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Miller: Death of a Salesman

13. Act II – “What happened in Boston?”

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In this module, we continue reading through Act II, from the moment Willy meets up with Bernard to the moment he leaves the meeting with Charley (pp. 68-76), focusing in particular on: (i) the contrast between past (the Ebbets Field game) and present (Bernard in his office); (ii) the motif of whistling (“BERNARD, now mature, sits whistling to himself”, p. 68, cf. “So what? I like to whistle sometimes”, p. 44); (iii) Willy’s mental state (“I can’t deal with him any more”, p. 69); (iv) Willy’s increasing desperation, his inability to understand what went wrong with Biff (“What – what’s the secret?”, p. 71); (v) Bernard’s revelation – and Willy’s realisation (“What happened in Boston?”, p. 72); (vi) Willy’s relationship with Charley; and (vii) the extent to which the audience pities Willy at this point in the play.


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 – “What happened in Boston?” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Act II – “What happened in Boston?”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Jan 2021,

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