTA
The action takes place in WILLY LOMAN’s house and yard and in various places he visits in the New York and Boston of today.
A melody is heard, playing upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises.
Before us is the Salesman’s house. We are aware of towering, angular shapes behind it, surrounding it on all sides. Only the blue light of the sky falls upon the house and forestage; the surrounding area shows an angry flow of orange. As more light appears, we see a solid vault of apartment houses around the small, fragile-seeming home. An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality. The kitchen at center seems actual enough, for there is a kitchen table with three chairs, and a refrigerator. But no other fixtures are seen. At the back of the kitchen there is a draped entrance, which leads to the living-room. To the right of the kitchen, on a level raised two feet, is a bedroom furnished only with a brass bedstead and a straight chair. On a shelf over the bed a silver athletic trophy stands. A window opens onto the apartment house at the side.
Behind the kitchen, on a level raised six and a half feet, is the boys’ bedroom, at present barely visible. Two beds are dimly seen, and at the back of the room a dormer window. (This bedroom is above the unseen living-room.) At the left a stairway curves up to it from the kitchen.
The entire setting is wholly or, in some places, partially transparent. The roofline of the house is one-dimensional; under and over it we see the apartment buildings. Before the house lies an apron, curving beyond the forestage into the orchestra. This forward area serves as the back yard as well as the locale of all WILLY’s imaginings and of his city scenes. Whenever the action is in the present the actors observe the imaginary wall-lines, entering the house only through its door at the left. But in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and characters enter or leave a room by stepping “through” a wall onto the forestage.
From the right, WILLY LOMAN, the Salesman, enters, carrying two large sample cases. The flute plays on. He hears but is not aware of it. He is past sixty years of age, dressed quietly. Even as he crosses the stage to the doorway of the house, his exhaustion is apparent. He unlocks the door, comes into the kitchen, and thankfully lets his burden down, feeling the soreness of his palms. A word-sigh escapes his lips—it might be “Oh, boy, oh, boy.” He closes the door, then carries his cases out into the living-room, through the draped kitchen doorway.
LINDA, his wife, has stirred in her bed at the right. She gets out and puts on a robe, listening. Most often jovial, she has developed an iron repression of her exceptions to WILLY’s behavior—she more than loves him, she admires him, as though his mercurial nature, his temper, his massive dreams and little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end.
LINDA [hearing WILLY outside the bedroom, calls with some trepidation] Willy!
WILLY It’s all right. I came back.
LINDA Why? What happened? [slight pause] Did something happen, Willy?
WILLY No, nothing happened.
LINDA You didn’t smash the car, did you?
WILLY [with casual irritation] I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me?
LINDA Don’t you feel well?
WILLY I’m tired to the death. [The flute has faded away. He sits on the bed beside her, a little numb.] I couldn’t make it. I just couldn’t make it, Linda.
LINDA [very carefully, delicately] Where were you all day? You look terrible.
WILLY I got as far as a little above Yonkers. I stopped for a cup of coffee. Maybe it was the coffee.
WILLY [after a pause] I suddenly couldn’t drive any more. The car kept going off onto the shoulder, y’know?
LINDA [helpfully] Oh. Maybe it was the steering again. I don’t think Angelo knows the Studebaker.
WILLY No, it’s me, it’s me. Suddenly I realize I’m goin’ sixty miles an hour and I don’t remember the last five minutes. I’m—I can’t seem to—keep my mind to it.
LINDA Maybe it’s your glasses. You never went for your new glasses.
WILLY No, I see everything. I came back ten miles an hour. It took me nearly four hours from Yonkers.
LINDA [resigned] Well, you’ll just have to take a rest, Willy, you can’t continue this way.
WILLY I just got back from Florida.
LINDA But you didn’t rest your mind. Your mind is overactive, and the mind is what counts, dear.
WILLY I’ll start out in the morning. Maybe I’ll feel better in the morning. [She is taking off his shoes.] These goddam arch supports are killing me.
LINDA Take an aspirin. Should I get you an aspirin? It’ll soothe you.
WILLY [with wonder] I was driving along, you understand? And I was fine. I was even observing the scenery. You can imagine, me looking at scenery, on the road every week of my life. But it’s so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm. I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. And then all of a sudden I’m goin’ off the road! I’m tellin’ ya, I absolutely forgot I was driving. If I’d’ve gone the other way over the white line I might’ve killed somebody. So I went on again—and five minutes later I’m dreamin’ again, and I nearly— [He presses two fingers against his eyes.] I have such thoughts, I have such strange thoughts.
LINDA Willy, dear. Talk to them again. There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York.
WILLY They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.
LINDA But you’re sixty years old. They can’t expect you to keep traveling every week.
