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What are the similarities and differences between Willy and Biff in "Death of a...

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tecsp | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 25, 2009 at 1:55 PM via web

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What are the similarities and differences between Willy and Biff in "Death of a Salesman"?

What are the similarities and differences between Willy and Biff in "Death of a Salesman"?

I have no idea.

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted May 25, 2009 at 5:39 PM (Answer #1)

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Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" is probably one of the most read dramas in high school English classes. The play is an excellent slice of 1950s Americana with richly portrayed characters of Willy and Biff as they struggle to find meaning and purpose in an otherwise troubled life.

Willy, the father, and Biff, one of his two sons character development parallels that of the environment and the play's setting. The Brooklyn house is constricted by the city whose choking growth has prevented anything form thriving. Heredity also works against them.

Each generation repeats patterns of behavior established by its parent. Both Willy and Biff have been less successful than their brothers; presumably both Willy and his  "wild-hearted" father were cheaters; both fathers failed their sons and left them insecure. Willy explains,

Dad left when I was such a baby...I still feel--kind of temporary about myself. 

When Happy tells Biff,

You're a poet...you're an idealist!

Biff says,

I'm like a boy.

Biff is a poet in the sense of his estrangement from the competitive world of business, in his love for freedom and nature, and in his sensitivity to the emotional life--both his own and others'. He is still like a boy in his failure to develop along any single career path and in his continuing search for identity and maturity.

Willy, on the other hand, is losing control, both emotionally and economically. His use of the metaphor: "The woods are burning!" means that his home and property are in immediate danger and willy has been driving off the road a few times and inhaling gas in a weakened effort to commit suicide.

Both love each other very much, but Willy incorrectly accuses Biff of "spite" because Willy thinks (in his mind) that Biff feels hatred and revenge toward him primarily because of the incident with The Woman in Boston. The irony is that Biff understands and forgives his father and tells him so: "This isn't your fault."" Willy's sense of guilt, however, overwhelms what Biff tries to say.

Willy and Biff are expertly portrayed characters in a play about American life. It has its ups, and its downs, but when it is down, it can go as low as anything imaginable.

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