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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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Compare and contrast Biff and Happy in Death of a Salesman.

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Biff and Happy Loman from Death of a Salesman are portrayed as underachieving brothers with unfulfilled potential, influenced heavily by their father's flawed ideals. Biff, once a promising athlete, faces disillusionment after discovering his father's infidelity, leading him to question his values and reject the superficial success his father idolized. Happy, less ambitious and more delusional, remains committed to these ideals, constantly seeking his father's approval through unrealistic schemes. Despite their similarities, Biff confronts his failures and rejects his father's dreams, whereas Happy continues to chase them, unable to face reality.

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Biff Loman always had considerable potential to go on and make something of this life once he left school. A high school football star with a head for figures, the world was very much his oyster. His proud father, Willy, pinned all his hopes on him, which made it all the more tragic that Biff's dreams of going to college ended not long after he caught his old man having an affair with a secretary.

Now that Biff's dreams lie in ruins, his relationship with his father has suffered a similar fate. To be sure, Biff still wants to be a success in life, but he's not prepared to put in the hard work necessary to achieve his goals. Taking his cue from his old man, he thinks that all you need to succeed is to be a well-liked man. And this encourages him to cut corners and to get involved in hare-brained schemes that have no chance of success.

Happy never had the same level of potential as his brother. He's drifted through life without any real sense of direction. Truth be told, he'd much rather be out chasing women than doing whatever's necessary to become a success in life. That said, he's still desperate to please his father, whom he very much idolizes (though that's mainly because he doesn't know about his infidelities).

That's why he continues to fantasize about all kinds of crazy schemes which have no chance of getting off the ground. It's pure fantasy, but as Happy has never had any realistic goals in life, he enthusiastically succumbs to his daydreams, seeing them as providing him with a short-cut to success and fatherly approval.

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Biff and Happy Loman are both underachieving, delusional brothers who have yet to settle down, get married, and start a family. The Loman brothers are both extremely selfish, unscrupulous individuals who have an affinity for women and lack self-awareness. Biff and Happy have never been able to live up to their potential and initially subscribe to their father's superficial ideals. They are both shallow, self-centered men who have not lived up to Willy's high expectations. Biff is an out of work thirty-four-year-old man, while Happy is a lowly assistant to the assistant buyer. Even though Biff is currently unemployed, Happy's future is not much brighter, which is why he exaggerates his position.

Despite their many similarities, Biff and Happy did not share the same life story. As an adolescent, Biff was a successful, renowned athlete with an opportunity to play football in college. In contrast, Happy was out of shape and constantly tried to gain his father's attention and admiration. Biff also knows the truth about his father's infidelity, while Happy struggles to understand why Biff hates him. Biff has also been to jail for theft and has sunk to deeper lows than Happy. By the end of the play, Biff acknowledges that he has been living a lie and comes to terms with his unsuccessful life, while Happy refuses to accept the reality of his situation. Happy maintains his view that he is an entitled, special man who is moments away from becoming rich, while Biff refuses to live by Willy's philosophy any longer.

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The two brothers, Happy and Biff, are alike in that they are both deceitful, unfulfilled, selfish, and caught in a cycle of mediocrity. They are different in that Biff displayed greater potential, reached a lower low, and has an epiphany at the end of the play.

Happy and Biff have both been caught in a web of lies and deception since childhood. As Biff states, "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!" Both boys deceive their father about their prospects and lie to him about Biff's appointment with Bill Oliver. They are also selfish, which they display in many ways, but most obviously when they leave their father alone in the restaurant and go off with their dates. Despite their braggadocio, neither boy has achieved much in life. Biff says to his father, "I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!" Certainly this also applies to Happy, who has a lower position in his company than he pretends to have.

Despite these similarities, Biff distinguishes himself from Happy. During his high school days, Biff had real talent as a football player and could have gone to college on a football scholarship. Happy never amassed a wall of trophies as Biff did. But Biff ended up sinking to greater depths than Happy, even spending three months in jail in Kansas City for stealing a suit. By the end of the play, Biff has learned to look honestly at himself and at his family. After stealing the pen from Oliver's office, he realizes, "... all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am." By looking at himself and his prospects honestly, he is able to begin forging a new and better future. Happy, however, remains deluded even in the Requiem, remaining tied to his father's failed dreams, vowing, "I'm gonna win it for him." 

