Death of a Salesman Questions and Answers
by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the significance of this quote? "I'm not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them!"

Expert Answers info

Rich Carriero eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseProfessional Writer, Professional Tutor

bookB.A. from Thomas Edison State College

calendarEducator since 2020

write61 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

I'm not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! I'm one dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and I couldn't raise it. A buck an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I'm not bringing home any prizes any more, and you're going to stop waiting for me to bring them home!

Biff Loman makes this admission to his father near the end of Death of a Salesman. Throughout the play, Willy consistently berates his adult son for not living up to the potential Willy saw in him as a young man. Willy believes that Biff is obstinate and has become a failure as an act of rebellion.

We see in a flashback that Biff, at a critical turning point in his life, was deeply affected by seeing his father with another woman during one of his sales trips. Willy believes that the falling-out he had with his son is the reason that Biff is still not successful. He accuses Biff of ruining his life with "spite." From Biff's interactions with other characters, however, we can observe that he no longer holds a grudge and is actually distant because of his father's relentless criticism.

From the above quote, we learn that Biff has struggled throughout adult life and now sees himself honestly—as a shiftless man in his thirties who lacks the talent, work ethic, and temperament for the kind of commercial success his father expects. He now knows that, contrary to his father's beliefs, good looks and charm are not enough, and that the easy triumphs of youth are gone, never to come again. Biff has accepted his limitations and just wants to live in peace, working with his hands under the open sky.

The true barrier between Willy and Biff is Willy's refusal to see his son as the man he really is. Biff knows his life is not going to get much better, so it's pointless for him to go around feeling bad about himself. His father's lingering disappointment is not motivating him at this point, it's just hurting them both. So in a final plea, Biff speaks the above quote, hoping to break down the barrier by disabusing his father of his delusions so that they can—for once—love and accept one another without the burden of unrealistic expectations. Biff's words are effective, and Willy is taken aback, stunned at the knowledge that his son really loves him. Ironically, it is this final moment of connection that spurs Willy to kill himself, believing that his son will be able to use the insurance money to finally set himself up.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial