Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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How does Willy feel about Biff in Death of a Salesman?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Willy Loman has mixed feelings about his oldest son, Biff. As an adolescent, Willy hoped to live vicariously through Biff and believed that he could succeed at becoming a successful, wealthy salesman because of his appearance and likability. Tragically, Biff discovered his father having an affair during a business trip in Boston, which ruined their relationship. After discovering that Willy was cheating on Linda, Biff never tried to pass his math course or become a college athlete.

As an adult, Biff struggles to make ends meet and has not lived up to his father’s expectations. Biff’s failures in life make Willy upset, and he believes his son is unsuccessful out of spite. Willy cannot comprehend why Biff would not succeed, refuses to take responsibility for his son’s lack of success, and continually argues with Biff. Essentially, Willy places unfair expectations on Biff and refuses to acknowledge that Biff’s interests and talents are not suited for the sales industry. Overall, Willy loves Biff, yet he resents him for not becoming a successful salesman and believes he has failed out of spite.

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S.L. Watson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Biff appears to be a failure, yet he is not. Willy loves Biff; in fact, he has attempted, as many parents, to live vicariously through Biff. Willy continuously thinks of Biff's glory days in high school as the happiest times in his life. However, Biff is an unsuccessful salesman, unsuccessful in following in his father's footsteps. Ironically, this is critical to the play's theme. Willy also ends up as an unsuccessful salesman after squandering his life in the attempt to succeed, illustrating the corrupt influence of the American Dream. Biff actually goes on to live the real American dream, becoming one with the land, instead of selling his soul as a salesman. Willy fails at all his dreams and can only hope to plant a garden in the stifling atmosphere of the city.

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