Willy Loman's two sons are alike in many ways, but Biff stands out as a deeper character who changes as a result of what he goes through while Happy remains static.

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There is little comparison between the two except that they are, indeed, brothers, products of Willy Loman's lost dream. On a literal level, Happy represents just that, happy, a shallow, fleeting emotion. Even at the end of the play, he still believes in Willy's dream; "I'm going to beat this racket" (Requiem). Biff has tried to be what his father wanted him to be - the successful salesman, yet he realizes the emptiness of the dream and wants to leave the city to be in touch with something real, the land. You could say that both sons are symbolic of the two sides of their father's, Willy's, personality. Happy is Willy the salesman, "riding on a smile and a shoeshine." Biff is the inner Willy, the one who realizes the dream is empty; a man has to create or make something with his own two hands to be successful.

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In Arthur Miller's play, Biff and Happy are the two grown sons -- Biff is 34; Happy is 32 -- of Willy and Linda Loman. Neither can be said to have been successful in any particular endeavor, and Biff's having just moved back in with his family, where Happy remained ensconced, is testament to both sons' failures as adults. It is Biff, however, who is the catalyst for Willy's hopes and regrets, as it was Biff who once showed promise as a popular star athlete in school. And, as will be revealed, it was Biff's discovery of Willy's affair that served to undermine the little parental authority to which Willy still clung. Now, Biff has returned home again having failed in the "real" world of business. His dream of moving west and working on a ranch may eventually be realized, but his advancing age and aimless wanderings have defined him as an abject failure.

In contrast to his older brother, Happy is a more contented if similarly unaccomplished individual. While he works menial jobs, he has defined himself by his sexual exploits, evident when, early in the play, Willy returns from his latest business trip and inquires with Linda about his sons. Linda responds, "They’re sleeping. Happy took Biff on a date tonight." Happy is an avid womanizer whose lack of professional ambition is matched by that of his brother, but Happy lacks the eternal ennui that has come to define Biff. Not having been the brother to discover their father's infidelity, Happy remains more enamored of Willy's authoritarianism than the jaded Biff. 

Miller regularly provided copious details regarding the backgrounds of his main characters, and his descriptive notes upon the introduction of Biff and Happy in Act I are useful in any essay comparing the two brothers:

"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."

The character of Happy is less influential in Miller's narrative, although he is important for his insights into Willy's character, having remained in the Loman home while the older sibling had left for a time. Happy's aspirations for his future -- his current status as an assistant to a department store manager merely serves to illuminate the inadequacy of his ability to advance -- are realistic but expressed in self-destructive ways, as when he tells Biff about his propensity for sleeping with the women with whom he works who later marry higher-ranking corporate officials:

"Sure, the guy’s in line for the vice-presidency of the store. I don’t know what gets into me, maybe I just have an overdeveloped sense of competition or something, but I went and ruined her, and furthermore I can’t get rid of her. And he’s the third executive I’ve done that to. Isn’t that a crummy characteristic? And to top it all, I go to their weddings!"

While Happy may overcome his self-destructive impulses, though, Biff will find solace only in his willingness to leave the comforting if emotionally dysfunctional surroundings of home and venture west to work as a ranch-hand. Viewing Miller's play (or reading the script), one gets the impression that no such adventure is in the cards.

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One of the chief differences between these two characters lies in the way that they respond to their father's death. Happy seems likely to reproduce the characteristics that his father displayed. He insists that he is going to show that Willy Loman did not die in vain and that he is going to "win it" for him. Yet competitiveness has already been shown in the play to be ultimately fruitless though it sustains the capitalist system. Biff's claim that his father "never knew who he was" and that he himself does suggests that he will move away from his father's model for success.

