Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman: Character Analysis

“Death of a Salesman” is one of the most significant works by Arthur Miller. In this play, Miller concentrates on the life of the middle class people-presented through the Loman family. The play is basically drawn by the conflicts between its protagonists. Biff and Happy are the two siblings in the play, and despite the fact that they are diametrically opposite to each other, they are the two major protagonists of the play.

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The play shows Biff in his early mid-thirties and is an embodiment of a clear-minded person who comes to terms with the somber facts of life at the end of the play. He was a star football player in high school and had scholarships from two universities. In his senior years, he flunked in mathematics and so could not complete his graduation. He is markedly different from his brother, Happy, who continually urges to prove his parents are right and hence never been able to break through his father’s fantasy world.

The entire play revolves around Biff’s conflict with his father, Willy. This, in fact, has been the driving force of the plot of the play. Willy’s thoughts and actions and his memories, in particular, are driven by Biff. Taken in that sense, Biff can be considered as a catalyst of the play. Whenever Willy is unable to bear the present, he recoils in the past, and Biff usually remains present there.

Willy wants his son to become successful in business. Biff always has this internal struggle between pleasing his father and doing what he feels is right. He wants to be outside on a cattle ranch while his father wants him to see behind the corporate desks.

Through his illusions, Willy can not see that what he is planning for Biff is impossible, and Biff can not be successful that way. This is the conflict that lies at the soul of the play.

Prior to his Boston trip, Biff adorned his father. He believed all of Willy’s stories and accepted his philosophy of life that a person can be successful only if he is “well-liked” (Miller 32). Biff never questioned Willy even when he is completely aware that Willy is going against the norm. As a consequence of this, Biff grew up believing that he is not bounded by any social norms as Willy is not, neither does Willy expect Biff to be.

Hence it is not surprising that Biff’s weakness for stealing continued throughout his adult life simply because Willy encouraged his little theft when he was growing up. For example, when Biff steals the football, instead of disciplining his son, Willy encourages his initiative.

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Biff’s perception of Willy as his ideal father destroys after his Boston trip. Once he comes to know about his affair, he considered his father as “fake” (Miller 39) and rejected his philosophy of life. He, now, neither believes in his philosophy nor goes with Willy’s great fantasies for success. Rather, he hates anything of his father and anything that he represents.

His tragedy lies in the very fact that even though he does his best to dissociate from Willy, but he can not deny the fact that Willy is his father. Likewise, he can not change the fact that his father loved him.

Unlike his brother, Happy, Biff is not a womanizer; just he has inherited his father’s tendency to exaggerate and manipulate things in his favor. For example, Biff strongly believes that he is not a shipping clerk, rather a salesman for Oliver. It is only when he meets Oliver that he realized the fact.

But Biff differs from Willy in so far as he finally accepts the fact that he has been living in a world of lies for all these days. Biff is relieved as soon as he realized who he is and what he wants. Here, he differs sharply from his father, who thinks he should be and what Biff would pretend to be in order to please him.

Once Biff states that “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house.” (Miller 104) This statement separates Biff from Willy because he renounces candidly to live by Willy’s philosophy any longer. Ironically enough, Biff reconciles with his father almost immediately after this statement, and he acknowledges that he, too, is a fake” as he could no longer hold a grudge against Willy.

“The play is considered as the masterpiece of the playwright and also a cornerstone in contemporary American drama. Much credit for its success goes to the playwright who successfully brings on stage the hopes and fears of the American middle class. Through Willy Loman, Miller examines the myth of the American dream and the shallow promises of happiness through material wealth.

All the major characters of the play, Willy, Linda, Biff, and Happy, are all unable to separate reality from illusion to varying degrees. The culmination of this vexation of vision is found in Willy. Biff comes out of this illusion. He has also gone to jail in lieu of his punishment for stealing. It is his days in jail that teach him the difference between illusion and reality. The problem triggers off as soon as he returns home with his realization.

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After Biff’s epiphany at Oliver’s office, he determines to break through the false environment of the Loman family. The free west symbolically represents the longing of Biff for revealing the simple and humble truth that lies behind his father’s fantasy. Skewed by his father’s blind faith, Biff longs for free territory. The free west is also a symbol of that. This blind faith of Willy and the longing of his son to come out of illusion can metaphorically be considered as a materialistic version of the American Dream.

Bibliography

  1. “Death of A Salesman – Biff”. Anti Essays. 2008.
  2. “Death of A Salesman-Biff”. Spark Notes. 2008.
  3. “Death of A Salesman-Biff”. Book Rags. 2008.
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