The scene in Frank’s Chop House
Happy banters with the waiter, Stanley. Happy is flirting with a pretty girl named Miss Forsythe when Biff arrives to join him. After she responds to his pick-up line by claiming that she is, in fact, a cover girl, Happy tells her that he is a successful champagne salesman and that Biff is a famous football player. Judging from Happy’s repeated comments on her moral character and his description of her as “on call,” Miss Forsythe is probably a prostitute. Happy invites her to join them. She exits to make a phone call to cancel her previous plans and to invite a girlfriend to join them. Biff explains to Happy that he waited six hours to see Oliver, only to have Oliver not even remember him. Biff asks where he got the idea that he was a salesman for Oliver. He had actually been only a lowly shipping clerk, but somehow Willy’s exaggerations and lies had transformed him into a salesman in the Loman family’s collective memory. After Oliver and the secretary left, Biff recounts, he ran into Oliver’s office and stole his fountain pen.
Happy advises Biff to tell Willy that Oliver is thinking over his business proposition, claiming that eventually the whole situation will fade away from their father’s memory. When Willy arrives, he reveals that he has been fired and states that he wants some good news to tell Linda. Despite this pressure, Biff attempts to tell the truth. Disoriented, Willy shouts that Biff cannot blame everything on him because Biff is the one who failed math after all. Confused at his father’s crazed emphasis on his high school math failure, Biff steels himself to forge ahead with the truth, but the situation reaches crisis proportions when Willy absolutely refuses to listen to Biff’s story. In a frenzy as the perilous truth closes in on him, Willy enters a semi-daydream state, reliving Biff’s discovery of him and The Woman in their Boston hotel room. A desperate Biff backs down and begins to lie to assuage his frantic father. Miss Forsythe returns with her friend, Letta. Willy, insulted at Biff’s “spite,” furiously lashes out at his son’s attempts to explain himself and the impossibility of returning to Oliver. Willy wanders into the restroom, talking to himself, and an embarrassed Happy informs the women that he is not, in fact, their father. Biff angrily tells Happy to help Willy, accusing him of not caring about their father. He hurries out of the restaurant in a vortex of guilt and anguish. Happy frantically asks Stanley for the bill; when the waiter doesn’t respond immediately, Happy rushes after Biff, pushing Miss Forsythe and Letta along in front of him and leaving Willy babbling alone in the restroom.
Willy’s encounters with Howard, Bernard, and Charley constitute serious blows to the fantasy through which he views his life; his constructed reality is falling apart. Biff has also experienced a moment of truth, but he regards his epiphany as a liberating experience from a lifetime of stifling and distorting lies. He wishes to leave behind the facade of the Loman family tradition so that he and his father can begin to relate to one another honestly. Willy, on the other hand, wants his sons to aid him in rebuilding the elaborate fantasies that deny his reality as a defeated man. Willy drives Biff to produce a falsely positive report of his interview with Oliver, and Happy is all too willing to comply. When Biff fails to produce the expected glowing report, Happy, who has not had the same revelation as Biff, chimes in with false information about the interview.
Willy’s greatest fear is realized during his ill-fated dinner with Biff and Happy. In his moment of weakness and defeat, he asks for their help in rebuilding his shattered concept of his life; he is not very likable, and he is well aware of it. Biff and Happy’s neglect of him fits into a pattern of abandonment. Like Willy’s father, then Ben, then Howard, Biff and Happy erode Willy’s fantasy world. The scene in Frank’s Chop House is pivotal to Willy’s unraveling and to Biff’s disillusionment. Biff’s epiphany in Oliver’s office regarding Willy’s exaggeration of Biff’s position at Oliver’s store puts him on a quest to break through the thick cloud of lies surrounding his father at any cost. Just as Willy refuses to hear what he doesn’t want to accept, Biff refuses to subject himself further to his father’s delusions.
Willy’s pseudo-religious quest for success is founded on a complex, multilayered delusion, and Biff believes that for his father to die well (in the medieval, Christian sense of the word—much of the play smacks of the anachronistic absurdity of the medieval values of chivalry and blind faith), he must break through the heavy sediment of lies to the truth of his personal degradation. Both Willy and Biff are conscious of the disparity between Dave Singleman’s mythic “death of a salesman” and the pathetic nature of Willy’s impending death. Willy clings to the hope that the “death of a salesman” is necessarily noble by the very nature of the profession, whereas Biff understands that behind the veneer of the American Dream’s empty promises lies a devastatingly lonely death diametrically opposed to the one that Singleman represents and that the Dream itself posits. Happy and Linda wish to allow Willy to die covered by the diminishing comfort of his delusions, but Biff feels a moral responsibility to try to reveal the truth.
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