Biff Loman is Willy Loman’s elder son, and seems to be the only character working towards any actual self development in the whole play. Biff is thirty four years old, and is unsettled and dissatisfied with his life.
As a teenager, Biff seems to be the apple of Willy’s eye. Willy adores him and has great hopes and aspirations for him, and Biff too idolizes his father and sees him as a perfect role model. He is always praised and congratulated by his father, due to which he develops an exalted sense of self.
His attractive, masculine features make him popular in the school, adding to his self-confidence and pride. It is seen that Willy encourages Biff and takes his side even when he is wrong. When Willy learns that Biff has stolen a basketball from the school locker room, he laughs at his theft and further encourages it saying ,”Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative.”
This justification of Biff’s actions later develops in Biff a compulsive tendency to steal, due to which he also later ends up spending three months in jail. Biff initially believes in his father’s lies and thus takes part in his delusionary world, simultaneously developing the same habit of over glorifying his reality and counting his chickens before they hatch.
However, when Biff, in an unfortunate series of events, discovers that Willy has been having an affair with a strange woman, his world comes crashing down. He realizes that his father is nothing but a “phony little fake”.
His trust in his father suffers a great blow, and along with this, his confidence in himself is also destroyed. However, this incident snaps him out of the illusionary world in which the whole Loman family is living, and thus Biff eventually comes to be the only one who understands, as well as makes an effort towards bringing his father and the others out of their façade.
A man of thirty-four, Biff now “bears a worn air and seems less self-assured”. He is unsuccessful in his life, and thus dissatisfied with it. He is unemployed and is mocked by his father for him. “Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace.”
His relations with his father are strained, partly due to his knowledge about Willy’s extra-marital affair, and partly due to Willy’s discontent and disapproval with his son’s life choices. Biff exhibits a strong inclination towards jobs that require manual labor and shows disinterest towards desk jobs. He is thus conflicted between choosing an occupation of his interest and choosing one that receives the approval of his father and also earns him an income.
Although Biff seems to understand himself and his family better than others, often he too falls victim to Willy’s habit of altering reality, and gets carried away with Happy’s magnificent, unrealistic ideas, and also contributes to them. “Sure, we’d be known all over the counties!” exclaims Biff as he discusses his plan of building a ranch with his brother.
Biff soon decides to visit Bill Oliver, his former employer, to try to get a job for himself to support his parents. He is made to believe, by his father, that Oliver “thought the world” of him, and that he worked as a salesman to him. However, when he meets Oliver, Biff realizes that he was only a shipping clerk to him, and never a salesman.”And then he gave me one look and- I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been.”
He decides to tell the truth to his father, instead of sugarcoating it with lies and self-deceit, but his father refuses to accept his reality. Biff confronts his father about the rubber pipe and his suicide attempts and tries to open his eyes to reality. “The man ain’t know who we are! The man is gonna know.” Biff tells the family that they “never told the truth for ten minutes in this house”.
He soon bursts into tears of frustration and desperation, and pleads to his father, “Will you please let me go, for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?”
However, Biff’s attempt to bring Willy down to earth proves to be futile, as Willy is far too delusional to accept the reality. Instead, Willy overwhelmed and unable to bear the truth is driven to commit suicide.
Thus, Biff is a character who is far from perfect and has a lot of flaws. However, he displays courage and a determination to stay true to himself and his reality despite his family’s tendency towards falsehood and self-deception.
He is initially confused, dissatisfied and perceives himself as a failure. However, he shows a great deal of personality development and eventually understands himself and his abilities, coming out of his confusion. “I know who I am, kid.”