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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller
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What lies does Biff tell in Death of a Salesman?

In Death of a Salesman, Biff tells a number of lies. An example of his dishonesty comes when he tells his father that Bill Oliver is thinking over his business proposition. Biff wants to give his father some good news on the day that he's been fired, even if it turns out to be a pack of lies. Biff doesn't want to lie, but as Willy's not willing to listen to the truth, he feels he has no choice.

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It's somewhat ironic that Biff should lie, given his determination to break through the fantasy world that his father has constructed. The last thing that Biff wants is to be just like his old man and live in a parallel universe where fact and fiction are dangerously blurred. Besides, it was an act of dishonesty, namely Willy's affair with a secretary, which pretty much messed up Biff's whole life.

Yet Biff does lie, not because he wants to but because he has to. On the advice of his brother Happy, he tells Willy that Oliver is thinking over his business proposition. It's all complete nonsense, of course; Biff didn't even get a chance to discuss the matter with Oliver; he was kept waiting for ages before being dismissed. All he got out of the meeting was a chance to steal one of Oliver's expensive pens. Willy had expected Biff to borrow a large sum of money from Oliver with which to start a sporting-goods business, but that's not going to happen.

But instead of confronting his father with the truth, he opts instead to spin him a yarn. The main reason for this is that Willy has just been fired, and Biff clearly doesn't want to add to his father's woes. Willy's not prepared to face up to the truth at the best of times but especially not now. But there's also something deeper going on. Biff cannot truly escape from his father's fantasy world because he is a fundamentally dishonest person. Stealing the expensive pen from Bill Oliver's office wasn't the first time he took something that didn't belong to him. Biff can strive all he wants to cut through all his father's lies, but ultimately it's a forlorn hope. He's simply too dishonest.

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