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Father/Son Relationship in Death of a Salesman

This study will explore the relationship between the father Willy Loman and his son Biff in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Specifically, the study will argue that Willy and Biff stand diametrically opposed to one another with respect to their views of the American Dream. Willy is a broken man who refuses to see that his blind seeking of that Dream has broken him, and Biff is the realist who accepts his own and his father's failure to bring that Dream to fruition.

There is friction between Biff and Willy from the beginning of the play to the end. Talking with his younger brother Happy, Biff says, "Why does Dad mock me all the time? . . . Everything I say there's a twist of mockery on his face. I can't get near him."

Willy both loves and hates Biff because Biff was Willy's hope for a vicarious success in life, but Biff has let him down. Biff is Willy's son in that Willy has taught him the values of the salesman in the kingdom of capitalism, but Biff is a traitor to Willy's values because he does not really believe in them. He is not dedicated to the American Dream as Willy is. Biff tries to live up to his father's requirements for success, but his heart is never really in it. Biff finally sees that he pities his father, even hates him in a sense, because Willy's life is so thoroughly false. Willy, on the other hand, hates Biff because he sees in his son a reflection of his own failure.

Biff and Willy's relationship was also torn by Biff's discovery of Willy's infidelity. Biff rages at Willy for giving the woman "Mama's stockings." Willy responds by telling Biff that he gave him an order---to get Willy's suits. Biff responds: "Don't touch me, you---liar!" Willy tells him to apologize and Biff says "You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!"

Willy and Biff play at being father and son for much of the play, but when Biff can take the pretense no longer the relationship is exposed for the sham which it is. When Biff...

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Father/Son Relationship in Death of a Salesman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:30, February 21, 2017, from