Billy Loman Character Analysis

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Arthur Miller’s tragic play, “Death of a Salesman,” tells the story of the Loman family, comprised of parents, Linda and Willy, and their two sons Biff and Happy. Each family member goes through their own internal struggles, from lying to cheating to stealing. Growing up Willy instilled a lot of ideologies he thought would benefit his sons in life, which really did the opposite, especially for eldest son Biff. Biff is a 34 year old, faced with the pressures of both his family and society to settle down and find himself. After a long struggle with his identity and the truth, Biff experiences a life changing epiphany, making him a dynamic character.

Biff Loman’s struggles begin in his childhood. An ideology that is Willy intensively pushes upon him is that he must be liked, and being well liked will get him all the opportunities he wants. As a child, though a relatively popular star football player, Biff never seems to take much interest in his academics. In fact, when close neighbor Bernard warns that Biff may fail math, it is not enough to affect Biff or Willy, as after they were informed of this, Willy begins asking about Bernards social status. This leads to one of Willy’s talks about how popularity is more important than working for things, saying, “Bernard can have the best marks in school,” but, “when he gets out into the business world,” Biff will be, “five times ahead of him.” The main message is Biff must, “be liked” and consequently he “will never want,” for anything (21). This message so early on is one huge factor that leads to Biff’s lack of direction and identity. Because his father’s message is essentially telling him that to be successful, being liked rather than working hard is more important, as Biff grows older his mindset will be that he never needs to work hard to get where he wants, when in reality hard work is crucial. Biff’s strong admiration for his father as a child is also why he struggles, anything his father says he believes and listens to, he strongly idolizes Willy because of how he describes himself. Willy claims that he is so well liked he never has to wait in line to see a buyer (21). Willy’s bragging makes him seem so well off that it makes sense Biff believes what Willy says. Ultimately, Willy’s parenting is the beginning of Biff’s downfall which will lead to a future life changing epiphany.

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Miller later incorporates a bombshell that Willy is unfaithful to wife, Linda, which marks a turning point in Biff’s life that truly begins his path towards losing himself. This shattering discovery comes directly after Biff finds out that he has failed math for the term and does not have enough credits to graduate. Biff, feeling like a failure, goes all the way to Boston to see Willy in his hotel room, who is there for work. Again, thinking Willy is such an upstanding and powerful figure, Biff’s plan is to ask Willy to talk his teacher into passing him. Biff pleads for his father to help him, stating if his teacher, “saw the kind of man,” Willy was, and if Willy could just talk to him in “his way,” the teacher would have no choice but to listen (92). This illustrates the monumental amount of faith Biff has in Willy as a role model. What Biff gets instead, is a revelation of his dad’s infidelity. Biff is so hurt by this discovery, he breaks out in tears, calling his father a, “phony little fake” (95). This discovery demolishes all of Biff’s respect, admiration, and idolization of his father. In this exact moment, all the things Willy previously said in the past becomes invalid to Biff. Biff loses his role model and does not know who to look up to, or what path he needs to follow. Having a solid adult figure who is trustworthy and a positive role model is important to the development of adolescents, as these will be the people they model their own lives after. Now, with Biff’s perfect picture of his role model destroyed, his life is full of confusion and contempt. This event leaves its mark on Biff, and is the peak event leading to his epiphany.

After finding out about his father’s affair, Biff reevaluates his whole life. Maybe all the things Willy tells him about being well liked and working in the business world is spurious. Biff begins to deeply think about his identity. He spends his life stealing, and moving from job to job, and ends up in jail at one point, but to what end, he questions himself. Still feeling the effects of his father’s actions, Biff finds it hard to clearly see what his role in the world is, and what path he should be on. Eventually, he begins to realize all the self sabotage, stealing and lying is unnecessary, and if he were to get into a career he truly likes, he would feel more self fulfilled. Instead of following what his father and society pressures onto him, Biff decides he should follow his own idea of a successful path, saying, “with a ranch I could do work I like and still be doing something” (14). Biff’s realization that he needs to think, and make decisions from himself is beginning to bud, marking the entrance to his life changing epiphany.

Toward the end of the play, Miller incorporates an epiphany Biff has that changes his life, allowing him to accept the truth and also understand his true identity. All the stories about being well liked, and joining the business world from his father, and the pressures from his mother about respecting his father are just clouding his own judgement and pushing Biff away from what he knows he can do in life. Finally, after trying to please his parents and find a job in the business world, Biff is hit with his huge epiphany, “I ran down eleven flights with a pen in my hand today. And suddenly I stopped,” he announces to his family, “and I saw—the sky,” he says, also adding how he saw many things he loves like work, food, and, “time to sit and smoke,” he explains he looks at the pen he is stealing asks himself various questions such as, “what the hell am I grabbing this for?” or, “why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be?” and most importantly, “what am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!” (105). Biff’s epiphany leads him to understand that he does not need to try to act like some well known big shot, and sees the flaws of his Willy’s dream. Biff now understands the quality of having his own dreams, and aspiring for what he thinks is a successful life. Biff even tells Willy that he’s not, “anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in ash like all the rest of them” (106). Though Willy talks about being so high status, it’s all an illusion, there is no notoriety. Biff finally decides he must accept his choice in identity, “I’m a dime a dozen” he proclaims (105). All in all, Biff learns a valuable lesson from his life changing epiphany, and is no longer struggling with his identity or the truth.

Biff’s experience of a life changing epiphany, which leads to an acceptance of the truth as well as his identity is slowly built up throughout the play. Stemming from his childhood, Biff is essentially set up for failure by his father’s backwards advice. Then, he loses his only role model he has after discovering his father’s unfaithful actions. By this point, Biff completely loses himself, and is tasked with having find his own way through life by understanding his own truth, and his own identity. By the end of the play, Arthur Miller reveals Biff’s development through an epiphany, making him a dynamic character who now has a firm grasp of the concept of truth, as well as his identity.

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Billy Loman Character Analysis. (2021, Mar 08). Retrieved from