Death of a Salesman is “a love story between a man and his son, and in a crazy way between both of them and America”. -Arthur Miller Linda is faced with a mother’s dilemma: Does she love her husband more than she loves her sons? This is where the tension, which is apparent throughout the sequence, generates itself. However, she does not offer her love to the boys in competition with Willy’s. Linda finds many of Willy’s qualities to be admirable, whereas this is not true for the boys. She keeps a watchful eye on the family’s expenses, therefore takes up the role of businesswoman of the house.
She is, unlike Willy, quite in touch with reality: “One day you’ll knock on this door and there’ll be strange people here–” (p. 37). This sequence is the first opportunity that Linda has to speak frankly to the boys about their father. She is worried, anxious, stereotypical and loyal, and seizes this particular moment to plead Willy’s case as a father. She copes, but has no one to speak to about her troubles- this is the missing part of the relationship with Biff, Willy and Happy. Linda does not cry or use emotional blackmail to plead her case because it is not part of her character: “A threat, but only a threat, of tears” (p. 8). Not to act in this way would be to accept that all her life has been a lie and that Willy is a liar and would never reciprocate the goodness that she has shown to him.
We, the audience, at this time do not know for sure that what Biff is saying is true: At this point in the play, there has been a short scene inside Willy’s head where ‘the woman’ is mentioned (pp. 24-5), but from this we cannot be sure that Willy is a liar and a fake. This is another area where some of the tension generates itself. As readers in retrospect, however, we know that Willy is a liar and a ‘fake’ (p. 0) as Biff refers to him. He is “spewing out that vomit from his mind” (p. 38) as Biff rightly puts it.
We piece together the information to come to the conclusion that every accusation aimed at Willy which Linda is standing up for is actually true, and thus we begin to feel more sympathy for Linda as she does not realise the extent to which her entire life has been a lie. This illustrates Linda’s intellectual and emotional limitations- if she knew the truth, her whole world, her whole life, and everything that she stood and lived for, would collapse. Indeed, this is what Miller believes too.
Biff has protected Linda from some truths about Willy, but it is obvious that this is a family where harsh truths are not spoken about: “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house! ” (p. 100). Linda does not hate the boys, but they give her a reason to by not caring about Willy. Even when Linda tries to tell them off, she still slips in “My baby! ” (p. 40) or “My dear! ” (p. 39), and in so doing, illustrating her affection towards them. She wants the boys to pay their father proper respect and to settle down, but she doesn’t expect anything of Willy.
This raises the question of whether she is asking for too much from her boys and/or too little from Willy. Immediately after Linda criticises Willy, he interrupts the conversation. The timing of this interruption is important: It is probably the worst time that Willy could interject because it contradicts what Linda has just said. Linda has just been saying to Biff and Happy how they must pay Willy respect and that he is not the easiest person to get along with, when Willy interjects: “(with a laugh) Hey, hey, Biffo! ” (p. 38).
The comment is important in two ways: Firstly, it represents the voices from the past inside Willy’s head, but it also gets Biff angry and frustrated with his father. Thus this interjection from Willy generates even more tension in the air, because Biff gets frustrated and can’t help himself from starting to go out after Willy, which is exactly what Linda doesn’t want him to do. Linda refers to Happy as a “philandering bum” (p. 40), which, although put bluntly in this example, we come to learn is true. Happy is a liar and shallow and transparent.
Ironically, he inherits many of these characteristics from his father, for example, his ability to charm girls, as we see in act two (pp. 75-77). He has reinvented his past and performs the roles in which he imagines himself to be cast. He is morally flawed, self-centred and, emotionally, he is out of his depth by the time we reach p. 40. He doesn’t understand the tensions between Biff and Linda and this is shown by his silences as the scene goes on. The mood of the sequence shifts frequently. Beneath the surface there is a lot of emotional tension due to realities not faced and truths unspoken.
The most complex mood is Linda’s: She has to step out from the stereotypical role as the mother. Throughout the sequence, it is Linda who determines the mood. There are three major changes of mood in total: The first mood is that when Linda offers Biff an ultimatum: ‘Pay Willy respect or get out’. Biff cannot agree or reform to this ultimatum at first. Linda is quiet and reasonable and speaks with deep meaningful words, defending Willy whilst at the same time admitting his failings: “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. ” (pp. 38-9). The second mood is established when Linda starts to talk about Willy’s decrease in salary, leading to indignation by Happy. Linda turns to Happy and releases her feelings to him which have been inside her for a long time. She is deeply sympathetic to Willy and bitterly disappointed in the way her sons have treated him. However, the third mood is quite different to the previous two.
The last line: “He’s dying, Biff” (p. 0) is a shock to the characters and the audience, and establishes a very dramatic change of mood for Biff and Happy, as it is much more serious when dealing with someone’s life. The comment really makes Biff and Happy sit up and take notice, as it is no longer simply about a mother rebuking her kids for being insensitive and selfish, it now puts Willy’s life in their hands. This comment manages to unite all three characters with a collective concern for Willy. The last words in the play are given to Linda, one of the reasons being because of her realistic and colloquial language.
There are no excessive over-the-top emotions and she never resorts to “Oh what a terrible life I’ve had”, even though this may be what she thinks. In this way, Linda is similar to Charlie, because she just gets on with life, despite its plights and chores. It is important to note that Linda has believed everything that Willy has ever told her, so she was disappointed when there were no buyers at his funeral. She has always had immense respect for Willy, so by the end of the play, she sees him as some kind of defeated hero, ‘defeated’ by the cruelty of the world.