Do you think Biff's plans about Bill Oliver are realistic?

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Biff meets Happy at the restaurant where their father is supposed to join them for dinner, Happy naturally wants to know if Biff saw Bill Oliver. Happy is hoping to go into the sporting goods business with his brother if they can raise the capital through a loan from Oliver. Biff himself has begun, not only to realize that such a hope was unrealistic, but that he and the whole Loman family have been living in a self-destructive fantasy world. When Happy asks, "Is he going to back you?", Biff replies:

Are you crazy? You're out of your goddam head, you know that?

Biff has had a terrible day. He tells his brother:

It's been the strangest day I ever went through.

Biff realizes that he must have been crazy himself to think that Bill Oliver would be willing to lend him ten- or fifteen-thousand dollars. Biff was never anything but a shipping clerk for Oliver, not a salesman as he had claimed to be, and as his father apparently believed. What has made this the strangest day Biff ever went through is his new perception of reality--the reality about himself, his brother, and his father. The whole world looks different to him, as if he had been sound asleep all his life and had just woken up. They have all been living on hopes and dreams. Biff has had a vision of the truth about life. It is, as Charley has just told Willy a bit earlier:

The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman, and you don't know that.

Biff realizes that he has nothing to offer Bill Oliver. That is why Oliver makes him wait six hours to see him and then gives him the brushoff. Although Biff had a bad day, it may have been the best day of his life, because he finds out who he is and who he is not. He would like to impart that vision of cold, hard reality to his father, but Willy refuses to listen to the truth. Willy must be a good salesman. He has sold his false vision to both his sons as well as to his devoted wife. Willy is "heroic" in a sense, because he clings to his ideals to the end and dies for them. He resembles Don Quixote and Cyrano de Bergerac. Biff's strange modern epiphany contains most of the message that Arthur Miller wishes to convey to the audience in this great American tragedy. 

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act I, Willy returns home because he has fallen asleep at the wheel and almost hit a boy. His two sons, Biff and Happy happen to be home as well; upstairs they discuss their dream of owning a ranch. Biff tells Happy,

BIFF.  I don't know what the future is. I don't know--what I'm supposed to want.

His brother Happy is equally lacking in self-assurance. Nevertheless, they speak of owning a ranch for themselves. Biff considers asking Bill Oliver for a loan because he has told him to come to him if he needs anything. Nevertheless, he has misgivings. 

BIFF. I just wonder though. I wonder if Oliver still thinks I stole that carton of basketballs.

But, then, they overhear Willy talking to himself, and Happy tells Biff that he better stay around because their father has psychological problems. It would seem, therefore, that Biff's idea of asking Bill Oliver for a loan are far from being realistic. For, he lacks the integrity to procure a loan from Oliver; he also seems to doubt himself.

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