WILLY I’ll have to send a wire to Portland. I’m supposed to see Brown and Morrison tomorrow morning at ten o’clock to show the line. Goddammit, I could sell them! [He starts putting on his jacket.]
LINDA [taking the jacket from him] Why don’t you go down to the place tomorrow and tell Howard you’ve simply got to work in New York? You’re too accommodating, dear.
WILLY If old man Wagner was alive I’d a been in charge of New York now! That man was a prince, he was a masterful man. But that boy of his, that Howard, he don’t appreciate. When I went north the first time, the Wagner Company didn’t know where New England was!
LINDA Why don’t you tell those things to Howard, dear?
WILLY [encouraged] I will, I definitely will. Is there any cheese?
WILLY No, go to sleep. I’ll take some milk. I’ll be up right away. The boys in?
LINDA They’re sleeping. Happy took Biff on a date tonight.
WILLY [interested] That so?
LINDA It was so nice to see them shaving together, one behind the other, in the bathroom. And going out together. You notice? The whole house smells of shaving lotion.
WILLY Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.
LINDA Well, dear, life is a casting off. It’s always that way.
WILLY No, no, some people—some people accomplish something. Did Biff say anything after I went this morning?
LINDA You shouldn’t have criticized him, Willy, especially after he just got off the train. You mustn’t lose your temper with him.
WILLY When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?
LINDA But, dear, how could he make any money?
WILLY [worried and angered] There’s such an undercurrent in him. He became a moody man. Did he apologize when I left this morning?
LINDA He was crestfallen, Willy. You know how he admires you. I think if he finds himself, then you’ll both be happier and not fight any more.
WILLY How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week?
LINDA He’s finding himself, Willy.
WILLY Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!
WILLY The trouble is he’s lazy, goddammit!
LINDA Willy, please!
WILLY Biff is a lazy bum!
LINDA They’re sleeping. Get something to eat. Go on down.
WILLY Why did he come home? I would like to know what brought him home.
LINDA I don’t know. I think he’s still lost, Willy. I think he’s very lost.
WILLY Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy.
WILLY [with pity and resolve] I’ll see him in the morning; I’ll have a nice talk with him. I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time. My God! Remember how they used to follow him around in high school?
WILLY The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks.
LINDA We should’ve bought the land next door.
WILLY The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow any more, you can’t raise a carrot in the back yard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them?
LINDA Yeah, like being a million miles from the city.
WILLY They should’ve arrested the builder for cutting those down. They massacred the neighborhood. [lost] More and more I think of those days, Linda. This time of year it was lilac and wisteria. And then the peonies would come out, and the daffodils. What fragrance in this room!
LINDA Well, after all, people had to move somewhere.
WILLY No, there’s more people now.
LINDA I don’t think there’s more people. I think—
WILLY There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! Population is getting out of control. The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And another one on the other side . . . How can they whip cheese?
[On WILLY’s last line, BIFF and HAPPY raise themselves up in their beds, listening.]
LINDA Go down, try it. And be quiet.
WILLY [turning to LINDA, guiltily] You’re not worried about me, are you, sweetheart?
BIFF What’s the matter?
LINDA You’ve got too much on the ball to worry about.
WILLY You’re my foundation and my support, Linda.
LINDA Just try to relax, dear. You make mountains out of molehills.
WILLY I won’t fight with him any more. If he wants to go back to Texas, let him go.
LINDA He’ll find his way.
WILLY Sure. Certain men just don’t get started till later in life. Like Thomas Edison, I think. Or B. F. Goodrich. One of them was deaf. [He starts for the bedroom doorway.] I’ll put my money on Biff.
LINDA And Willy—if it’s warm Sunday we’ll drive in the country. And we’ll open the windshield, and take lunch.
WILLY No, the windshields don’t open on the new cars.
LINDA But you opened it today.
WILLY Me? I didn’t. [He stops.] Now isn’t that peculiar! Isn’t that a remarkable—[He breaks off in amazement and fright as the flute is heard distantly.]
LINDA What, darling?
WILLY That is the most remarkable thing.
LINDA What, dear?
WILLY I was thinking of the Chevvy. [slight pause] Nineteen twenty-eight . . . when I had that red Chevvy—[breaks off] That funny? I coulda sworn I was driving that Chevvy today.
LINDA Well, that’s nothing. Something must’ve reminded you.
WILLY Remarkable. Ts. Remember those days? The way Biff used to simonize that car? The dealer refused to believe there was eighty thousand miles on it. [He shakes his head.] Heh! [to LINDA] Close your eyes, I’ll be right up. [He walks out of the bedroom.]
HAPPY [to BIFF] Jesus, maybe he smashed up the car again!
