more analyzing of Death of a Salesman. The shiz hath hitteth the fan.

A healthy father-son relationship is one key to family harmony. In Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, this relationship has become strained and has begun to disintegrate. Willy Loman is nearing death, whereas his older son Biff is stuck on deciding what he wants from life. Willy has his own ideas of what Biff should be and should strive to achieve. His aspirations for Biff closely mirror what Willy himself accomplished or wished to accomplish in life, but Biff’s own hopes differ from those of his father. He wants the freedom to do whatever he wishes and to search out his place in the world. Willy’s view of his own life and goals, especially near his death, conflicts with his son’s ideas and aspirations, leading to a chaotic family and a criticism of the success ideal.

The causes of Willy and Biff’s problems are apparent throughout their lives, with contradiction and delusion dominating early on. Willy denies Biff’s kleptomania, an act which exposes Biff’s tendency to go against America’s standards and expectations. Willy claims that he thinks “the mind is what counts”, yet he doesn’t care that Biff is flunking math, which starts Biff’s slide into obscurity. Willy is instead focusing on Biff’s athletics, a motif representing a sensationalized idea of success that very few athletes obtain. Willy’s father “left when he was such a baby”, and he makes sure that the same doesn’t happen to Biff by trying to control his son’s life. He wants to “get Biff a job selling”, following his own career choice, yet Biff still wants and needs to “find himself” in the world. Linda knows that Biff is “lost”, and Happy also sides with Biff, wanting to go off and start a farm together. This exposes the two different stages in life where the men are at, which contributes to their misunderstandings. Whereas Willy believes that “not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace”, Biff is a different man, and realizes that “all he wants is out there, waiting for him the minute he realizes who he really is.

Neither Biff nor Willy never knew what he wanted from life. Willy thought he knew (success and money), but this ideal was unattainable in his situation. “A salesman is got to dream”, but Biff knows that “the man didn’t know who he was.” This ultimately destroyed Willy and all that he worked for. Biff doesn’t want to end up this way. He wishes to search for himself and then decide what he wants from life, and for the time being that means just “working out in the open.” Both men have different ideas of success and happiness, exposing the ambiguity of what “success” is. Willy thinks everyone has a chance to work their way up to the top, exmplified in Ben’s “walking out” with riches, but he has gotten nowhere. Biff merely wants to be happy doing what he wishes, not necessarily committing to working towards success and materialism.

Willy and Biff’s differing ideals cause their conflicts and expose an ambiguity within the idea of success. How they wish to achieve success conflicts, due in part to the different stages of life they are living. Biff and Willy had contrasting ideals, but wIlly did not recognize this and naively wanted to mold his son’s ideas after his own. Willy has reached his end, and his view of life clashes with and contradicts his son’s ideas and aspirations, showing their opposing dreams and leading to a chaotic family unit.