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The Characters of Biff and Happy in Death of a Salesman
No one has a perfect life; everyone has conflicts that they must face sooner or later. The ways in which people deal with these personal conflicts can differ as much as the people themselves. Some insist on ignoring the problem for as long as possible, while others face up to the problem immediately to get it out of the way.
Biff and Happy Loman are good examples of this, although both start from the same point, they end up going in different directions with Happy still living in his world of lies and Biff, being set free by the truth.
Happy Loman is Willy's youngest son and is often over shadowed by his older brother Biff and ignored by his parents. As a result of growing up in Biff's shadow, Happy was always striving for Willy's attention, but never really got it. This is shown when the young Happy is always telling his father
"I'm losing weight, you notice, Pop?"
The need for attention continues as an adult, but Willy and Linda continue to brush Happy off in much the same way they did when he was younger
Happy: "I'm gonna get married, Mom. I wanted to tell you."
Linda: "Go to sleep, dear."
Due to his being over shadowed by his elder brother Happy has grown up to be a stunted version of Willy's vision of the American Dream. Because of this it is difficult to identify with him; throughout the play he is presented as a one-dimensional character.
Although Happy grows up to become more financially successful than his older brother, he lacks even a spark of self-knowledge or capacity for self-analysis. He does however share his father's capacity for self-delusion, declaring himself as the assistant buyer at his store, when, in reality, he is only one of the assistants to the assistant buyer.
Biff: "You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You're one of the two assistants to the assistant, aren't you?"
Happy: Well I'm practically-
Biff: You're practically full of it!"
During Willy's funeral, Happy makes an empty vow, declaring that his father's death would not be in vain, as he was going to realise Willy's dream.
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Unlike his brother and father Biff Loman feels compelled to seek the truth about himself. He is Willy's pride and joy, being the first-born; Biff is the personification of all of Willy's dreams, he would be respected and "well liked".
As a teenager, Biff worshipped his father. He was everything Willy wanted him to be -- star athlete, popular with the girls, "well liked" by everyone, he was
"Like a young god. Hercules".
Biff's world began to collapse when he failed maths at high school and wasn't able to Graduate (This was the beginning of his adult failures). When he went to Boston to seek advice and condolence from his father, he discovered Willy's mistress. Biff's image of his wondrous, hero like, father was shattered into a million pieces. Everything in Biff's image of his father had been a lie, and the bond between them was broken.
Biff: "Don't touch me you - liar!"
Willy: "Apologize for that!"
Biff: "You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!"
During his adult life, Biff drifted from job to job. Willy sees Biff as an underachiever, whereas Biff sees himself trapped by Willy's flamboyant fantasies. After his moment of realization while waiting in Bill Oliver's office, Biff begins to realize that his life up till now has been a complete sham; he no longer wants to pretend to be something he`s not. He does not want to end up like his father; he is determined to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family in order to introduce some realism into his life.
Biff's break through comes when he returns home with his father from `Frank's Chop House'. He realises that to reclaim his own identity he must expose his father's false illusions.
Biff: " Pop! I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!"
Willy: " I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman and you are Biff Loman!"
Biff: "I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you."
During the funeral scene Biff finally breaks with his father and decides to go back west to do what he wants to do. He finally knows who he is and his position in the world.
At the beginning of the play both of the brothers are described as lost, yet Happy oozes with confidence. According to Happy Biff has lost his self-confidence. He believes Willy is partly responsible for this through his disparaging remarks about Biff working on the farm. Happy has a good job and plenty of sexual power. Biff, in comparison, has lost his sexual confidence as he has grown older, whereas Happy's has grown.
Biff and Happy are both, to a great degree, children who are trapped in an everlasting adolescence. Both men are tall and well built, but their emotional development does not mirror their physical appearance. The tone of their conversation is at times adolescent or, at the very least, nostalgic of their youth.
Happy: [With deep sentiment] "Funny, Biff, y'know? Us sleeping in here again? The old beds." [He pats the bed affectionately.] "All the talk that went across those two beds, huh? Our whole lives."
Biff: "Yeah. Lotta dreams and plans"
Miller contrasts the views that the two men have with regards to their success; which is a major theme of "The Death of A Salesman". Biff believes himself to be a failure as he does not display the basics of adulthood such as a steady occupation and a stable home life, and because he has made mistakes at all the major points in his life (e.g.. failing maths in high school). Happy, in contrast, believes himself to be a failure as, although he is allegedly successful, he still feels empty and unfulfilled.
"Happy: My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women, and still, god damit, I'm lonely."
In relation to the point I have just made, Happy knows that he has the kind of job Biff despises; he can't be promoted unless someone else dies. He knows that when his peers achieve success, they are not fully satisfied and they continue to want more. Happy has every thing he could want, but he is still dissatisfied. Everyone around him is
"so false, that I'm constantly lowering my ideals"
While both boys have absorbed their father's guidance, while Happy starts to live them, Biff is still trying to come to terms with the competitive traditions of a capitalist society.
By the end of the play the audience realizes that Biff has learnt a great deal from this experience and has come out on top. On the other hand, Happy has learned nothing, he is still in his own world built up of lies, and one could expect that he would too soon follow the same road as his father.