LINDA [calling after WILLY] Be careful on the stairs, dear! The cheese is on the middle shelf! [She turns, goes over to the bed, takes his jacket, and goes out of the bedroom.]
[Light has risen on the boys’ room. Unseen, WILLY is heard talking to himself, “Eighty thousand miles,” and a little laugh. BIFF gets out of bed, comes downstage a bit, and stands attentively. BIFF is two years older than his brother HAPPY, well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured. He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable than HAPPY’s. HAPPY is tall, powerfully made. Sexuality is like a visible color on him, or a scent that many women have discovered. He, like his brother, is lost, but in a different way, for he has never allowed himself to turn his face toward defeat and is thus more confused and hard-skinned, although seemingly more content.]
HAPPY [getting out of bed] He’s going to get his license taken away if he keeps that up. I’m getting nervous about him, y’know, Biff?
BIFF His eyes are going.
HAPPY No, I’ve driven with him. He sees all right. He just doesn’t keep his mind on it. I drove into the city with him last week. He stops at a green light and then it turns red and he goes. [He laughs.]
BIFF Maybe he’s color-blind.
HAPPY Pop? Why he’s got the finest eye for color in the business. You know that.
BIFF [sitting down on his bed] I’m going to sleep.
HAPPY You’re not still sour on Dad, are you Biff?
BIFF He’s all right, I guess.
WILLY [underneath them, in the living-room] Yes, sir, eighty thousand miles—eighty-two thousand!
BIFF You smoking?
HAPPY [holding out a pack of cigarettes] Want one?
BIFF [taking a cigarette] I can never sleep when I smell it.
WILLY What a simonizing job, heh!
HAPPY [with deep sentiment] Funny, Biff, y’know? Us sleeping in here again? The old beds. [He pats his bed affectionately.] All the talk that went across those two beds, huh? Our whole lives.
BIFF Yeah. Lotta dreams and plans.
HAPPY [with a deep and masculine laugh] About five hundred women would like to know what was said in this room.
[They share a soft laugh.]
BIFF Remember that big Betsy something—what the hell was her name—over on Bushwick Avenue?
HAPPY [combing his hair] With the collie dog!
BIFF That’s the one. I got you in there, remember?
HAPPY Yeah, that was my first time—I think. Boy, there was a pig! [They laugh, almost crudely.] You taught me everything I know about women. Don’t forget that.
BIFF I bet you forgot how bashful you used to be. Especially with girls.
HAPPY Oh, I still am, Biff.
BIFF Oh, go on.
HAPPY I just control it, that’s all. I think I got less bashful and you got more so. What happened, Biff? Where’s the old humor, the old confidence? [He shakes BIFF’s knee. BIFF gets up and moves restlessly about the room.] What’s the matter?
BIFF Why does Dad mock me all the time?
HAPPY He’s not mocking you, he—
BIFF Everything I say there’s a twist of mockery on his face. I can’t get near him.
HAPPY He just wants you to make good, that’s all. I wanted to talk to you about Dad for a long time, Biff. Something’s—happening to him. He—talks to himself.
BIFF I noticed that this morning. But he always mumbled.
HAPPY But not so noticeable. It got so embarrassing I sent him to Florida. And you know something? Most of the time he’s talking to you.
BIFF What’s he say about me?
HAPPY I can’t make it out.
BIFF What’s he say about me?
HAPPY I think the fact that you’re not settled, that you’re still kind of up in the air . . .
BIFF There’s one or two other things depressing him, Happy.
HAPPY What do you mean?
BIFF Never mind. Just don’t lay it all to me.
HAPPY But I think if you just got started—I mean—is there any future for you out there?
BIFF I tell ya, Hap, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know—what I’m supposed to want.
HAPPY What do you mean?
BIFF Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future.
HAPPY Well, you really enjoy it on a farm? Are you content out there?
BIFF [with rising agitation] Hap, I’ve had twenty or thirty different kinds of jobs since I left home before the war, and it always turns out the same. I just realized it lately. In Nebraska when I herded cattle, and the Dakotas, and Arizona, and now in Texas. It’s why I came home now, I guess, because I realized it. This farm I work on, it’s spring there now, see? And they’ve got about fifteen new colts. There’s nothing more inspiring or—
beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it’s cool there now, see? Texas is cool now, and it’s spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not gettin’ anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I’m thirty-four years old. I oughta be makin’ my future. That’s
when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don’t know what to do with myself. [after a pause] I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life.
HAPPY You’re a poet, you know that, Biff? You’re a—you’re an idealist!
