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Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

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How would you describe Biff and Willy's relationship in Death of a Salesman?

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The relationship between Biff and Willy in Death of a Salesman can be described as fraught. Willy always had high hopes for Biff, but he is disappointed that he hasn't achieved his potential. For his part, Biff has never felt the same way towards his father since he found out Willy was having an affair with a secretary.

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Willy and Biff have a troubled relationship. Willy's grandiosity and refusal to live in reality have almost ruined Biff's life. During the course of the play, Biff comes to terms with this reality as he tries to change his life and steer a psychologically more healthy course than his father's.

By the time Biff is a teenager, it must have been apparent to Willy, whether he wanted to admit it or not, that his dreams of being a wealthy salesman sitting in a hotel room in his velvet slippers as the telephone orders came flooding in is not going to be his reality. In truth, Willy is a mediocre salesman struggling to survive economically. Therefore, he pins his hopes and dreams on Biff.

He decides that Biff is better than other teens and will have the success he never had. Because Willy defines success as using your personality to dominate others and fast talk your way to wealth without having to do the hard work of gaining expertise, Willy pushes this way of living on his son. He doesn't encourage him to work hard in school and instead praises shallow "values," like popularity and putting things over on people, such as through petty theft. He never encourages his son to go to college. He also badly disillusions Biff by having an affair that Biff becomes aware of in high school. Biff is not impressed by, but instead is angered and shattered at his father's deceptions and betrayals.

Biff tries to get across to his father during the play that he has himself wasted many years being misled by his father's delusions but now has every intention of accepting being an ordinary person and living in reality. He has seen the destructive quality of his father's desire to be bigger and better than everyone else, turning life into an endless, pointless competition.

Willy, on some level realizing he has been a miserable failure, tries to make things right with Biff the only way he knows how, which is to commit suicide so that Biff can inherit his insurance money and have a fresh start.

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The relationship between Willy Loman and his son Biff isn't a good one, and that's mainly because each one has, to some extent, disappointed the other's expectations. Willy had always wanted Biff to be a high-achiever, to become “a well-liked man,” which for him is just about the most important thing in life.

Initially, it seemed that Biff was going to do his old man proud and become a star football player. But after he flunked his math test and missed out on a football scholarship, his dream lay in ruins.

But it takes two to tango, as they say, and Willy disappointed Biff. When Biff found out that Willy was having an affair with a secretary, such was his trauma that he went completely off the rails. In fact, he was so hard-hit by his father's infidelity that it affected his school work. It's no exaggeration to say that Biff's flunking of his math test and missing out on a football scholarship was the direct result of his father's transgressions.

As a result, father and son have a very bad relationship. Willy can't help but remain disappointed in Biff, and Biff can't respect Willy, not just because of his philandering, but also because he's become something of a dinosaur in the world of sales even though he still acts like he's a hot-shot.

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The relationship between Biff and Willy can be described as turbulent, dysfunctional and, actually, dissociative.

It is turbulent because the history of angst, secrecy, and disappointments between Willy and Biff prompts instant arguing and fighting between the two men, at any given time.

The angst on Biff's part comes from the disappointing discovery of his father's affair with "The Woman." This discovery occurs during a time in Biff's life when his high school successes have just come crashing down, and he needs the support of the very man who builds him up and puts him on a pedestal.

Knowing that this very man, his father, is capable of lying and deceiving puts Biff in a diatribe: IS he the "wonder child" that his father, the liar, has made him out to believe he is, or is Biff Loman yet another one of Willy's "lies"?

On the other hand, the fact that Willy knows how Biff feels about him after the discovery is a huge bad blow to his ego: he no longer has his "wonder child" to boast about, and he can no longer continue his project of making Biff everything that Willy wished he could have been. Hence, the men's communication falls apart and seems to only lend itself for conflict. 

The relationship between Biff and Willy is dysfunctional because it lacks the defined boundaries and limitations of affection and mutual respect that should exist between a parent and a child. In a healthy parent/son relationship the father nurtures the son and lets him develop according to the child's own possibilities. Willy does this, but not altruistically: he builds Biff as a more handsome, more talented, and more successful version of Willy in order to vicariously re-live his lost years.

As a result of the lack of proper boundaries between father and son, Biff sees his father as his rival and enemy during trying times. Rather than trying to seek a reconciliation that would enable them to move forward, they basically go head-on against each other like if they were not even related. This is the epitome of a dysfunctional parent/child dynamic. 

Finally, the relationship is dissociative because both men have lived, either in denial or in complete dissociation, of the reality of their lives. Their lack of focus on themselves as individuals, makes it impossible for them to view themselves as part of a healthy relationship. Willy sees himself as a hot shot salesman, sees Biff as a hot shot football player, and sees his American Dream fulfilled. As a result, Biff starts to be sucked into Willy's dream and ends up believing the same things...until reality hits Biff and he realizes that his life had been a lie, all along. Hence, Biff moves out West trying to find himself. However, as he himself says, "something" always brings him back. 

Therefore, dissociation, turbulence and dysfunctional roles constitute the backbone of the Loman's relationship. It is a relationship that can only be healed by the a reality check, and by the mutual choice of accepting it the way that it is. 

