Essay, Research Paper
Biff and Happy in Death of A Salesman It is said that the sins of the father are visited upon the sons. In Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman, the shortcomings of the father, Willy Loman, have been transmitted to his two sons in such a damaging way that the two sons are crippled for life — but in very different ways. This paper will examine those ways by analyzing the young men’s relationship with each other, their mother, and most importantly, their father. The Loman sons – Biff, 34, and the younger Happy – are refraction s of Willy. (Lyons) Biff Loman, the older brother, is his father’s golden boy. For Willy Loman, his other son Happy, barely exists except as a backup to Biff, someone to hold Biff s helmet on the way to the big game. Both Biff and Happy, up through high school, absorbed all their dad’s platitudes and values: the importance of “personal attractiveness,” of being “well-liked,” of sweet-talking their way into any situation regardless of the lies they told or the methods they used to get there. They also absorbed a deluded self-aggrandizement, a warped concept of who they are. In Biff’s case it was based on who Biff was twenty years before — a high school football hero — a boy who “looked like Adonis” and was destined, simply by virtue of his looks and charisma, to rise straight to the top. However, something happened at the end of Biff s high school career to change his destiny. Biff flunked math by four points, despite having enlisted his friend Bernard to give him the answers to the test. It is doubtful that his teacher, Mr. Birnbaum, knew conclusively that he’d cheated even to get a sixty-one, but because Biff had a cocky attitude and had been somewhat of a class clown throughout the course, he refused to curve Biff’s grade, even though that meant Biff would not graduate with his class, and thereby lose his scholarship to the University of Virginia. Biff, as always, turned to his father for help; if anyone could sweet-talk Birnbaum into giving him the extra four points, Biff was convinced it would have been Willy. Willy, was on a business trip in Boston that day, so Biff promptly hopped a train for New England. When he arrives at Willy’s hotel, it is the middle of the night. He knocks on Willy’s door, and it takes Willy an unconscionably long time to come to the door; when he finally does, Biff sees that there is a scantily clad woman in his father’s room. He is crushed. His father has been the center of his life, and the knowledge that this “family man” has been cheating on his wife — Biff’s mother — causes a severe crisis in Biff’s personality. It is literally more than he can handle. Not only will Biff’s relationship with his father never be the same, but also Biff will never be the same either. Biff goes away and embarks on a series of dead-end jobs and botched career starts. He takes courses, but never pursues jobs in those fields; he gets an entry-level job but inevitably cuts corners to move him up the ladder more quickly, and winds up getting fired. One of Biff s problems again reinforced by early experiences with his father is that when he gets frustrated he steals. As a boy Biff and his brother Happy stole lumber from a nearby construction project, and rather than punishing them for this, Willy was delighted with their wiliness. This early reinforcement of what clearly could become a very dangerous habit has the predictable result. Immediately prior to the opening of the play Biff has been jailed for theft, and when he is airily dismissed by a man he is trying to approach as a Financial backer for his sporting goods enterprise, Biff steals the man’s fountain pen.Of the two brothers, Biff is definitely the one with more obvious psychological damage. Happy, the younger brother, has a job; due to the family penchant for self-aggrandizement, we’re never sure exactly how great a job it is, but he is at least able So that he can afford his own apartment. Happy has inherited his father’s way with women, lying and charming his way into their hearts (and, we assume, beds). But Happy has not gotten off scot-free, either. A lifetime of playing second fiddle to his father’s glorification of Biff has left Happy a desperate man. He has never won his father’s love and never will; he can’t even succeed in getting his attention. For example, during the flashback sequences, Happy repeatedly tries to get his father to notice he’s “losing weight, Willy never even dignifies the boy with a response; during Happy’s adulthood. He asserts more than once that he’s getting married (a remark that should get a parent’s attention if they re ever was one), but Willy still remains focused on Biff. Happy, however, never stops trying; and worse, he never sees Willy as anything but a hero. Again, we do not know whether Happy has any intimation of the story of Biff and Willy in the Boston hotel room, but it does not really matter; if Happy ever heard such as story, he would never believe it, because it would be totally incompatible with the belief system he has built up around his father — the only belief system he has. The crux of the problem is Willy has crippled both boys in the same way; they have no sense of values except his. Biff is unmarred because the Gospel According To Willy has been replaced in his value system by “the facts” -during several conversations with his father, Biff keeps trying to get back to “the facts”, but is not allowed to. Happy, on the other hand, has totally accepted his father’s value system; he lies whenever lies are more convenient or more attractive than the truth, and in the end deceives himself that his own lies are the way things really are.During the flashback sequences, both boys echo their father: young Biff points out that Bernard, for example, is not “well-liked,” probably the most damning thing Willy could say about anybody. But by the time the play opens, Biff has gotten way behind this way of looking at others, while for Happy it continues to be of paramount importance. The real difference, however, between the boys may be summed up in their attitude toward Linda, their mother and Willy’s wife. The adult Biff recognizes the way Willy puts down his well-meaning and long-suffering wife, and angrily springs to herAid against Willy. For Happy, on the other hand, supporting his father emotionally is the most important thing, even if it means trampling on his mother to do it. Happy is, in his mother’s words, ”a philandering bum.”(Lyons)One of the most telling sequences is at the end of Act I, where Willy, Biff and Happy come up with the idea for the ill-fated Loman Brothers sportingGoods enterprise, all three of them building on this dream castle as they invent it. In the coming of the play, the central character, Willy Loman, is referred to as a small man but we can t take that too literally. For Willy is small only in the sense that, to people whom don t know him, he doesn t matter. With his own family, he looms so large as any epic hero. (Fintan O Toole) This is, to Willy, obviously a man’s conversation, and he finds Linda’s well-meaning interruptions She s agreeing with him, or echoing his statements) intrusive. He yells at her, first telling her to “stop interrupting,” then to just “stop”, and finally asking, “Will you let me talk?” Biff springs to his mother’s defense because he sees his father for what he is, a blowhard; Happy tries to smooth things over, still tacitly supporting his father’s way of working the conversation. He is so completely at one with his father’s world that no other approach would be possible. In the end, Biff remains crippled but aware of his state; Happy remains blissfully Ignorant of the way his worshipful emulation of his father’s life has doomed him to a Similar fate. In fact, Happy’s last speech of the play asserts that he’s going to win his Father s fight for him. Neither character will win any fights for anyone, however, until they can divorce themselves from Willy’s destructive legacy.