When did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?
Willy Loman is responding to his wife Linda, who has admonished him for losing his temper and criticizing their son Biff. Willy’s defensive response reveals that money is a very touchy subject. Throughout the play, money is the persistent reality check on the characters’ self-deceptions and fantasies, and the need for money is the direct cause of many of the characters’ actions. When Willy asked Biff about money, his unspoken question was whether he could hope for any monetary help from his son.
[LINDA:] buttoning up his jacket as he unbuttons it: All told, about two hundred dollars would carry us, dear. But that includes the last payment on the mortgage. After this payment, Willy, the house belongs to us. WILLY: It’s twenty-five years!
Linda Loman is talking to her husband Willy as she helps him get dressed for his interview with his boss. Linda’s comments show that she is in charge of the family’s finances. As always, Linda tries to cheer Willy along, this time by reminding him that they will soon own their home free and clear. The dialogue reminds the audience of the hard work and determination that Willy has put into fulfilling his dream, a goal he has accomplished only by meeting incessant demands for money.
A man can’t go out the way he came in, Ben, a man has got to add up to something. You can’t, you can’t—Ben moves toward him as though to interrupt. You gotta consider now. Don’t answer so quick. Remember, it’s a guaranteed twenty-thousand-dollar proposition. Now look, Ben, I want you to go through the ins and outs of this thing with me. I’ve got nobody to talk to, Ben, and the woman has suffered, you hear me?
Willy Loman is becoming increasingly distraught and suicidal as the play nears its end. In this scene, Willy holds an imaginary conversation with Ben, his long-departed older brother. Willy is contemplating committing suicide so that his wife can get the insurance money. To Willy, money is the most important measure of his own value. The temptation of the large death benefit leads him to deceive himself that Linda will be better off when he is dead. Money drives the final decision of Willy’s life.