What are important quotes that represent Willy's and Biff's relationship? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of the most important quotes that represent Willy's and Biff's relationship speak to the chasm between dreams and reality.  Both men suffer from living in this widening gyre.  Willy lacks the sober understanding of his son, who cannot reconcile the promise and possibility of what might have been in the face of what actually is.

One particular quote that represents this aspect of Willy's and Biff's relationship is seen in Act I.  Willy and Linda speak about Biff, and the wreckage of his life that constitutes his being in the world:  "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." This quote speaks to the lack of reality that exists in their relationship.  Willy still believes that his son will "make it."  He believes this not because he believes in his son. Rather, he believes it because Biff lives in America, and its idealized conception is justification of the "happy ending" in Willy's mind.  Willy also believes that his son "is not lazy," refusing to see the reality in which Biff lives. This quote reflects the crushing weight of dreams, making Willy myopic in terms of seeing the limitations within which Biff lives. The quote reflects an inauthentic grasp on reality. Reflecting this condition is why the quote is so compelling in assessing their relationship.

When Biff confronts his father with a reality that is so different from the dreams of the father, their relationship is shown to be frayed.  It is limited because it only exists in the conditional and hypothetical, as opposed to what really exists.  Biff speaks to this in a passionately painful manner:  "You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! ... I'm nothing, Pop. Can't you understand that? There's no spite in it any more. I'm just what I am, that's all."   The brutality of their relationship is revealed.  The harsh conditions of being "a nothing" is the haunting pain that exists in the core of the father and son relationship.  Biff's statement cuts through the dreams that Willy held for his son.  At the same time, his statement cuts through the dreams that Willy had for himself. There is little hope in this condition, reflective of the state of their relationship.

The lack of honesty and willingness to understand the conditions of what is permeates their relationship. This dynamic becomes evident when Willy speaks about his son to Linda:  

"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!"

As zealous as Willy might be about his son's possibilities, he is incapable of respecting him for what he is at this instant.  The idea of needing to "find himself, is something that Willy repudiates.  Willy is ashamed of his son, unable to make peace with the reality of his son's being in the world.  The statement denigrates Biff's attempt to find a job, find a life, and establish his own being in the world. Willy's understanding that "making it" involves an accumulation of wealth so that one is not a "zero."  This is evident in the quote. No matter what will happen in their relationship, Willy is always going to see his son as something less than ideal if he is not generating income and accumulating wealth.  The quote reveals this reality.  

In the final analysis, these quotes are important because they reflect the flawed nature of Biff and Willy.  The reality in which both men live and see one another is one where delusion and dreams take the place of honest acceptance. The relationship between both men is challenged through the inability to accept reality as well as the weight of expectations placed upon it.  The relationship is one fraught with "the wrong dreams" and a misguided and myopic view of reality and one another.

Read the study guide:
Death of a Salesman

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