Throughout history family has always been a major topic in literature, this was very common in American literature through the twentieth century especially post World War 2. During this time period American was changing like it always does, the country began turning outward politically but inward culturally. New ideals of conformity and homogeny began popping up making it difficult to fit in if you were an outcast. The idea of the nuclear family was very prominent in the culture, the man went to work the wife stayed home and took care of the kids, but some literary works defied these norms and what was considered socially taboo.
One author in particular, Arthur Miller argues against conformity by talking about many socially taboo topics such as adultery and suicide shattering this leave it to beaver version of 1950’s America. In “Death of a salesman” Arthur Milles paints us a picture of Willy Loman and his relationship with his sons Biff and Happy. Willy would like to be able to count on his two sons, but he knows he can’t. The older one is Biff who is a failure in his life, and the younger one Happy has a steady job. But none of them can meet the demand of Willy.
There are ups and downs with their relationship during the different stages of their life, however the father-son relationship was good at the beginning, it becomes damaged as time moves and is never repaired The conflict between the two stems from Willy’s parenting and his philosophy of life as a whole, in Willy’s eyes the key to success in life is to be well-liked, attractive, and basically outsmart everybody around you. This idea doesn’t sit well with biff the high school football star who has yet to make a name for himself because he flunked out of school. Biff is having a difficult time adjusting to his new ircumstances while his father is disappointed he flunked out of school and ruined his life, Biff and Willy both have conflicts to resolve with each other and elsewhere, it’s important that they figure thing out for them self’s and adjust to their new realities. One of the most overwhelming themes in “Death of a salesman” is that of the “American Dream. ” This is demonstrated through the character of Willy Loman, and how his pursuit of the American Dream led to the collapse of his relationships with his son Biff and wife Linda, and ultimately to his own demise.
Willy Loman is a sixty something traveling salesman from Brooklyn New York, he works hard to provide for his family and eventually pay off the mortgage on their house. Biff is Willy’s favorite son and when he was growing up, Biff had idolized his father. Willy thought Biff could do no wrong, Willy makes Biff believe that someone so confident, so gorgeous is certain to attain success in life. collapsed. Willy is crazy about his son, he means everything in the world to him and only wants what best even if Biff can’t see that. In order to understand the problems with Biff and Willy we have to go back in time to when Biff was in high school and the star of the football team. In Act 1 willy has a flashback to when things were good between him and his family. Biff and wally were washing willy’s car and everything was good. During that flash The neighbors kid Bernard came by and willy points out to Biff that Bernard may be smart but no one likes him, no one likes a know it all. During that same time when Biff was in high school he never put much energy into his schoolwork and failed math as a senior.
Bernard tries to tutor Biff but he didn’t take it seriously, this was due to the fact that Willy let him get away with anything and never encouraged him to do well in school. When Biff visited will Without the math credit, Biff couldn’t graduate and therefore couldn’t take his football scholarship to college Willy still can’t get over the fact Biff doesn’t want to be a salesman and his sons many failures in life When Biff comes home to fix himself, Willy perceives it as failure.
Willy desperately wants Biff to succeed in every way possible but Willy tries he tries to take matters into his own hands. “I’ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time ” (16). The reason that Biff came home is to find out what he wants in life. Because Willy gets in the way, matters become more complicated. Partly due to Willy’s persistence in Biff’s life, they have conflicting ideas as to what the American dream is. Willy believes that working on the road by selling is the greatest job a man could have (81).
Biff, however, feels the most inspiring job a man could have is working outdoors (22). When their two dreams collide, it becomes frustrating to Willy because he believes he is right If a father becomes too involved in his son’s life friction will be the resultant factor. Their relationship sufferers reaching a point where Biff can’t Willy. The frustration of Biff begins and he no longer feels comfort with the presence of his father, the incident which is mainly responsible for the collapse of the father-son relationship is Willy’s lovemaking with a Boston girl.
Biff travels to Boston to meet his father but he finds in the hotel room that his father is passing his time with a girl. Biff goes to Boston to tell his father that he has failed his exam and Willy needs to talk to his teacher for Biff’s readmission. However, when Biff discovers his father’s betrayal to his mother, he loses his interest in education and job. Here also we find that Willy is largely responsible for Biff’s failure in securing a good career. Besides, the Boston incident sours the father-son relationship permanently.
Biff’s problem lies in the fact that, even though he does not want to associate with Willy, he cannot change the fact that he is his son. And as a result, he cannot change the fact that his father has inevitably affected him Miller attempts to show the conflicts that occur as a result of a father not teaching his sons any morals. Willy ingrains in Biff’s head that a person can do anything as long as they are popular. Because of this belief, Biff develops an addiction to stealing.
Biff has trouble all his life because he steals. “I stole myself out of every good job since high school” (131). It is this reason that has caused all his problems with Willy, and Willy is to blame because he never told him differently. Happy also has a sour relationship with Willy because of the lack of values he has. Willy always tells them that being popular is the best quality to have. Biff is different from Willy because he does finally accept and embrace the fact that he has been living a lie all of his life.
Biff is relieved once he realizes who he is and what he wants, as opposed to who Willy thinks he should be and who Biff needs to pretend to be in order to please him. Once Biff states that “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house,” he severs himself from Willy because he openly refuses to live by Willy’s philosophy any longer. Ironically, Biff reconciles with Willy almost immediately following this statement. Since he acknowledges that he, too, is a “fake,” Biff can no longer hold a grudge against Willy.
But Willy on his part always tries to do something for his boys and does never want to depend on them. He commits suicide as it will bring twenty thousand dollars of insurance which will help Biff to make a good fortune. And the son’s respect is shown after his death when Happy says-“Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s only dream you can have-to come out number-one man. ” Finally, willy kills himself in the end, the life insurance policy $20000 is used to bay off the mortgage but no one is living in the house anymore (ironOy)