“Death of a Salesman Biff’s Behavior. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is an immensely moving drama which narrates the story of Willy Loman’s life as a travelling salesman, and his mental breakdown at the end of his failed career. As the play moves towards its inevitable, tragic end, the reader is pulled into the raw emotions of the various characters. Although Willy Loman is the protagonist, Biff, his elder son, plays an equally significant role in the drama. The play centers round the father-son relationship between Willy and Biff, and the plot is largely devoted to their interaction and its consequences on their lives. As the action of the drama moves between the past and the present, the father-son relationship changes and is portrayed in various dynamic stages. It is evident that the father and son share a strong bond, and it is this bond which shapes Biff’s life and behavior. Biff, whose weaknesses are reinforced by Willy, attempts to punish his father for his betrayal and then goes on to finally accept and forgive his father.
Biff’s weaknesses are reinforced by Willy Loman. When Biff tells his father that he has helped himself to a football from the college locker room, Willy glosses over this theft and laughs at it. In fact, Willy justifies Biff’s action saying, “he’s gotta practice with a regulation ball, doesn’t he?” and terms the theft “initiative” (Miller, 1566). Willy does not insist on Biff returning the ball. On the other hand, it is Willy who actively encourages his sons to steal, by sending them to pilfer sand and lumber from a building site. Willy boasts, “You shoulda seen the lumber they brought home last week. At least a dozen six-by-tens worth all kinds a money” (Miller, 1576). Willy deliberately chooses to ignore the rising complaints about Biff: stealing, being arrogant, treating girls roughly, driving without a license and ignoring academics. Instead of insisting that Biff devotes time to study for his exams, Willy orders Bernard to “give him the answers” (Miller, 1571). By turning a blind eye to Biff’s faults, Willy subtly encourages him to ignore authority. Biff accuses his father, “And I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody” (Miller, 1617). It is because of his father that Biff grows up to become a kleptomaniac, who cannot submit to regimentation. It is because of Willy’s indulgence in the past that Biff is imprisoned for three months for stealing a suit and robs a pen from Bill Oliver.
Biff spends a large part of his life trying to take revenge on Willy for his betrayal. He starts out as a boy who loves and admires his father. He misses his father when Willy is travelling and wants to make him proud of his achievements. Before the football match, Biff tells Willy, “And remember, pal, when I take off my helmet, that touchdown is for you” (Miller, 1595). Biff idealizes his father, and Willy’s boasting creates a false, larger-than-life image of himself in his son’s eyes. When he fails in Math, Biff runs to Willy as his first recourse in any trouble, touchingly confident that his adored parent will set things right for him. When the bubble bursts and Biff finds that the father he idealized is actually a philanderer and a cheat, his sorrow moves the reader. He laments, “You fake! You phony little fake!” (Miller, 1611). Biff’s world is shattered when he finds Willy having an affair on the road. Bernard points out that Biff just gave up on life after his visit to Boston. The rest of Biff’s wasted life can be seen as an act of revenge against his father for the betrayal of his mother and of his own trust. He sees Willy as an extremely selfish husband who does not respect Linda. Biff makes his life a failure just to spite his father.
Biff’s love for his father survives this period and finally leads Biff to accept his father as he is. There is a reconciliation between the father and son in the final part of the play. Biff is the first to gain a true insight into their lives and acknowledge that “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house” (Miller, 1616). Biff accepts that his true vocation is an outdoor life on a ranch and tries to make Willy see that he cannot live up to his father’s unrealistic dreams for his son. Biff tells Willy, “I’m just what I am, that’s all” (Miller, 1617). Biff also accepts that Willy is an ordinary man, with his weaknesses. He says, “Pop, I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you” (Miller, 1617). Biff gets over his bitterness towards his father and accepts Willy just as he is. He is moved with a deep pity for the sad figure his father has become, having lost his job and the respect of his colleagues. When Willy has his breakdown in the restaurant, Biff describes his father as “a hard-working, unappreciated prince. A pal, you understand? A good companion. Always for his boys” (Miller, 1608). Biff is willing to let the past die and love his father for what he is.
“Death of a Salesman” is, above all else, the sensitive exploration of a father-son relationship. Biff’s early relationship with Willy is characterized by a young boy’s adoration and love for his father. The boy’s criminal tendencies are not nipped in the bud by Willy, but are reinforced by his active encouragement. This makes Biff a confirmed kleptomaniac. When Biff finds that his idolized father actually has feet of clay and indulges in an extra-marital affair, Biff feels betrayed. The rest of Biff’s wasted life is an act of revenge against his father for the betrayal of his trust. Finally, Biff comes to realize that both he and his father are just normal men, with their own faults. Biff accepts Willy as he is and stops playing his blame game. The father-son relationship retains some of its past love. Biff comes to a deeper understanding of his father, forgives him his unrealistic dreams and moves on with his own life.
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