Discussion Questions for Act I of Death of a Salesman

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Discussion Questions for Act I of Death of a Salesman

  1. Who do you feel is the most/least sympathetic character?

  1. With whom can you most identify?

  1. For which character do you feel the sorriest?

  1. How do Biff and Happy seem to view women? (9-10, 13)

  1. What does Biff realize every time he comes home? (11)

  1. In what ways are Happy and Biff like George and Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men? (11-12)

  1. What is the only way that Happy can get a promotion at work? (12)

  1. What problem does Happy’s friend the merchandise manager have? (12)

  1. How do Biff and Happy look at jobs, and work? (10-14, 44)

  1. What drives Happy to want to succeed at his job? (13)

  1. What kind of a woman does Happy seem to think would help him settle down and reform? (13)

  1. What does Happy do even after he’s ruined women who are engaged? (13-14)

  1. How does he feel about himself when he sleeps with women who are engaged and then goes to their weddings? (14)

  1. In what other ways does Happy show corruption? (14)

  1. How do Biff and Happy react to their father’s beginning to talk to himself more and more loudly and noticeably? About what are they concerned? (10, 15)

  1. How did the other kids at high school apparently feel towards Biff the football star? (16, 19)

  1. In what ways does Willy contribute to Happy’s obsession with losing weight? (17)

  1. Do you think the story Willy tells to his sons (in the flashback to 1928) about his meeting the Mayor for coffee is true? (18)

  1. What has Bernard been trying to do for Biff? (20)

  1. What has Biff done (a bit prematurely) that shows his total confidence he will get into the University of Virginia? (20)

  1. Why does Willy believe Biff will definitely go to college? (20)

  1. How might Biff still blow his chance of getting into college? (20)

  1. How does Willy view/treat Bernard? (20)

  1. Why might Willy exaggerate how much he has sold when he’s talking to Linda? (22)

  1. What do Linda and Willy talk about right after she figures how much money he’s actually brought into their household? (22-23)

  1. What does Willy say to Linda about himself that reveals how he truly views himself? (23-24)

  1. What had Willy heard a buyer saying about him and how did he react? (24)

  1. What does Willy tell Bernard to do for Biff about his math class? (26)

  1. What is the reason why Bernard can’t do this for Biff when Biff needs the help the most? (26)

  1. What does Willy reveal to his sons (that he didn’t tell Linda) about what happened to him on the road in Yonkers? (27)

  1. What are some specific instances where Willy contradicts himself? (5-6, 3 and 7, 8, 18 and 27, 16 and 20-21, 21 and 23, 23-24, 35-36, 46 and 49, 47-48, 48 and 51, 5 and 50, etc.)

  1. In what places does Willy lie to Linda, or to his sons, and what about? (22, 25-26, 41, 42, etc.)

  1. What pieces of advice does Willy give to his sons? (16-17, 20-21, 28)

  1. What lesson is Willy teaching his sons about education?

  1. What effects do these pieces of advice seem to have had on Biff and Happy?

  1. Is it true as Willy says on page 27 that Willy never told Biff anything but decent things?

  1. In what ways do the characters deal with or cope with their failures?

  1. How would Willy like to see himself and how does he really see himself when he is able to look at himself realistically and clearly? (23-24, 36)

  1. Why do you think Willy cheats on Linda? (25)

  1. Why does he tell Linda to throw out her stockings? (25-26)

  1. What does Linda say about how the other mothers feel towards Biff, and why? (26)

  1. What opportunity from his past does Willy regret having passed up? (27, 31)

  1. In your opinion, why won’t Willy take a job working for Charley? (29)

  1. How does Willy remember his own father? (32-34, 36)

  1. What did Willy’s father make and sell? (33-34)

  1. How did Ben get to be so wealthy? (33)

  1. Why does Willy look up to Ben as his ideal? (33-35)

  1. What ‘lesson’ does Uncle Ben impart to the boys about what it takes to succeed? (34)

  1. How does Linda react to seeing Ben teaching this lesson to the boys? (34)

  1. In what other ways—besides his academics—is Biff screwing up in the flashback scenes? (35-36)

  1. What question does Willy ask of his brother, Ben, regarding Biff and Happy? (36)

  1. According to Linda, how does Willy’s behavior change from the time he finds out Biff is planning to come home versus when Biff actually is home? (38)

  1. What does Biff say to his mom about her hair? (39)

  1. What does Linda say to Biff about what is going to happen one day soon when he knocks on their door, and what does this imply she believes about what’s going to happen to her and Willy in the near future? (39)

  1. What ultimatum does Linda give to Biff regarding how he treats Willy? (39)

  1. Why does Linda never confront Willy with the truth she knows—that he’s been borrowing money from Charley, pretending it’s his salary? (41)

  1. What is some evidence that Willy is suicidal? (42-43)

  1. How do Biff and Happy react to finding out the truth about Willy, that his company has taken away his salary and put him on commission, that he’s been suicidal? (41-43)

  1. Why does Willy think that being a carpenter is no way for his either of his sons to make a living: why is it beneath them? (44)

  1. Why is this attitude of his ironic? (16, 30, 35)

  1. What is Happy’s idea for a business he and Biff could start together? (46-47)

  1. What does Willy say to Biff right after he advises Biff not to undersell himself and to ask Bill Oliver for at least fifteen thousand dollars to use to start his sporting goods business with Happy? (50)

  1. What does Happy tell his mom he is going to do? (50)

  1. What does Linda ask Willy to ask his boss Howard? (51)

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