Most readers assume that the main character of Death of a Salesman is Willy Loman. However, there are some who argue that it is not really Willy who is the protagonist, but Biff. How could one...

Most readers assume that the main character of Death of a Salesman is Willy Loman. However, there are some who argue that it is not really Willy who is the protagonist, but Biff. How could one justify this reading?

Expert Answers
rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One could say that Biff is the main character in Death of a Salesman because, of all the characters, he drives the action, past and present, and he alone changes as a result of the events of the story.

What kicks off the action of the play is that Biff has come home after a long absence. Biff knows the relationship with his father has many loose ends, and it bothers him. In flashbacks, we see that the relationship with Willy and Biff has been the hardest thing in both of their lives. Biff is the only one besides Willy who knows the details of Willy's affair, but he reacts in passive-aggressive style, blowing his chance to go to college and becoming a failure at every career he tries. Biff puts himself into a situation where he is going to make decisions about his life just to please his father, and he steals a pen.

This creates an epiphany for him. He asks himself, "Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be...when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!" He then confronts his father, telling him that both of them are nobodies. But he can also acknowledge, "There's no spite in it anymore." With this, he has reached a place of emotional healing and is able to stop blaming his father for his own failures. Biff's revelation does not prevent Willy from taking his life, but it allows Biff to pursue a different dream for himself. In the Requiem, Biff is able to state to Happy, "I know who I am, kid." Biff is the one who leads Linda off the stage at the end of the play. 

Because the action of the play, both in the present and in flashback, revolves around Biff, and because Biff is the only character who has an epiphany and changes in the play, one could easily make a case for Biff, not Willy, being the main character of Death of a Salesman.

Read the study guide:
Death of a Salesman

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question