In Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is the eponymous salesman. Willy is disappointed in his son, Biff’s, lifestyle because Biff has never found steady employment. In one exchange with his wife, Linda, Willy explains his feelings about Biff to her:
Willy: When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?
Linda: But, dear, how could he make any money?
Willy [worried and angered]: There’s such an undercurrent in him. He became a moody man. Did he apologize when I left this morning?
Linda: He was crestfallen, Willy. You know how he admires you. I think if he finds himself, then you’ll both be happier and not fight any more.
Willy: How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week! ... Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!
Willy: The trouble is he’s lazy, goddammit!
Linda: Willy, please!
Willy: Biff is a lazy bum!
Yet, Willy alternates between characterizing Biff as a bum and then conversely as a hard worker. Further on in the play, Willy tells Linda, “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy.”
Willy is particularly disappointed because Biff seemingly had so much promise in his youth. He was attractive, confident, and athletic. Biff is described as “well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured.”
As he has gotten older without achieving success, Biff is more doubtful about his own abilities. Happy tells his brother, “I think I got less bashful and you got more so. What happened, Biff? Where’s the old humor, the old confidence?“ In his heyday, Willy was able to project an outward appearance of confidence even when he was not feeling it inside. Conversely, Biff wears his emotions on his sleeve, which Willy probably views as a weakness in him.
Moreover, as a young school boy, Biff had sought his father’s approval. In one flashback, Biff tells Willy that he will make a touchdown at the next football game just for Willy. Now Biff senses his father’s disappointment in him and resents it. In an exchange between the two brothers, Biff asks Happy:
Biff: Why does Dad mock me all the time?
Happy: He’s not mocking you, he—
Biff: Everything I say there’s a twist of mockery on his face. I can’t get near him.
Happy: He just wants you to make good, that’s all.
Moreover, Willy has also had an affair, which Biff knows. When he was a student, Biff discovered his father at a hotel with his mistress. He had looked up to his father and Willy's deceit made Biff see him in a new light. He is disappointed in Willy and this is a lingering source of friction between them and another source of friction.