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How does Willy feel about Biff in Death of a Salesman?

Willy Loman has mixed feelings about his oldest son, Biff. As an adolescent, Willy hoped to live vicariously through Biff and believed that he could succeed at becoming a successful, wealthy salesman because of his appearance and likability. Tragically, Biff discovered his father having an affair during a business trip in Boston, which ruined their relationship. After discovering that Willy was cheating on Linda, Biff never tried to pass his math course or become a college athlete.

As an adult, Biff struggles to make ends meet and has not lived up to his father’s expectations. Biff’s failures in life make Willy upset, and he believes his son is unsuccessful out of spite. Willy cannot comprehend why Biff would not succeed, refuses to take responsibility for his son’s lack of success, and continually argues with Biff. Essentially, Willy places unfair expectations on Biff and refuses to acknowledge that Biff’s interests and talents are not suited for the sales industry. Overall, Willy loves Biff, yet he resents him for not becoming a successful salesman and believes he has failed out of spite.

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How does Willy feel about Biff in Death of a Salesman?

Biff appears to be a failure, yet he is not. Willy loves Biff; in fact, he has attempted, as many parents, to live vicariously through Biff. Willy continuously thinks of Biff's glory days in high school as the happiest times in his life. However, Biff is an unsuccessful salesman, unsuccessful in following in his father's footsteps. Ironically, this is critical to the play's theme. Willy also ends up as an unsuccessful salesman after squandering his life in the attempt to succeed, illustrating the corrupt influence of the American Dream. Biff actually goes on to live the real American dream, becoming one with the land, instead of selling his soul as a salesman. Willy fails at all his dreams and can only hope to plant a garden in the stifling atmosphere of the city.

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In Death of a Salesman, why is Willy annoyed with Biff?

Willy Loman is annoyed with his son because Biff did not fulfill or exceed his expectations of becoming a successful salesman. Willy raised Biff to believe that likeability and appearance were the foremost attributes necessary to achieve the American Dream and climb the social ladder. Willy dismissed Biff's negative behaviors and actually encouraged him to cheat and steal as an adolescent. Willy Loman also believed that Biff would pass his math exam and enroll in college, where he would become a football star. Willy felt that Biff would easily attain success simply because he was attractive, charismatic, and athletic.

Tragically, Biff never lived up to any of his father's dreams and is instead an unemployed thirty-four-year-old man with no family, home, or money. Willy is also upset with Biff because he feels that his son purposely failed at everything in life out of spite. Willy tells himself that Biff purposely failed to make him upset and refuses to take responsibility for his son's lack of success. One could also argue that Willy represses his failures as a parent and projects the negative image of himself onto his son, which is why he is annoyed with Biff.

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In Death of a Salesman, why is Willy annoyed with Biff?

Willie thinks Biff is wasting his gifts, his personal attractiveness.  Wille based his career on the concept of attractiveness believing that it would be the key to his success as a salesman.   Willie excused all types of destructive behavior (stealing a football, for example) because of his personal attractiveness.  The foil to Biff is Bernard.  Bernard represents the work ethic; he tries to get Biff to study so that he will graduate and be able to accept an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia, but Willie mocks Bernard, saying that he will never be successful becuase he lacks this personal attractiveness.  Sadly, as with many things, Willie has this all wrong.

 The other possibility is that Willie is guilty because he knows that Biff's downhill slide began when he found Willie in a compromising situation when he travelled to Boston to find him and ask for his help.  It is as though if Biff were successful, this incident would be wiped off the books as it were and return Willie to his one success in life --- as a father.

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How do Willy's boys feel about him in Death of a Salesman?

"Death of a Salesman," a classic piece of American literature written by Arthur Miller, tells the story of Willy Loman, a traveling salesman of 34 years who is unable to accept change—within himself, his family, or the society at large. His sons, Biff and Happy, couldn't be more different in their personalities, and it's evident in how they treat their father.

Biff is a deeply flawed 34-year-old, from his inability to hold down a decent job to run-ins with the law. However, he demonstrates a strong desire to mature and grow. He especially looked up to Willy when he was a young star football player; but as he's gotten older, he comes to see his dad's wishes for his life as materialistic and unattainable. Having seen Willy cheat on his mother also tainted the idea of his father as a role model. He now finds his father difficult to communicate with and begins to blame his father for making him arrogant, which he says is the reason his bosses always fire him. He wants his father to simply love him for who he is and feels a need to convey the truth about who he is inside and the problems he feels his father caused.

Happy, on the other hand, is quite different from his older brother, both in terms of his personality and his relationship with his father. He shares his father's deluded sense of over-confidence and dreams of getting rich quick. However, because Willy has always favored Biff, Happy has had to work extra hard to please him. He sticks up for his father and defends him from Biff's tirades. He is desperate for his father's approval and makes that clear in their interactions. Ironically, Happy reveals he's actually become rather despondent about the fact that his life is not working out for him as he planned. Yet he stubbornly clings to the notions his father instilled, and thanks to a misguided devotion to his such principles, continues treating his father as if everything is perfectly fine when it's not.

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