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 occasionswhile 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." Willy's 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 spiral.
Act 1, Scene 2
While Willy and Linda are talking downstairs, Biff and his brother Happy listen from the loft where they sleep. The two grown men discuss their past failures. Biff says that he can't find a job that both pays well and is satisfying, while Happy similarly admits that he doesn't like his job as a business clerk. Both brothers day-dream for a time about going out west and making a living together on a cattle ranch. "Men built like we are should be working out in the open," Biff asserts. Happy too, but Biff especially, feels guilty that he's not lived up to his father'sexpectations. "I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future. That's when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don't know what to do with myself. I've always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I've done is to waste my life," the older brother admits. Though Happy initially seems to agree with Biff's sentiments that money-grubbing isn't what life is all about, the younger brother later contradicts himself when hereveals his desire to emulate his rich boss. He asserts, "when he walks into the store the waves part in front of him." Happy goes on to brag about his sexual encounters with various women, including his bosses' fianc�s. Yet even this doesn't satisfy him. Later, the reader will learn that Happy takes after his father in this regard. The conversation ends with a reference to Bill Oliver, an employer of Biff in the past. Biff hopes that this businessman will lend him a few thousand dollars to buy his ranch out west. Soon they hear Willy from downstairs, talking to himself as usual. He's actually speaking to Biff-the Biff of ten or more years ago. This is one of the first signs that Willy is living in the past.
Act 1, Scene 3