Boston hotel room daydream through Willy’s departure from Frank’s Chop House
Upon his sons’ departure from Frank’s Chop House, Willy is immersed in the memory of the teenage Biff’s visit to see him in Boston. In his daydream it is night and he is in a hotel room with his mistress, while in the present he is presumably still in the restroom of Frank’s Chop House. Biff is outside knocking on the hotel room door, after telephoning the room repeatedly with no result. The Woman, who is dressing, pesters Willy to answer the door. She flirtatiously describes how he has “ruined” her, and she offers to send him straight through to the buyers whom she represents the next time he visits Boston on business. Willy, who is clearly nervous about his surprise visitor, finally consents to her appeals to answer the door. He orders her to stay in the bathroom and be quiet, believing it may be a nosy hotel clerk investigating their affair.
Willy answers the door, and Biff reports that he failed math. He asks Willy to persuade the teacher, Mr. Birnbaum, to pass him. Willy tries to get Biff out of the room quickly with promises of a malted drink and a rapid trip home to talk to the math teacher. When Biff mockingly imitates his teacher’s lisp, The Woman laughs from the bathroom. She exits the bathroom, wearing only a negligee, and Willy pushes her out into the hallway. He tries to pass her off as a buyer staying in the room next door who needed to shower in Willy’s bathroom because her room was being painted. Biff sits on his suitcase, crying silently, not buying his father’s lies. Willy promises to talk to the math teacher, but Biff tells him to forget it because no one will listen to a phony liar. He resolves not to make up the math test and not to attend college, effectively negating his contracted role in Willy’s inflated version of the American Dream. He deals the most serious blow by accusing Willy of giving Linda’s stockings away to his mistress. Biff leaves, with Willy kneeling and yelling after him.
Stanley pulls Willy out of his daydream. Willy is on his knees in the restaurant ordering the teenage Biff to come back. Stanley explains his sons’ absence, and Willy attempts to tip him, but Stanley stealthily slips the dollar bill back into Willy’s coat as he turns. Willy asks him to direct him to a seed store, and he rushes out, frantically explaining that he must plant immediately, as he does not “have a thing in the ground.”
Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.See Important Quotations Explained
Willy settles on Biff’s discovery of his adultery as the reason for Biff’s failure to fulfill Willy’s ambitions for him. Before he discovers the affair, Biff believes in Willy’s meticulously constructed persona. Afterward, he calls Willy out as a “phony little fake.” He sees beneath Willy’s facade and rejects the man behind it; to be exposed in this way as a charlatan is the salesman’s worst nightmare. Assuming a characteristically simplistic cause-and-effect relationship, Willy decides that Biff’s failure to succeed is a direct result of the disillusionment that he experiences as a result of Willy’s infidelity. Despising Willy for his affair, Biff must also have come to despise Willy’s ambitions for him.
In this reckoning, Willy again conflates the personal with the professional. His understanding of the American Dream as constituting professional success and material gain precludes the idea that one can derive happiness without these things. Ironically, in Willy’s daydream this desired tangible proof of success is acquired by means of the immaterial and ephemeral concepts of “personal attractiveness” and being “well liked.” Willy believes that Biff, no longer able to respect him as a father or a person, automatically gave up all hopes for achieving the American Dream, since he could not separate Willy’s expectations of him from his damaged emotional state. In a sense, Willy is right this time—Biff’s knowledge of Willy’s adultery tarnishes the package deal of the total Dream, and Biff rejects the flawed product that Willy is so desperately trying to sell him.
Willy’s earlier preoccupation with the state of Linda’s stockings and her mending them foreshadows the exposure and fall that the Boston incident represents. Until the climactic scene in the restaurant, when Biff first attempts to dispel the myths and lies sinking the Loman household, the only subconscious trace of Willy’s adultery is his insistence that Linda throw her old stockings out. The stockings’ power as a symbol of his betrayal overcomes Willy when Biff’s assault on his increasingly delicate shield of lies forces him to confront his guilt about his affair with The Woman. When Biff, the incarnation of Willy’s ambition, rejects the delusion that Willy offers, Willy’s faith in the American Dream, which he vested in his son, begins to dissolve as well.
Willy’s delirious interest in a seed shop reveals his insecurity about his legacy. Poor and now unemployed, Willy has no means to pass anything on to his sons. Indeed, he has just given Stanley a dollar in a feeble attempt to prove to himself, by being able to give, that he does indeed possess something. The act of giving also requires someone to whom to give, and Stanley becomes, momentarily, a surrogate son to Willy, since Biff and Happy have abandoned him. Similarly, in desperately seeking to grow vegetables, Willy desires tangible proof of the value of his labor, and hence, life. Additionally, the successful growth of vegetables would redeem Willy’s failure to cultivate Biff properly. In declaring “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground,” Willy acknowledges that Biff has broken free from the roots of the long-standing Loman delusion. Finally, Willy’s use of gardening as a metaphor for success and failure indicates that he subconsciously acknowledges that, given his natural inclinations toward working with his hands and creating, going into sales was a poor career choice.