BIFF No, I’m mixed up very bad. Maybe I oughta get married. Maybe I oughta get stuck into something. Maybe that’s my trouble. I’m like a boy. I’m not married. I’m not in business, I just—I’m like a boy. Are you content, Hap? You’re a success, aren’t you? Are you content?
HAPPY Hell, no!
BIFF Why? You’re making money, aren’t you?
HAPPY [moving about with energy, expressiveness] All I can do now is wait for the merchandise manager to die. And suppose I get to be merchandise manager? He’s a good friend of mine, and he just built a terrific estate on Long Island. And he lived there about two months and sold it, and now he’s building another one. He can’t enjoy it once it’s finished. And I know that’s just what I would do. I don’t know what the hell I’m workin’ for. Sometimes I sit in my apartment—all alone. And I think of the rent I’m paying. And it’s crazy. But then, it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely.
BIFF [with enthusiasm] Listen why don’t you come out West with me?
HAPPY You and I, heh?
BIFF Sure, maybe we could buy a ranch. Raise cattle, use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open.
HAPPY [avidly] The Loman Brothers, heh?
BIFF [with vast affection] Sure, we’d be known all over the counties!
HAPPY [enthralled] That’s what I dream about, Biff. Sometimes I want to just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddam merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outrun, and outlift anybody in that store, and I have to take orders from those common, petty sons-of-bitches till I can’t stand it any more.
BIFF I’m tellin’ you, kid, if you were with me I’d be happy out there.
HAPPY [enthused] See, Biff, everybody around me is so false that I’m constantly lowering my ideals . . .
BIFF Baby, together we’d stand up for one another, we’d have someone to trust.
HAPPY If I were around you—
BIFF Hap, the trouble is we weren’t brought up to grub for money. I don’t know how to do it.
HAPPY Neither can I!
BIFF Then let’s go!
HAPPY The only thing is—what can you make out there?
BIFF But look at your friend. Builds an estate and then hasn’t the peace of mind to live in it.
HAPPY Yeah, but when he walks into the store the waves part in front of him. That’s fifty-two thousand dollars a year coming through the revolving door, and I got more in my pinky finger than he’s got in his head.
BIFF Yeah, but you just said—
HAPPY I gotta show some of those pompous, self-important executives over there that Hap Loman can make the grade. I want to walk into the store
the way he walks in. Then I’ll go with you, Biff. We’ll be together yet, I swear. But take those two we had tonight. Now weren’t they gorgeous creatures?
BIFF Yeah, yeah, most gorgeous I’ve had in years.
HAPPY I get that any time I want, Biff. Whenever I feel disgusted. The only trouble is, it gets like bowling or something. I just keep knockin’ them over and it doesn’t mean anything. You still run around a lot?
BIFF Naa. I’d like to find a girl—steady, somebody with substance.
HAPPY That’s what I long for.
BIFF Go on! You’d never come home.
HAPPY I would! Somebody with character, with resistance! Like Mom, y’know? You’re gonna call me a bastard when I tell you this. That girl Charlotte I was with tonight is engaged to be married in five weeks. [He tries on his new hat.]
BIFF No kiddin’!
HAPPY Sure, the guy’s in line for the vice-presidency of the store. I don’t know what gets into me, maybe I just have an overdeveloped sense of competition or something, but I went and ruined her, and furthermore I can’t get rid of her. And he’s the third executive I’ve done that to. Isn’t that a crummy characteristic? And to top it all, I go to their weddings! [indignantly, but laughing] Like I’m not supposed to take bribes. Manufacturers offer me a hundred-dollar bill now and then to throw an order their way. You know how honest I am, but it’s like this girl, see. I hate myself for it. Because I don’t want the girl, and, still, I take it and—I love it!
BIFF Let’s go to sleep.
HAPPY I guess we didn’t settle anything, heh?
BIFF I just got one idea that I think I’m going to try.
HAPPY What’s that?
BIFF Remember Bill Oliver?
HAPPY Sure, Oliver is very big now. You want to work for him again?
BIFF No, but when I quit he said something to me. He put his arm on my shoulder, and he said, “Biff, if you ever need anything, come to me.”
HAPPY I remember that. That sounds good.
BIFF I think I’ll go to see him. If I could get ten thousand or even seven or eight thousand dollars I could buy a beautiful ranch.
HAPPY I bet he’d back you. ’Cause he thought highly of you, Biff. I mean, they all do. You’re well liked, Biff. That’s why I say to come back here, and we both have the apartment. And I’m tellin’ you, Biff, any babe you want . . .
BIFF No, with a ranch I could do the work I like and still be something. I just wonder though. I wonder if Oliver still thinks I stole that carton of basketballs.
HAPPY Oh, he probably forgot that long ago. It’s almost ten years. You’re too sensitive. Anyway, he didn’t really fire you.