Death of a Salesman

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Biff Loman Character Analysis

Willy and Linda's elder son. He has always been in the shadow of his father's expectations for him, beginning with his starred career as a high school football player and prospective college student. At that impressionable age, he witnesses Willy's affair with the The Woman, which is enough to shake his faith in everything his father has ever told him. When the play begins, he is grasping for answers in his life, having worked as a farm laborer for years and still unable to meet his father's standards of success. In the course of the play, he has the revelation that he, like his father, is not destined for greatness. But he realizes that he can still achieve happiness through his own, simpler version of the American Dream: working with his hands in wide-open spaces, doing the things that fulfill him. He represents Willy's better, more honest nature, which Willy tragically turns away from.

Biff Loman Quotes in Death of a Salesman

The Death of a Salesman quotes below are all either spoken by Biff Loman or refer to Biff Loman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Death of a Salesman published in 2011.
Act 1 Quotes
It's a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer... To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still - that's how you build a future.
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker)
Page Number: 10-11
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this moment Willy complains to Linda about how Biff has done nothing with his life. He is 34 years old, lives at home and barely makes an income. Meanwhile, Biff and Happy have woken up and are discussing their father's health. They are worried about his car accidents and his memory. Thinking about their father causes the boys to discuss their own futures. Here Biff reveals why he doesn't want to be a salesman. He doesn't understand why he has to prioritize making money, especially in the way Willy approves of. He then goes on to discuss his love for working on a farm, in nature. In the countryside, Biff feels, life is simple, natural, and clear. This sentiment is in deep opposition with the blue-collar, city lifestyle of Willy and Happy. Arthur Miller draws this comparison throughout the play, suggesting that the city represents the pursuit of material things, clouding (sometimes literally) the important things in life. Conversely, the countryside represents staying rooted and planted and following the simple passions in life.

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And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there'll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing, boys: I have friends.
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker), Biff Loman, Happy Loman
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

After returning home from a business trip, Willy recounts his time away to his sons. He explains that he is very well liked when he travels. On this trip he met the mayor of Providence and sat down with him. He also brags about his fame and friends.

This moment is a stark contrast from Willy's first entrance and dialogue with Linda. Here, Willy is putting on a show for his sons. Instead of telling them the truth—that he hates his job and feels like his life is pointless—he regales his sons with stories of his travels. There is a sense of pride inherent in being the father for Willy. He must be successful. He must be an example for his sons. Once again, success, wealth and now, being well-liked become more important than happiness; this is Willy's  perception of the "American Dream." 

Remember how he waved to me? Right up from the field, with the representatives of three colleges standing by? And the buyers I brought, and the cheers when he came out - Loman, Loman, Loman! God Almighty, he'll be great yet.
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker), Biff Loman
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Happy and Biff throw around the idea of starting their own sporting goods business, and they share with Willy that Biff is going to ask his former boss for money. Willy is thrilled by the idea, and throws in a slew of suggestions and thoughts on how they should present themselves. Here, he reflects on a football game where he saw his son Biff being cheered, his own last name ringing around the stadium. This again shows Willy's warped mixture of nostalgia and idealism—he celebrates this heroic moment of the past, even though Biff has gone on to not really accomplish anything. Willy has specific ideas about what "success" is, and his sons fail themselves in trying not to fail their father.

Act 2 Quotes
I even believed myself that I'd been a salesman for him! And he gave me one look and - I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been!
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker), Bill Oliver
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Biff returns from trying to meet with his former boss, Bill Oliver. He waited all day in his office and when Bill came out, he didn't even recognize Biff. He looked at him and walked away, and Biff couldn't find the courage to speak to Bill. This causes Biff to wonder why he even thought he could become a salesman in the first place. Biff is in the same dangerous, self-destructive cycle as his father. Parallel to Willy's moment with Howard, Biff has been abandoned by someone he had an idealized view of. In his fantasy, he imagined Bill Oliver as his friend and business associate, loving his ideas—but similar to his father, Biff's dreams have warped his expectations of reality. Bill does not care about him, and Biff will never be what he truly wants to be. 

But it'll go on forever!

Dad is never so happy as when he's looking forward to something!
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker), Happy Loman (speaker), Willy Loman
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

After telling Happy the story of his encounter with Bill Oliver, Biff reveals that when no one was looking he snuck into Oliver's office and stole his fountain pen. Biff then tells Happy that he wants to confess to their father, so that Willy can see that Biff is very different from what he appears to be. Happy suggests that instead of telling Willy the truth, they convince him that Oliver agreed to speak with Biff and is looking over their offer. Happy knows that Willy's joy and self-worth hinges on his dreams, so he encourages his brother to lie in order to keep their father happy. Biff, on the other hand, feels he needs to prove something to his father, whom he always felt never understood him. 

