What are the similarities and differences between Biff and Happy Loman in "Death of a Salesman"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Biff and Happy are both "lost," according to Arthur Miller. They are living at a time when white males have all the advantages and the country is prosperous after the end of World War II; yet they have no sense of direction, no ambition, no prospects. 

Early in the play, Arthur Miller provides a description of Biff and Happy Loman in which he compares and contrasts the brothers. They first appear when they are upstairs in the bedroom they shared as kids.

Biff is two years older than his brother Happy, well built, but in these days bears a worn air and seems less self-assured. He has succeeded less, and his dreams are stronger and less acceptable than Happy's. Happy is tall, powerfully made. Sexuality is like a visible color on him, or a scent that many women have discovered. He, like his brother, is lost, but in a different way, for he has never allowed himself to turn his face toward defeat and is thus more confused and hard-skinned, although seemingly more content.

Note that Miller seems to believe the audience will understand what he means when he describes both brothers as "lost." This is apparently because there were so many young men like them, as there are still so many such young men like them today. Happy seems more content with his lot in life than Biff. This may be because Happy is an extreme womanizer and highly successful at that. Biff has a worn air and seems less self-assured than Happy. This is probably because Biff was obviously his father's favorite and is now stuck with the task of trying to live up to his father's expectations.

Arthur Miller seems to be a shrewd judge of human character. He reads a lot into people. His characterizations are subtle. Happy does not seem like such a complex character to a person viewing or reading the play. It would be easy to feel that Happy is just happy-go-lucky, as his name implies. But he is, according to the playwright, more confused and hard-skinned than Biff. This suggests that Happy will always be confused because he won't face reality, and that Biff will eventually find himself because he is under stronger internal and external pressure to do so. Happy seems to have bought into his father's American Dream and to be fated to end up more or less like his old man after his sexual appetite diminishes and his attractiveness to women wears off. What seems to be the most important characteristic of both brothers is that they are "lost." They haven't found themselves. They don't have direction in their lives. They have never prepared for any kind of careers, and consequently they are underachievers. This may explain why neither has ever married, although Biff would be thirty-four and Happy thirty-two. If either of them did get married he would be a poor provider. Happy would be unfaithful. Biff would never earn much money. The playwright emphasizes that both men are strongly attracted to women; this is evidently to dispel any suspicion that they have remained unmarried because they are "gay."

Miller does not suggest what Biff's "stronger" dreams are, but it will come out in the course of the play that he dreams about living and working in the open country and escaping from life in the big-city. Both brothers, of course, are disappointments to Willy, who thought so highly of himself that he automatically assumed any boys he fathered would be successful in the greatest country in the world. Willy is largely responsible for the fact that both sons seem lost. He has been a poor role model, and his job as a traveling salesman has kept him away from home much of the time while his sons were in their formative years..

purplepenguin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Similarities: 1. Both cling to their father's idea of having "personal

attractiveness" as the criteria for success.

2. Both appear to discount their father's (Willy) views and

dreams about life early in the play.
Differences: 1. Biff is lazy and seems to have no ambition in life;

Happy is working and hoping to get ahead in his job.

2. Biff is the oldest son, Happy is the youngest.

3. Biff is the son that Willy sacrifices himself for, not for


4. In the end, Biff is the one who sees the reality that is

the situation and his father and Happy still believes

that Willy at least had a dream and "did not die in vain."

zumba96 | Student

While Biff realizes that he wants to live his life out as he desires, Happy wants to still make his father proud even though he has died. Biff has often been the star son and Happy has been overshadowed, but with his fathers death he wants to make his father proud. The boys are both VERY interested in women and usually tries to get with them.

maticha | Student

Biff think about his mother more than happy

maticha | Student

Biff wants to achieve what he wants deppending on him self in contrast og happy how wants to build his successul on the shoulders of others


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Death of a Salesman

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