This itself raises another crucial difference between the two brothers. At the beginning of the play, both are described as "lost", but it is Happy who oozes confidence and refuses to give in throughout. Biff, on the other hand, changes from a "lost" boy to a man of some insight and responsibility. Notice how Biff and Happy clash about revealing the truth about Bill Oliver. It is clear that Biff is sensitive and caring and loves his family deeply, but in the end the kindest thing he can do is to be cruel and force everyone to face the truth. This is why he reveals that fact the he has been in prison for debt.

Although, by the end of the play, it is clear that Biff does not precisely offer a counterbalance against the imaginary excesses of his father, in his protestations that he is an ordinary man with no pretensions at the end of the play he seems to be identified as the character who has the clearest understanding of what has gone wrong in the family, and, in this sense, he perhaps represents some hope for the future.

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

Biff and Happy are similar as the play opens. Their differences become clear and also grow as the play goes on. However, from the start, Biff is the brother who owns the greater affection and esteem of Willy and Linda. Willy would love to have Biff find success, especially if that success resembles the dream that Willy has dedicated himself to pursuing. 

Both brothers do initially follow Willy's example, considering themselves better than others, believing this fantasy and hoping to achieve true greatness through strength of personality.

Biff and Happy share their father's tendency to concoct grand schemes for themselves and think of themselves as superior to others without any real evidence that the schemes will work or that they are, indeed, superior. (eNotes)

Biff manages to escape this illusion, while Happy remains moored to the dream. After meeting with his former boss, who does not remember him, Biff realizes that he had been building himself up with illusions. He had never been a salesman at the sporting goods store. He had only been a shipping clerk.

I even believed myself that I’d been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and—I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk. (Death of a Salesman)

From this moment on in the play, Biff tries to convince Willy that the false dreams they both have been following are unnecessary. While he makes this change, Happy remains convinced that he is special. 

He is clearly over-compensating for insufficiencies of character and of self-esteem, and trying to gain what affection he can from Willy and Linda. Happy has always been the less favored son and he knows it. 

One way to state the difference between Biff and Happy at the end of the play is to say that Biff has broken away from the path defined by Willy, while Biff remains dedicated to following that path.

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

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. 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.

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.

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

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

Happy.

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."

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What is the main difference between the characters of Biff and Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman?

One could argue that the main difference between Biff and Happy Loman concerns the fact that Biff ends up acknowledging that he has led a superficial, unsuccessful life and has wasted most of his years chasing a futile dream while Happy remains delusional and out of touch with reality following Willy's death. Towards the end of the play, Biff recognizes that he has lied to himself for the majority of his life and has unfortunately subscribed to the American Dream like his father. Instead of focusing on his inherent happiness and attempting to find an occupation that suits his interests and abilities, Biff was continually sidetracked by the importance of attaining wealth and pleasing his unrealistic father. It is only after meeting with Bill Oliver that Biff becomes determined to discover the truth about himself and break the cycle of lies in his family.

Unlike Biff, Happy continues to subscribe to his father's false realities and refuses to seriously analyze his life. Happy seems content living a delusional, immoral life and significantly exaggerates details about his career to overcompensate for his feelings of inadequacy and lack of success. Happy rejects Biff's opinion that they are failures and takes pride in pursuing affairs with many women. Overall, Biff matures throughout the play and experiences a dramatic transformation by embracing the truth about his family while Happy continues to accept lies and blatant exaggerations.

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What is the main difference between the characters of Biff and Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman?

As the play opens, the obvious main difference between Hap and Biff Loman is that Hap remained in his hometown after high school while Biff left the state. Hap has worked steadily in the same store, hoping for a promotion, and sees his parents often. Biff has tried "twenty or thirty different kinds of jobs" in multiple states. Hap comments that Biff's old self-confidence is gone, while the stage instructions explain that Hap is "hard-skinned" and hasn't allowed himself to face defeat yet.

