Friday, August 29, 2014

Biff: Shot at Redemption

Biff Loman is the only character in Arthur Miller's, Death of a Salesman, who is able to see the family as it truly is- dysfunctional.  Initially, when he returns home and realizes how mentally unstable his father has become he falls back into the old family patterns of living in a fantasy world, the distortion of reality to suit your needs.  He feels a sense of duty to help his father be "well" again.  His plan in to try and borrow money from Bill Oliver, a man he worked for a long time ago.  He tells himself and the family that he is do well liked by Oliver that he will certainly loan him money to start a business.  He lets himself be talked into the sporting goods business by his father and gets caught up in yet another fantasy of making millions and obtaining the American Dream.  By the time Biff goes to bed that night he is so caught up in the dream of making it big and pleasing his father that it seems he will be hopelessly lost to denial like the rest of the family is.

The next day, after Biff sees Bill Oliver he realizes is life has been a lie. He tells Hap "He walked away.  I saw him for one minute.  I got so mad I could've torn the walls down!  How the hell did I ever get the idea I was a salesman there?  I even believed myself that I'd been a salesman for him!  And then he gave me one look and - I realized what ridiculous lie my whole life has been.  We've been talking in a dream for fifteen years.  I was a shipping clerk."

This is point where Biff's redemption begins.  He now realizes the falseness of his life and his familys' contribution to that lie.  He has a desire to change the old patterns and find some new way of living.  He brings all of this to the family, but they do not want to acknowledge this fact.  At dinner that evening Biff says, "Let's hold on to the facts tonight, Pop.  We're not going to get anywhere bullin' around.  I was a shipping clerk."  Willy responds by saying he is not interested in stories about the past.  Later in the evening, Biff again tries to have an honest discussion and states that there has never been ten minutes of truth in the house.

Biff is willing to look at the family in an honest light to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life.  The others are still in denial about the falseness of who they are.  Is it possible that Willy's suicide will bring the peace and freedom that Biff is so desperately looking for?  And is it possible for Biff to break away from the family and its dysfunctional behavior to become something completely different from he has always been?


  1. It's interesting when you point out how lost and dysfunctional the family is as opposed to Biff. While I agree they have their falsehoods and hang ups that keep them from being happy, I see Biff as just as delusional for most of his life. From the fateful day when he's still a teenager and sees Willy with another woman, to the end of the show, Biff is unaware of the bubble his parents have created for him. He's been allowed to believe that things are a-okay and will continue to be (for HIM) because he's just so awesome. He's been completely sucked into the idea that he lives an at least semi charmed life. This ignorance (and arrogance) allows him to believe, even when he's getting older, that he can still work the feels and flit around on the pretense of "discovering himself" and that someday things will all just work out. He's never really thought as an adult should because no one ever made him do it before. Teachers passed him when they shouldn't, and when he decides that nothing is worth doing anymore because his father is having an affair, he gets a rude awakening that you can't just get by on being a stud. During the show he's convinced himself that everyone thinks as highly of him as Willy does, and he's shocked when he finds out that Bill Oliver barely remembers him. Any person who had had to think for themselves at some point in their life probably would have realized his low place in the company before hand, but not Biff - because he still thinks (even if it's only in the back of his mind) that everyone loves Biff.

  2. Eleanor, You don't think by the end of the play we start to see a little bit of growth in Biff? Sarah, is there textual support for your claim that "Biff is willing to look at the family in an honest light to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life"?