Miller begins his play with a bedtime
dialogue between Willy and his wife, Linda. Willy, an aging salesman, has just returned late from
a business trip. Linda is very concerned, asking her husband if he had a car accident. Willy
tiredly explains that indeed he did have a close call with his car, veering off the road on two occasions
while enjoying the scenery. Though at first Linda thinks that it's a problem with the vehicle,
eventually she attributes Willy's driving problems to his exhausted mind. When Willy explains
that he's just been on vacation, she asserts, "But you didn't rest your mind. Your mind is overactive,
and the mind is what counts, dear."
Miller uses this scene to show Willy's confusion. The aging salesman is unable to assess his situation
or come to any rational conclusion as to what to do to remedy his failures. He blames his financial
problems in part on Howard, the new owner of Willy's company and son of the former owner. According
to Willy, Howard doesn't appreciate his ability the way his father did. Despite these setbacks,
however, he still believes in his ability and value as a salesman. When explaining why they can't
leave the crowded city to live in New York, Willy tells his wife, "I'm the New England man. I'm
vital in New England."
second major problem addressed in this scene is his troubled relationship with his son, Biff.
It seems Biff, who is grown up but now at home again for an extended visit after spending several years
out west, hasn't found financial success or even a decent paying job. Willy (who wishes for the
success of his sons in part because he hasn't found success himself) blames Biff's laziness for these
problems. Yet only a few lines later, Willy contradicts himself, maintaining that Biff is a very
hard worker. "There's one thing about Biff-he's not lazy," the old man says.
Throughout the scene, Linda appears very apologetic for
Biff, hoping to smooth things over with Willy and get him to sleep. Linda is seen as a very conciliatory
person, not wanting to upset anyone. Later, this attitude will enable Willy to continue his downward