In Arthur Millers, dramatic play, Death of a Salesman the Loman family presents its self as being the perfect nuclear family as opposed to their dysfunctional nature. Even though Miller portrays Willy Loman as the main character of the story, his lack of praise worthy traits make it necessary for another to be the hero. This other character comes in the form of Willys son, Biff Loman, who may not succeed in regards to Willys dreams, but still deserves the honor of being called the hero of the play. Biff shows qualities describing a hero because he grows up with false ideals but later rejects them searching for his true identity.
To analyze Biff Loman the most important aspect comes from his change in self-realization that represents his dynamic nature. This dynamic nature shows with his interaction in regards to other characters and with respects to underlying themes in the play. Even though many people have influenced Biff over his life, only his family has left a significant impact on it. Their presence and importance in his life make it necessary to view the motivating aspects of his interaction with them, whether it is positive or negative.
The first character that we must analyze comes in the form of the overbearing but idolized father, who sets the foundation for Biffs beliefs and way of life. Many different aspects of this relationship can be portrayed in reference to Biffs ultimate and final realization at the end of the play. In Biffs youth, he accepts and adores everything that pertains to Willy because that is the nature of a small child. Even though we later realize the err in Willys ideology, his initial instincts to teach his son success held no faults.
Willys hopes and goals were pure (Onger 154). On the other hand, Willys excessive need to promote vanity and unfulfilling popularity, sets the stage for Biffs eventual letdown. Willy provides Biff with an ego because of the high praise given to Biff that makes him conceited. Such great praise prompts Biffs pride of himself and his family, which leads Biff to feel contentment and fulfillment in his younger years before his dreams come to an end. But, his flaw comes in the form of hubris or arrogance that goes hand in hand with his father’s belief in his own greatness.
Biff so readily believes his fathers assumptions that he will not work at any medial task since he is so “well liked”. Biff states, “I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody! “(Miller 105). Like any son, Biff praised, respected, and loved his father. Biffs problem comes with his taking that love and moving it to a next level, idealizing. By holding his father in such high regards Biff set him upon a pedestal that no mere mortal could live up to. Just like any man, Willy had his faults, and leading his son on with exaggerations portrays one of these faults.
Biffs perception of his father as an almost immaculate figure leaves him exposed to discover the painful truth. In this discovery, a dejected and emotionally vulnerable Biff goes to seek solace from his father only to have his very foundation rattled by seeing him with another woman. This presents itself as both positive and negative in regards to Biff. It acts as a turning point in Biffs life and sets him on the course of self discovery. This course also brings Biff more pain and anguish than he has ever felt because for the first time he does not have a father to turn towards.
This previous action indicates Biffs lack of having a course on life. Up until the end of the book, Biff can be described as a thirty-four year old child because he has no direction or individualistic beliefs. He had tried to forsake his fathers ideologies but they were instilled so deeply that he could not just forget about them. However, after Willys death, Biff finally realizes “He [Willy] had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong” (Miller 111). With this realization of Willys fault in character and goals, Biff no longer abides by Willys beliefs.
So Willys dreams and hopes die with him, at least in relation to Biff. He has finally grown up to view the world in a more realistic manner and has achieved a self-identity. “Biff declares with joy of a newly made discovery : I am not the leader of men. I am just what I am, thats all”(Sharma 79). Lindas role in Biffs life does not possess as much importance as Willys role. She represents an indirect influence on the father-son conflict and on Biffs quest to break the bonds of his fathers beliefs. Although, she does instill a strong family bond in both her sons.
Biff might have found himself as a farmer but some family bond always brings him back, to quarrel with his father and leave again” (Boruch 548). She also guides her sons respect of Willy. The problem comes from her nature of allowing and accepting everything that Willy presents, whether it be true or false. She hinders Biffs ability to confront his father for her sake. Ironically the only mood not felt by Happy comes in the form of happiness. From this simple intuition, much can be derived about the nature of Happy and how he relates to Biff.
Happy personifies the ideologies belonging to Willy and his lack of success prove to Biff the error in that mindset. Happys dejected nature does not allow for him to ever succeed in life and it just compounds his life into a series of lies and exaggerations, characteristic of Willys philosophy. These lies become so excessive that it shows the pitiful nature of his life. He once stated about Willy, “No, thats not my father. Hes just a guy” (Miller 91). By seeing the pathetic and unsuccessful nature of Happys life, Biff comes that much closer to realizing his own identity and dropping his fathers destructive convictions.
Many themes or motifs throughout the play influenced Biff and his final change of attitude at the end of the story. The most apparent of these themes come in the form of the beliefs that Willy tried to instill into his sons. First of all, Willys main focus in life consisted of becoming successful and that in turn would prove the worthiness of a man. In Willys mind only those that looked good and were well liked by others could succeed. He always emphasized the need for Biff to maintain his popularity among his peers and to live life to its fullest.
This led to Biff idolizing his father because of these very immature and childlike concepts of life. Of course to a young kid like Biff these beliefs seemed to work perfectly. Willys ideology was that of a high school popularity contest and did not account for the need to actually work in the real world. Another of Willys beliefs over success that deeply interested Biff came from his lack of work ethic. His entire belief system followed along the lines of getting something for nothing. He believed that if he looked good and had popularity the world would be handed to him upon a silver platter.
Biff followed these beliefs when he stole the footballs from school to practice. Instead of chastising him, Willy praises Biff for his actions. Biff then learns to lead a life in which he must always “rule” over others and not be subject to their scruples. He lives by the concept of “the ends justify the means”. This represents his belief that he can do anything and everything as long as he justifies it with results. Stealing, cheating, and lying come naturally with this belief system. These previous themes represent the ideology of young Biff, before his dreams come tumbling down in a hotel room in Boston.
After such a heart -wrenching ordeal, Biff decides to take a new perspective on life without his fathers doctrines. This task does not come about easily for Biff, and even after sixteen years of rejecting his father, he still does not obtain his own belief system. The last trip home differed greatly from the others. Biff found out that Willy had tried to kill himself and lacked mental sanity. The time motif presents itself vividly in this part because Biff realizes that if he ever wants to confront his father he must act immediately.
With this in mind Biff forces himself to break the barriers of his fathers confining concepts and to evaluate his own life. Biffs understanding of Willys inability to realize his [Willys] identity, proved vital to Biffs own search for self identification. Willy further proved his inability to understand by finally committing suicide and thinking that it would bring happiness to Biff. Biff shows his dynamic nature in the rejection of false ideals and in the search for true identity. One last proof of his change shows up in a strong symbolic element of the play.
When Biff stole footballs in his youth, he felt no shame or sorrow, but that does not hold true in the case of the fountain pen he stole from Oliver. “I took those balls years ago, now I walk in with his fountain pen? That clinches it, dont you see? I cant face him like that! ” (Miller 88). By regret for his actions, Biff proves the maturity he gains, which no other character can attest for. Because of such amazing development, “Biff, having completed his search for self-identity in the face of the odds which had driven his father crazy, emerges as the true protagonist of this play” (Sharma 79).