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Literature: Arthur Miller

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It is every father's dream for their children to grow up and lead a better life
than they did and provide for their family better. Willy Loman was no exception
to the rule, because he wanted the best for his children from a very young age,
especially for his promising son Biff. Biff was loaded with potential as a boy
in high school, and Willy recognized it and promoted it more than he needed to.
Although Biff sees his life as not a complete failure, his monstrous adolescent
potential transformed into years of failure, and blame for this must be put on
the shoulders of his father. As the old adage goes, "like father like
son." This could be attached to the relationship between Willy and Biff but
some would contend that it would be taking a lot away from Willy. While many of
his tactics on raising his children were skewed, it is conceivable to say that
he worked as hard as he could to provide for his family. He was never afraid of
work. No matter how terrible he was at it he was always able to convince himself
he was good, which helped him earn the money his family needed. Of all the
terrible things, though, that Biff took from his father hard work was not one of
them. Hard work is something that Biff can never say he was a part of. He always
looked for the easy way out and when he found it he took it. People will contend
that Biff is not a failure only because Willy messed up raising him. They would
say that Willy may not have been the best father but it was Biff who made the
decisions that ruined his own life. Decisions that Willy had no control over. Is
that really true though? Willy had a complete influence on those decisions
because the only ways in life Biff knew were the ones that he was shown growing
up by his father. As a star football player in high school, Biff had it all. As
Happy unmistakably said, "he has a group of girl's following him
everywhere, now that he's captain." Growing up Biff idolized his father,
and the attention was returned from Willy to him. Willy saw his son as a child
who could do no wrong. Willy pushed him to have a "conquer the world"
attitude which he thought would push him to success. It was a selfish action
though because Willy wanted Biff to succeed only so he could feel as though he
had done a good job raising him. Unbridled potential like Biff had, sometimes
needs to be allowed to develop on its own and not be prodded and urged the way
Willy did. Obviously Biff did not respond to the pressure and stress that Willy
put him under at a young age so his talents and ability were wasted throughout
his whole life. Willy's downfall as a parent was not that he wasn't interested
or involved in his son's life, but rather his neglect to see what Biff needed
from his father. From his youth as well, Biff was influenced by Willy regarding
illegalities such as stealing and lying. Willy felt as though Biff should, and
could, make his own rules for life. When he stole a football from the team he
was praised rather than scolded by his father. Willy thought, "coach will
probably congratulate you on your initiative." He let Biff drive without a
license as well as encouraging him to steal from a nearby construction site.
Willy was ignorant to that fact that Biff was a different person than he was.
Willy was so caught up in the fact that his set of morals (or lack there of) was
successful that he preached them to Biff, where in fact the only reason Willy
saw them as successful was because he was so optimistic/unrealistic in looking
at his own life. As a result of incident like these Biff never learned right
from wrong, which haunted him later in life. Biff spoke so beautifully and
eloquently about the Dakotas and Texas, that it seemed as though those were
places he could succeed in and spend the rest of his life in prosperity.
However, he was not able to hold down jobs in those areas because of stealing
incidents. Had steeling been discouraged or even not been promoted in his life
from an early age he might have been able to settle down in an area he liked and
made something of himself. Like his father Biff is not realistic. He refuses to
actually see what he has done, or has not done in his life. Biff however is
aware of his own unhappiness which separates him from his father. Biff does not
accept responsibility for his actions though. He is afraid to grow up and take
on the world head on. He admits this to his brother Happy, when he confesses,
"I'm still a boy." This coming from a man who is 34 years of age.
Having idolized and mimicked his father as a child this is not surprising. Willy
has a skewed view of life to say the very least. He sees everything as
romanticized, and convinces himself that everything is fine and dandy. When a
possible problem arises he convinces himself that it is someone else's problem
or that it will fix itself. Even as an old man Willy has characteristics of a
child. He never truly matured mentally in his life because he rebuffed any
notion that his life was not totally fortuitous. Willy is obviously a drone. A
worker. He is a dime a dozen, and everyone realizes it except him. Even his name
alone suggests that he is a drone. Willy Loman, or if spelled differently Willy
Low-man. With a role model like this it is not surprising to see how Biff has no
grasp of reality and probably never will. A different rationale for Biff's
failure and unhappiness in his life has to do with his brother Happy. When they
were in high school Biff was clearly the favored child by Willy, whom each
admired greatly. This favoritism was an enormous disservice to Biff because, as
he later realizes nobody gives you an inch in the real world. Happy was used to
playing second fiddle to Biff in his father's eyes. This didn't stop him from
trying to get his father's attention though. He would literally jump in front of
Willy in attempts to steal some of the attention that was constantly focused on
Biff. Several times Happy has to say to Willy "I've lost weight dad, do you
notice," to get a response. Unlike his brother Happy was prepared to go
into the world as a regular person. He was able to accept his role as a laborer,
nothing more and nothing less. Big things were expected of Biff but not so much
of Happy. As adults it is somewhat the opposite. This is not to speculate that
Happy is this huge success, but he is more of one than Biff is. This role
reversal is hard for Biff to comprehend and accept. He had lived his whole life
thinking and being taught that he could do nothing and still get by in life.
Where everything was handed to Biff as a child, Happy had to work for things a
little more. Not to say that Happy hasn't absorbed any of Willy's teachings
though. Happy is not perfect by any means. He takes bribes and has affairs with
engaged women but he sees his role as a human and accepts it. This is something
Biff cannot do. The thing that separated Biff and happy in this area is the
favoritism Biff had received at a young age. While Willy was giving Biff a free
ride as a kid, set was setting him up for failure later on in life. Seeing how
Willy and Biff's interactions at the beginning of the play result, only enhances
our sentiments about Willy's ignorance. Arthur Miller wants us to see that their
is only one way to achieve prosperity or the American dream, and it is not
Willy's way. Following orders, pretending to be liked and living in a dream
world will only end in failure. He wants us to see that to succeed you must have
character and backbone. A leader will go farther than a follower. Willy was even
unable to live his life vicariously through his son because of the mistakes he
made. It is not how much you know or who you know, but what you do with it.
Arthur Miller would agree with the famous proverb, "The human mind is
bigger than the human heart, but will take you less far." At the time of
the play Willy would not have accepted this train of thought. It is possible
though, that looking back on his life and Biff's that every single Loman family
member would take that quote to heart.
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