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15. Act II – “She’s nothing to me, Biff”
About this Lecture
In this module, we continue reading through Act II, from the moment the page’s voice is heard (“Paging Mr. Loman!”) to the moment Willy leaves the restaurant (pp. 88-96), focusing in particular on: (i) the conflict between Willy and Biff (“I’m no good, can’t you see what I am?”, p. 89); (ii) the arrival of the girls, and the parallel with the sound of Willy’s mistress laughing off-stage; (iii) the tragic resonances of Biff’s reference to Willy as “a fine, troubled prince” (p. 90); (iv) the climactic scene of Biff arriving in Boston and discovering Willy’s infidelity, the convergence of Biff’s disappointment and failure at flunking maths, and Willy’s disappointment and failure as a father and a husband; (v) the importance of silk stockings as an emblem of Willy’s betrayal (“You – you gave her Mama’s stockings!”, p. 95); and (vi) Willy’s recourse to nature, his desire to leave something behind that is good and pure (“Tell me – is there a seed store in the neighborhood?”, p. 96).
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.
Cite this Lecture
McRae, J. (2021, January 22). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Act II – “She’s nothing to me, Biff” [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-she-s-nothing-to-me-biff
McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act II – “She’s nothing to me, Biff”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021, https://www.massolit.io/courses/miller-death-of-a-salesman-mcrae/act-ii-she-s-nothing-to-me-biff