Camilla Tanzi Year 12 An analysis of the character of Biff. Biff Loman is portrayed as the root of Willy’s mental illness and instability. He is also the only member of his family who acknowledges his own failures in life. On the whole, Biff Loman stands out as the most intriguing and strong character in “Death of a Salesman. He is not a successful man and never will be, he is however able to admit this, even in a harsh society as the one of the 1960s America. Biff knows he is a “nothing” and tries to make his father see that he is “no good.
I am a dime a dozen, Pop, and so are you. ” He begs for Willy to communicate with him and accept him for who he is. Although Willy is forced by Biff to see some of his own failures, he never accepts that Biff will turn out the same way. At the end of the play, Biff seems to have developed a strength of his own; he has faced and accepted the truth about himself and his father. Now that he acknowledges his problems, there is a hope that he will be able to reach his potential. If “Death of a Salesman” offers any hope, it is only through the character of Biff.
Also read: Expressionism in Death of a Salesman
However, as the play develops and especially when it shifts from Willy’s dreams to the reality, we see a change in his attitude towards his son. When Biff was the star rugby player, the only thing that mattered to Willy was his success in the sport. As a matter of fact, when Bernard informs Willy and Biff about the possibility of him being “flunked in math”, Willy’s reply is stiff and arrogant: “Don’t be a pest, Bernard! (To his boys) What an anaemic! ” The use of the word “anaemic” is a perfect example to show what the man’s morals are; he considers Bernard a teenager who lacks vitality, boring.
The author could possibly be implying that Willy is actually envious of Bernard and even though he doesn’t want to admit it, his is just jealousy when he shows aversion towards him. Willy has different ambitions for his sons’ futures than most people had for theirs at the time; he believes that sport will be enough to help Biff succeed in the business world, make him rich and notorious; “That’s just what I mean, Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you’re going to be five times ahead of him. Arthur Miller provides us with a lot of evidence that Willy has been a bad influence on Biff. While Biff is in some ways desperate to impress his father, he is also conscious about the fact that Willy has failed his attempt to be successful in his career. He considers his dad’s dreams materialistic and unreachable. As a matter of fact, in the Requiem, even after his father’s death, Biff says: “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. ” Unlike Happy and Willy, Biff is self-aware and values facts; Willy never was a successful salesman and he never wanted to face the truth.
On the other hand, Biff is conscious about his failures and the weaknesses of his personality. During an argument with his father, Biff admits that his dad made him “so arrogant as a boy” that now he just can’t handle taking orders from a boss. I think this is what truly differentiates Biff from the rest of his family; he is honest and sincere about himself and would rather work on a ranch than try to be successful in a work field that he knows will never accept him. Biff is also the only character that acts as a reminder that the American Dream is not an every man’s dream.
Bernard has become a successful lawyer as his father Charley, Willy and Happy try to pretend they have too, but Biff is the only one who surrenders to his destiny. Rather than seeking success and money, he wants a basic life working on ranches. He does not try to push into the crowd of people aiming for a good job and a wealthy life-style, but instead wants to be seen for who he truly is: “Happy: The only thing is- what can you make out there? Biff: But look at your friend. Builds an estate and then doesn’t have the peace of mind to live in it. In a way, Miller is trying to tell us that Americans are made victims of the country’s success. “Death of a Salesman” seems to argue that America as a whole does not value people who look for simple pleasures such as working in the countryside, and the American Dream pushes people to only aim for jobs in the industry. It is ironic how Bernard turns out to succeed as a successful and well-known lawyer. It is ironic because during high school Willy used to mock him for studying hard and always praised Biff for not studying at all.
Bernard is presented as a weak and shy character and Miller wants us to believe that Biff will turn out to be successful rather than him and not the contrary. However, things turned out differently to how both Willy and Biff expected them to. Bernard’s success irritates Willy because his own sons’ lives do not measure up to Bernard’s: “(after a pause): I’m- I’m overjoyed to see how you made the grade Bernard, overjoyed. It’s an encouraging thing to see a young man really-really- Looks very good for Biff- very (He breaks off, then) Bernard- (He is so full of emotion, he breaks off again). Once again, Biff is the cause of his father’s despair; he does not want to pursue Willy’s dreams, he wants something other than material things from life, and this destroys the man. Biff has learnt from his father that to be “well-liked” and attractive are the most important ingredients for success. Up to now, I have only analysed the differences between Biff and Willy, however, it is also very important to highlight the few similarities between the two characters. When he was a teenage boy, Willy’s authority on Biff was evident.
We find that when the three Loman men are talking about Bernard, Biff echoes small bits of his father’s view on life when he says that his friend is “liked but not well-liked”. This implies that Biff once used to have respect towards Willy; he admired his strong personality and approved his view on the business world. Biff Loman is aware that he will not succeed as a salesman or any other job without his maths degree. On the other hand, his father is convinced he will and does not what to face the reality of facts. However, towards the end of the play we see a change in both the men’s attitudes.
As a matter of fact, they have switched opinions; “Biff: (horrified, gets down on one knee before Willy): Dad, I’ll make good, I’ll make good. (Willy tries to get to his feet. Biff holds him down. ) Sit down now. Willy: No, you’re no good, you’re no good for anything. ” Biff is now desperate and is obviously worried for his father’s mental health and tries to encourage him to be positive in any way he can- even if this involves lying to himself about his potential. As I previously mentioned in my introduction, Biff seems to be the only character that offers any hope whatsoever in “Death of a Salesman”.
At the beginning of the play, he tells the audience about his dreams of living in the south: “What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I’m thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin’ my future. That’s when I coming running home. And now, I get here, and I don’t know what to do with myself. ” This clearly shows that biff aspires to better things, but does not know what to do in an industrial city as New York. He wants to succeed and build a future, but at the same time he enjoys the pleasures of living in the countryside and not having any stress.
Here is where we understand that Biff is fundamentally lazy. He would like to have a nice and wealthy life, but he just does not have the strength or the motivation to work for it. On the whole, through the illusions that Willy believes, he cannot see Biff as a “nobody” and cannot accept that he won’t be successful as he hopes. Eventually, Biff finally sees the truth and realises that he is “no great leader of men”. He also comprehends the delusions that Willy lived on. Biff is destined to no greatness, but he no longer has to struggle to understand what he wants to do with his life; “I know who I am, kid. ”