Biff’s Changing Perception in Arthur Miller’s Deat
h of a Salesman Death Salesman essaysBiff’s Changing Perception in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
In Death of a Salesman, Biff’s perception of society is altered through a chain of events throughout the play. His unrealistic expectations about how to succeed, learned from his father, eventually caused the destruction of his fantasies. His concept of an ideal society, where being liked is what is needed to succeed, is harshly changed to a reality where he must realize that hard work and devotion are necessary to prosper.
Through a series of events, Biff gradually comes to a realization of what is necessary for success. First, we are shown a part of his childhood where Biff is told that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.” This idea appears in direct contrast to Bernard, one of Biff’s childhood friends, who works and studies hard. Biff decides that Bernard will not succeed because he is “only liked, not well-liked,” and being well-liked is the cornerstone of success. Nonetheless, later in the play we see that Bernard has become very successful, underscoring one of the messages in the play, that success is not just a result of popularity. Second, we are shown a scene in Boston soon after Biff has just failed math for the year. He discovers his “heroic” father having an affair. Biff comes to the painful realization that his father’s values, his views, and everything that Biff had made the foundation of his life, are all completely “fake” and “phony.” Unfortunately, he has nothing with which to replace it. Lastly, Biff decides to leave to try and find himself, but an argument develops between Biff and Willy. Biff begins to see himself as like his father, “nothing,” just an average man trying to make a living, and quite possibly failing. Biff’s earlier image of his father’s greatness has crumbled entirely, leaving a lost young man trying to find his way. Biff realized that he now needs to find his own values in life. He has finally tasted reality and now must dive head first into the pot, without any real preparation.
Thus, it is clear that in the novel Death of a Salesman, Biff’s perception of society is drastically altered. He discovers that his father’s values, not his own, directed his life, leaving him with few if any tools of his own to develop a value system and shape his future. Biff became disillusioned with society as he understood it, a process which resulted from a series of events depicted in the play. Each event furthered Biff’s loss of his fantasies about how the world worked until, with his father’s death he was left with the knowledge that the old rules did not work, but that he had no new rules with which to replace them.