Who is Bill Oliver, and what does Biff hope to get from him?

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herappleness's profile pic

Posted on

In the play Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, the character of Bill Oliver is an old supervisor for whom Willy Loman's son, Biff, used to work.

As part of the Lomans' tendency to imagine situations that they, later on, believe to be real, Biff lives under the assumption that he is Bill Oliver's best employee and that, in fact, he is a type of partner of Bill Oliver's business.

This is why Biff goes to Bill Oliver to ask him for a loan of $10,000 that would be put towards a down payment for Biff and his brother, Happy, to start a business together. However, during the restaurant scene of the play, we encounter Happy and Biff discussing that Bill Oliver does not even remember Biff when he sees him.

This is the moment when Biff realizes that his life has been a foolish illusion. This is also the moment when he feels it is time to stop the fantasy under which the Lomans continue to live and he decides to confront Willy with the truth about it all.

gpane's profile pic

Posted on

As the previous answer states, Bill Oliver is a former boss of Biff's. Biff has never been able to settle down long to any job, but he seems to hold out a hope that Bill Oliver might lend him money because he was a favorite employee of his. Happy conceives the idea of a starting a business partnership with his brother, and the money from Bill Oliver would enable them to set up that business.

However, the idea of a loan from Bill Oliver is just another pipe dream of the Lomans', and comes to nothing when Bill Oliver doesn't even remember Biff when he goes to see him. As the previous answer states, this is really the moment when Biff realizes once and for all that his life has just been a "lie"; he was never actually a big salesman for Oliver, as his father Willy likes to pretend, but a lowly shipping clerk:

We've been living in a dream the last fifteen years.

Whatever Willy might say, Biff is painfully aware that his career thus far has been a complete shambles and that he's simply not cut out for the kind of high position in the business world that Willy is always dreaming of. All he has really done is replicate his father's failures. The fiasco with Bill Oliver precipitates the final, fateful showdown between Biff and his father. 


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