Nobody believes more in the American Dream than Willy, yet the dream has somehow passed him by. Now he is sixty years old, a beaten and discouraged traveling salesman, with nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work but a small house on a crowded street where grass doesn't grow anymore and apartment houses block his view.
Rustling about upstairs are Willy's grown sons, Happy and Biff, home for a visit. Their presence in the house causes Willy to daydream on happier times; times when their growing strength and athletic feats - especially Biff's - were a source of pride and joy to him; times when it seemed certain that his kids would go out and conquer the world. In this heightened and reflective state ' Willy speaks aloud to his boys as if the two youngsters he fondly remembers from the past had materialized in the room.
WILLY: That's just what I mean.
Bernard [the son of Willy's friend] can get the best marks in school, you understand, but when he gets out in the business world, you understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. I tell you this because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.
Willy's feels it hasn't worked for him, or for his favorite son, Biff. Ever since graduation from high school when he ignored a very good scholarship offer to play football for the University of Virginia, Biff had acted like a restless homeless person, moving from one place and one job to another, unable to get a hold on life. He had also had a run-in with the police stealing, they said.
Willy paces the kitchen...