Death of a Salesman

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Discuss Arthur Miller’s presentation of Biff in ‘Death of a Salesman’

Arthur Miller’s presentation of Biff in ‘Death of a Salesman’ is complicated. Within three days after Biff returned home, he is portrayed as a complex character that undergoes various inner conflicts and changes in personality. Firstly, Biff is presented as a lost soul throughout most parts of the play. Through Willy’s flashbacks, the audience finds out that Biff used to be a football star with scholarship prospects in high school. He has been under his father’s expectation of him, which is to be a successful businessman. However, at the age of thirty-four, the promising Biff has turned into a troubled soul. Biff is contradicted between his father’s dream and that humble desire of him. Biff does not want to pursue wealth and to achieve the American dream like Willy and all other Americans. In contrast, he has a simpler and more realistic dream, which is work on the farm and to be immersed in nature. Biff’s only desire is ‘to be outdoors, with [your] shirt off’. The word ‘desire’, not ‘want’ or ‘hope’, highlights his passion for nature and his dream of working as a farmhand. Biff dislikes devoting his whole life in ‘keeping stocks or making phone calls’. He perceives the business life in which all Americans long for is pointless. Nevertheless, Biff’s desperate attempt to ‘build a future’ contrasts his dream of being ‘outdoors’. This is apparent in the line ‘I’ve made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life’. The repetition of ‘waste’ highlights Biff’s disdain to his own life as he sees what he has done throughout his years as rubbish. Even though Biff is happy with his job as a farm hand, he still feels guilty for not fulfilling his father’s dream. Despite his contentment when working on a farm, Biff thinks that what he really should do is to become rich instead of being a ‘one dollar an hour’ farmhand. Willy’s delusion together with societal pressure makes he feels that he is not successful. Therefore, Biff keeps moving from jobs to jobs, and eventually ends up becoming a lost soul. Secondly, Biff is presented as a very surprising character throughout ‘Death of a Salesman’. The audience is shocked to see his dramatic change in character. She is astonished by how a person who has been lost for years can suddenly grow up within only three days. Biff in Act One is portrayed as a lost, troubled soul. Unexpectedly, up to the end of Act Two, Biff suddenly finds himself. This is apparent in the line ‘I saw – the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world.’ These quotes show Biff’s dawning realization of his true desire. The ‘sky’ symbolizes freedom, which suggests that Biff is freed from Willy’s grandiose fantasies. During an argument with Willy, Biff says that: ‘What the hell am I grabbing this for?’. The rhetorical question clearly shows that Biff does not expect an answer from his father, but to emphasize that he does not want to please him any longer. He is tired of desperately trying to make people around him happy and he, from now on, will do what he wants to do. Through a very emotive language such as ‘what the hell’, Biff asserts that he will not ‘grabbing’ material success anymore. He does not want to try to get things that he dislikes just to please his father. In addition, Biff eventually has the revelation that he is not designed for greatness: ‘I’m dime a dozen’. The alliteration of ‘d’ in ‘dime’ and ‘dozen’ highlights the fact that Biff is just an average man. Biff acknowledges that and manages to confront it. He realizes that he does not need to pursue financial success to be happy. The only thing that makes him content is to work on a farm, enjoying the splendor of nature. Thus, Biff’s sudden maturity makes him a very surprising character within ‘Death of a Salesman’. Ultimately, Biff is presented as vulnerable within ‘Death of a Salesman’. In his youth, Biff is...
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