As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Hap is in denial to a much greater degree than Biff is. Biff becomes more and more aware of the truth about himself and his family as the drama unfolds, while Hap remains confused. Hap keeps Biff from confronting Willy and defends his father, telling Biff not to call him crazy. He tries to appease Willy and make peace between his brother and father, and he advises Biff to lie to Willy about the failed appointment with Bill Oliver just so Willy will be happy for a while. By the end of the play, Biff is tired of lies and playing games. He tells his father the truth about Bill Oliver and about his own failures, including the time he spent in jail. During that conversation, Hap remains in denial. When Biff says, "We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!" Hap responds, "We always told the truth!"

In the Requiem, Hap still defends his father. Biff says Willy had the wrong dreams, but Hap, becoming antagonistic toward his brother, retorts, "Don't say that!" Hap digs in his heels, following the "good dream" of his father, but Biff is able to say, "I know who I am, kid."

The main difference between the two brothers is that Hap is content to remain in denial and is a static character. As a dynamic character, Biff has a revelation about who he is and can finally look at his own faults objectively.

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What is the main difference between the characters of Biff and Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman?

The biggest difference between the Loman brothers is that Biff once had a sense of purpose in life. Once upon a time, he was headed for great things; it was almost a given that he would go to school on a football scholarship. The world was very much his oyster, and there was every indication that he'd fulfill his father's dreams. But thanks to Willy's unrealistic expectations—not to mention the illicit affair he conducted with a secretary—Biff went completely off the rails, and now he's going nowhere in life.

Contrast that with Happy. He's never really had any sense of purpose. He's breezed through life without any definite plan. At times, he seems much more concerned with chasing women than with putting in the hard work necessary to be a success. Despite this attitude, he still clings to his father's delusional hope that all you need to be successful in life is to be a well-liked man. Like Dickens's Mr. Micawber, he assumes that something good will eventually turn up just around the corner.

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What is the main difference between the characters of Biff and Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman?

The main difference between the characters of Biff and Happy Loman is that, in the end, Biff gets to realize that his life has been a lie. Although Happy is aware of the same situation, he continues to follow his father's steps and keeps denying that anything is wrong with the Loman family. However, Biff explains the situation best when he says:

"I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been."

As a result of this discovery, Biff decides to change the vicious cycle that the Lomans live of denying reality, confronts his father about it, and chooses to leave the Loman household for good.

Meanwhile, Happy gives due justice to his nickname. He is the "OK" man. Everything is fine with him, even if its under denial. He tries to dissuade Biff each time Biff discovers that something is just not right in the way the Lomans act. That is, perhaps, because he is used to living under the shadow of Biff and does not know how else to proceed in life. Eventually, however, he falls under the Loman spell and tries to follow Willy's sales dream. Therefore, Happy perpetuates the cycle that Biff is trying to eliminate.

Yet, prior to Biff's epiphany the brothers were inseparable in their combined co-dependence of each other. They were clueless, immature, enmeshed, and unable to act like responsible adults. They were both psychologically castrated by the overshadowing past of Willy's control over them. They used to be lost children, basically, until finally Biff grows up and cuts loose. This is how they are very different, but used to be very much alike at one point.

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Compare the way Biff and Happy treat Willy in Death of a Salesman.

Biff and Happy have very different personalities, and this also affects the way each of them treat their father, Willy Loman. Happy's name is very significant-he is a happy-go-lucky character, he ignores unpleasant things in life and just focuses on what is pleasant and what makes him happy. Biff, on the other hand, feels very unsatisfied with his life and blames his father for a lot of the unhappiness.

In the first conversation between Biff and Happy at the beginning of the play, they discuss their father:

HAPPY: You’re not still sour on Dad, are you, Biff?

BIFF: He’s all right, I guess. 

We can see here that Happy has a better relationship with Willy than Biff does. They go on to say,

BIFF: Why does Dad mock me all the time?

HAPPY: He’s not mocking you, he...

BIFF: Everything I say there’s a twist of mockery on his face. I can’t get near him.

HAPPY: He just wants you to make good, that’s all. 

Happy defends Willy, while Biff criticizes him.

Biff also stands up to his father, while Happy either remains silent or tries to make everyone calm. Biff gets upset when Willy yells at Linda, and Biff says, "(furiously): Stop yelling at her!" Shortly before that, Happy says, "(trying to stop them): Wait a..." Happy just wants everyone to get along.

