Biff in Death of a Salesman: Character Analysis

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

In ''Death of a Salesman'' by Arthur Miller, Biff goes through a very intense and important change. Read on to find out who Biff is and why he is important in the play.

Not Just the Popular Jock

Sometimes the popular football player in high school is a great guy. Sometimes he is a little too full of himself. In Death of Salesman, Biff is both of these things. Yet he is also a much more complex character. As we get to know Biff, we can see that he also serves to illuminate the character of his father, Willy.

First Impressions

Biff is the eldest son of Willy and Linda Loman. The very first time we meet Biff, he and his brother, Happy, are visiting their parents. The two are grown men, but they are lying in their old bedroom giggling about girls. Happy tells Biff, ''You taught me everything I know about women. Don't forget that.''

Happy also observes that Biff has become less confident with women and in general, and that he's lost some of his sense of humor. Biff asks Happy ''Why does dad mock me all the time?'' Happy explains that their dad, Willy, talks to himself in his old age, and most of the time he imagines he is having conversations with Biff. Happy explains that Willy is concerned that Biff is not settled and that he is ''up in the air.''

Biff tells Happy how hard he tried after high school. He complains that he worked for 50 weeks out of the year just to have a two-week vacation when all he really wanted was to be outside with his shirt off.

Unsettled

Since Biff is currently working on a farm, Happy asks him if he is satisfied where he is. Biff responds by telling him that whenever spring comes around on a farm, he starts thinking '' I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I'm not gettin' anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future'' This is a really important interaction because it shows us the fact that Biff seems to be unhappy no matter where he is. He doesn't want to work in an office, but being on a farm makes him feel like he isn't building a future. It seems that Biff really is unsettled.

The Secret Keeper

Another important aspect of Biff's personality involves the secret he keeps. In Act II of the play, we find out that during his senior year he flunked math. Biff only had to go to summer school and he would be able to graduate. To get advice, Biff decided to travel all the way to New England to visit his father, who was on a business trip.

Biff does not go to summer school and does not graduate. Later we learn that, on the trip to New England, Biff walked in on his father and mistress in a hotel room. Biff has kept this a secret, and it seems that the encounter destroyed his faith in his father. When Biff returned, he destroyed his favorite sneakers, a gift from the college Biff hoped to play football for. His father had bragged about the sneakers to a neighbor who tried to convince Biff to study.

While Biff sometimes comes across as self-centered, the fact that he was willing to keep this secret reveals that he cared about his family and the impact it would have if he shared what he saw in New England.

The Honesty Scene

As the tension between Biff and his father escalates, the two finally confront one another. This moment comes after Willy is fired from his job and after Biff fails to move forward with a business plan.

Biff starts by confronting his father about his plans to commit suicide. His father denies it, and Biff comments that ''We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house.'' Biff tells his father that he has ''stolen himself out of every good job since high school.'' He blames Willy for blowing his ego so far out of proportion that he can not stand to take orders from anyone.

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