Though he hated his father's beliefs and principles, Biff inevitable became the victim of these misguided ideals, and like Willy, eventually became a failure.
Biff was not able to achieve his desire to satisfy his father's expectations about him to be economically successful -- that is, to subsist also to his father's 'American dream' kind of life. Biff's resentment to his father resulted to his current state of poverty, with no permanent job to provide him with financial support and immaturity in dealing with his problems in life. He also lacks self-confidence because of his father's constant criticisms about his life and lack of ambition, which made him indecisive and resigned in the kind of life that he leads: " ... I realized something about myself and I tried to explain it to you ... I think I'm just not smart enough to make sense out of it for you" (128).
Biff ultimately brands himself similar to his father's failure in life, reflecting the truth about the two characters: Willy's belief that he and his sons are unique and bound to be great and wealthy individuals in the world of capitalism and commerce (i.e., the roots of economic wealth) is contradicted by the characters' behavior and beliefs in life, leading to their eventual downfall (132).
However, despite their irreparable conflict against each other, Biff and Willy share a bond, the bond that links and tags them as "failures" in the capitalist society they live in. Billy's continuous resentment of himself and his father shows how much he worries about what his father is going to say with whatever he has done or will be doing. Willy's constant reprimanding of Biff shows how he cares so much for his son's welfare, although the way by which he want his son to achieve success in life is not the appropriate one. However, these intentions were not communicated properly and misinterpreted between Willy and Biff, which further aggravated their anger.
The rest of the story illustrates the conflict between Biff and Willy, and their disagreements and disappointments with each other came to an end with Willy putting an end to his life by committing suicide, and Biff accepting the fact that his father's credo that "personality always wins the day" do not work in the New World anymore, wherein hard work and perseverance is given more importance than personal relations and connections between employers and employees. The story ended on a sad, tragic note: Biff stayed away from his father despite his reaching-out to him, while Willy resorted to suicide to end all the troubles and suffering he and his family had endured throughout his lifetime.
These dynamics in the father-son relationship between Willy and Biff was an illustration of how Willy as the primary failure in the Loman family had inadvertently projected his failures to his sons. As Thompson's (2002) analysis show, the Loman family's tragedy was that 'history had repeated itself' to them, wherein Biff and Happy shared the same misery and misguided beliefs their father, Willy, had believed and held on for years:
Their young lives, once as promising ... come to nothing, because ... they believed that their physical attractiveness and their superficial charm would carry them through lives. Now well into their thirties, when they should be responsible young men out making their careers, supporting families, and living independent lives, Biff and Happy Loman remain as immature, as petty and snickering, as they were in high school, when they spent their time cheating on exams, stealing from neighbors, roughing up girls, and lying at every opportunity.
Even after Willy's death, the Loman family's life remained a tragedy. The sudden death of Willy did not prepare Biff and Happy for the hard, real life awaiting them. This is the tragedy of Willy's failure as a father: he thought that his inefficiency as a father to them would be absolved once he committed death voluntarily, benefiting his family by his sheer absence (Shamir, 2002:172). However, Willy's "legacy" to his sons remained, thereby making them unprepared to the harsh realities that gradually killed their father's spirit as a man and as a salesman.
In conclusion, the tragedy in "Death of a Salesman" was not only Willy's failure as a salesman and father, but also the uncertain future of Biff and Happy, who, despite their realization that their father was mistaken and wrong in his beliefs, subscribed to the belief that they can still survive in the world through charisma and relationships with other people. It was clear that as the play ended, they have not realized that they must work hard and set their goals straight in order to achieve success -- in short, they have to be what their father had not been when he was still alive. It is by turning their backs on Willy's American dream and inefficiency that Biff and Happy can truly become successful and contented in their lives.
Miller, A. (1976). Death of a Salesman. NY: Penguin Books.
Otten, T. (2002). The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
Shamir, M. (2002). Boys don't cry? Rethinking the narratives of masculinity and emotion in the U.S. NY: Columbia UP.