It is important to note that we learn through flashback about an incident that happened right after Biff graduated high school that changed Biff and Willy's relationship for forever. Willy was away on a trip, and he was staying in a hotel with his mistress, "The Woman," as she is called, and Biff went to find Willy because he needed help. Biff discovered the woman in Willy's hotel room, and after that lost all respect for his father. Before that, he had idolized him. But when he discovers his father is cheating, Biff says to him, "You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!" Happy, however, remains ignorant of this (as far as we know), so he still respects his father.

At the end of the play, in the last scene with the whole Loman family, they fight. Biff confronts his father about the piece of rubber tube that Linda had found that Wily was going to use to kill himself. In this scene, we again see Biff angry and confronting his father, while Happy tries to maintain the peace:

WILLY (sinking into a chair at a table, with full accusation): You’re trying to put a knife in me — don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing!

BIFF: All right, phony! Then let’s lay it on the line. (He whips the rubber tube out of his pocket and puts it on the table.)

HAPPY: You crazy...

LINDA: Biff! (She moves to grab the hose, but Biff holds it down with his hand.)

BIFF: Leave it there! Don’t move it!

WILLY (not looking at it): What is that?

BIFF: You know goddam well what that is.

WILLY (caged, wanting to escape): I never saw that.

BIFF: You saw it. The mice didn’t bring it into the cellar! What is this supposed to do, make a hero out of you? This supposed to make me sorry for you?

WILLY: Never heard of it.

BIFF: There’ll be no pity for you, you hear it? No pity!

WILLY (to Linda): You hear the spite!

BIFF: No, you’re going to hear the truth — what you are and what I am!

LINDA: Stop it!

WILLY: Spite!

HAPPY (coming down toward Biff): You cut it now!

BIFF (to Happy): The man don’t know who we are! The man is gonna know! (To Willy) We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!

HAPPY: We always told the truth! 

We see instances throughout this scene of Biff treating Willy in an angry and disrespectful way (although we can understand some of his frustration), and Happy just wants everything to be okay. So the main difference in how the two brothers treat their father is that Happy treats his father as though nothing is wrong, whereas Biff can't take it anymore and feels the need to speak the truth to his father.

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Compare and contrast Biff Loman and Happy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

In Death of a Salesman, Biff and Happy are both, at least on some level, aware of the fundamental hollowness of their lives. However, where Biff rejects the American dream and the consumerism that sustains it, Happy remains trapped by the pretensions of success and status and is caught up, much in the same manner that his father had been. This difference also reflects a more fundamental difference between the two sons, with Biff being more honest and direct as opposed to Happy, who is manipulative and lying.

When the two characters are first introduced, Arthur Miller describes both brothers as "lost," with the key difference being that Happy, unlike Biff, "has never allowed himself to turn his face toward defeat." This fundamental similarity is actually expressed in their first conversation, which establishes both brothers as sharing a fundamental disillusionment regarding their lives, with Happy lamenting the loneliness and emptiness of his lifestyle. The difference in this disillusionment is that Biff is willing to act on it by seeking an alternative to the American dream, while Happy remains trapped, still pursuing the same successes and empty pursuits (even if, on some level, he is aware of how pointless it all is).

As we read further into the play, however, a more fundamental distinction begins to take shape. Where Biff is generally honest and straightforward in his interactions, Happy is manipulative and deceitful. We see this expressed at its strongest in the scene in the restaurant, first with his lies to Miss Forsythe, and later in his attempts to spin Biff's failure with Bill Oliver to their father. In some respects, these revelations reinforce and also complicate the characterization previously set in place in act 1: it has already been established that Happy is dishonest with himself (after all, he expressed disillusionment with his current lifestyle, yet he remains committed to the pursuit of it). Now, it is established that this same dishonesty is much deeper and more pervasive. However, these revelations also undermine that earlier characterization, too, raising the possibility that his commiserations with Biff amount to just another layer of manipulation, tailored to appeal to Biff's disillusionment.

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