How does the relationship between Willy and Biff change as Biff becomes an adult in Death of a Salesman?

Expert Answers
jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Willy Loman is a salesman and Biff is a salesman's son. A lot of what some salesmen do is pump up the things they are selling with a lot of hot air; today this is called hype.

Well, for Willy, his first-born son, Biff, is everything in the world. Even back when Biff was a football star in high school, Willy wasn't doing too well any longer as a salesman. This fact made him tired and depressed, but at least there was Biff. Biff was someone who Willy could believe in and admire when everything else was disappointment. And so Willy used Biff as the repository of all of his hopes and dreams... and he pumped his son full to the brim with his expectations and praise.

How did Biff take to all this adulation? It seems he loved it and believed it. One might assume, though, as he matured, Biff could have thought his father went a bit over board with his praise of him, and he might have begun to suspect that his father lived through him. How many times have we seen the parents of high school athletes who are more competitive at school sporting events than their own kids? Why do you suppose that is? What do their kids think of it?

With this symbiotic relationship as the background, Biff's trip to Boston becomes even more horrific. Biff has flunked math, and he goes to Boston, where his father is supposedly working, to get Willy to come home and persuade the teacher to change his grade. There, in the Boston hotel, Biff finds his father with a woman. It is clear to Biff what is going on, and he breaks down right then and there. All the years and years of hot air and hype disappear, and Biff is left with nothing but tears and bitter disappontment in his father... and in himself.

As Death of a Salesman begins, Biff has returned home after years of trying to find himself, the real self away from his father's hopes and dreams for him, away from his father's attempt to live through him.

In the end, Biff comes to terms with who he is, and Willy commits suicide... still dreaming of Biff's long-awaited success and greatness.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the play The Death of a Salesman Willy Loman and Biff are father and son.  Willy puts Biff on a pedestal always believing the impossible.  When Biff was young Willy pushed him forwarded and was very proud of him.  He was the son whom Willy had attached him dreams upon.  When Biff got into trouble his father tried to bail him out.  Willy carried a false sense of Biff’s accomplishments and abilities which Biff covered nicely.

Willy and Biff got along fairly well until Biff caught Willy in a hotel room with another woman.  Biff was in his teens and was devastated to see that his father had given the woman the stockings that he had always brought for his mother.  It was a turning point in their relationship.

Biff feels like he can not live up to his father's expectations.  It is easier for him to lie and give his father the stories that he wants to hear instead of the truth.  When Biff finally comes to terms with his own behaviors and short comings he tries to tell his father the truth.  Willy can not handle the truth.  At first Biff is angry but as he sees his father's mental deterioration he tries to fix the situation.  He feels pity for his father towards the end of Willy's life.

zumba96 | Student

Biff looked up to Willy when he was younger, but when he caught his father having an affair he broke inside. Not only that, this caused him to lock that part away and be resentful towards his father. When he was younger, his father instilled the wrong thinking in him and made him believe that a good football scholarship and manliness is the correct way to express success. When Biff gets older and Willy still dotes on his son, he understands that all he wants to do is become a farmer. In the end Biff understands he will never become what his father wanted him to become and goes to become a farmer.