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Miller: Death of a Salesman

14. Act II – “Biff flunked math!”

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In this module, we continue reading through Act II, from the beginning of the scene in which Willy, Biff and Happy meet up at Frank’s Chop House to the moment where we first hear the voice of the operator (pp. 76-87), focusing in particular on: (i) the unimportance of the female characters in this scene; (ii) the figure of Stanley, the waiter; (iii) the theme of confessions, recognitions and realisations; (iv) the contrast between the hope and optimism felt of the beginning of the act and the disappointment of the present scene; (v) the extent to which the family’s movement towards tragedy is now inevitable; (vi) the multiple time-layers in this scene – Willy’s revelation that he has been fired (the present), Bernard’s revelation that Biff has “flunked math” (the past); (vii) Biff’s kleptomania, and his back-story more generally; and (vii) the extent to which this is Biff, Happy and Linda’s tragedy as well as Willy’s.


In this nineteen-part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, literary and cultural context, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: Page numbers are based on the Penguin edition of the play (1998, ed. Christopher Bigsby). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both text and page numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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APA style

McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act II – “Biff flunked math!” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act II – “Biff flunked math!”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,

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