She's nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.

You - you gave her Mama's stockings!
Related Characters: Willy Loman (speaker), Biff Loman (speaker), Linda Loman, The Woman
Related Symbols: Stockings
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
While Biff tries to confess about his meeting with Bill Oliver to his father, Willy sinks into another memory. He goes back to the day he found out Biff flunked math. After failing his course, Biff took a train to visit Willy in Boston, and he found him with another woman in his hotel room. Willy tried to hide his mistress in the bathroom, but eventually she comes out, asking Willy for her stockings that he promised her: Linda's stockings. Biff is heartbroken at his father's infidelity. Once again, the stockings are used as a symbol of betrayal. They are the image that Biff and Willy carry with them, a emblem of that night. After that moment, Biff tells Willy that he won't be retaking math or going to college. Throughout the play Willy has been blaming math as the reason why Biff hasn't been successful, when in reality it was this shattering moment of disillusionment. The man that Biff had always looked up to is now a fraud. This forever warps Biff's idea of the "American Dream"; something he once defined as the dream of his father's. He now sees that it is all a sham, and is left directionless in life. 
Will you let me go, for Christ's sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker), Willy Loman
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Biff and Happy return home, and Linda is furious that they abandoned their father at the restaurant. She tells both of them that they must leave the house and move out if they want to save their father. Biff approaches Willy, who is outside, rambling to himself and planting the seeds he has bought. Biff confesses everything that happened with Bill Oliver, and tells Willy that he is leaving the house. Willy is stuck in his fantasy world, and he doesn't believe that Biff doesn't have a meeting with Oliver. Biff grabs the rubber hose that Willy used to try to kill himself with earlier in the play. He tells his father that killing himself won't make him a hero, and that he has been living in fantasy; he has unrealistic ideas of success and fortune. He tells his father the thing he, Biff, truly loves: being outdoors. He then begs his father to let go of his dreams to save his own life. In this moment, Biff attempts to shatter his father's dreams from a place of love. Biff knows that Willy's delusions of what life should be are killing him, and this is Biff's last-ditch effort to save his father. 

Requiem Quotes
There were a lot of nice days. When he'd come home from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting on the new porch... You know something, Charley, there's more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made.
Related Characters: Biff Loman (speaker), Willy Loman, Charley
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

After Willy's funeral, Biff brings up Willy's knack for carpentry as one of his better qualities. So much of their home is Willy's making, and this moment suggests that Willy had skills outside of his failed sales career—he was just too caught up in his own pursuit of wealth, and his idea of success as being "likable," to see it. Biff tries to remember the good in his father, both to celebrate him and, in many ways, to protect himself. He is his father's son, and he sees so much of his own failure as a result of that. Yet the suggestion is that Biff has not yet given in entirely to Willy's delusions—there is still a chance for him to find more fulfillment in life than his father did. 

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Biff Loman Character Timeline in Death of a Salesman

The timeline below shows where the character Biff Loman appears in Death of a Salesman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
The American Dream Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
The conversation turns to Willy and Linda's grown sons, Happy and Biff, who are upstairs sleeping after a double date. Biff has been working as a farm... (full context)
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Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
...to go downstairs to the kitchen so that he won't wake the boys. Happy and Biff, who are already awake, wonder if Willy has had another car accident. (full context)
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Recalling his argument with Willy, Biff says that he doesn't know what he is supposed to want. He has tried following... (full context)
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Biff decides he will ask his old employer, Bill Oliver, for some money to start a... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
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...lost in a memory, which is acted out onstage. He is remembering a time when Biff and Happy, as young boys, helped him wash the car. Happy tries to get Willy's... (full context)
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Bernard, Charley's son, enters. He wonders why Biff has not come over to study math with him. Biff is close to flunking the... (full context)
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Willy's memories build to a crescendo. Bernard runs through, begging Biff to study for the upcoming exam. Willy tells Bernard to just give Biff the answers.... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
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Willy calls Biff and Happy into the room and asks Ben to tell them about their grandfather. Ben... (full context)
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...that his sons are also rugged. To test his claim, Ben begins to mock-wrestle with Biff, and then trips the boy and threatens him by hovering the point of his umbrella... (full context)
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...Ben had given him. She reminds him that he pawned it thirteen years ago, for Biff's radio correspondence course. (full context)
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Willy leaves to go on a walk, though he is in his slippers. Biff and Happy join Linda downstairs and the three of them have a worried conversation about... (full context)
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Biff angrily responds that Willy never respected her. Linda counters that Willy may not be a... (full context)
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Linda says that Biff and Happy have been ungrateful to their father. She says that Happy is a "philandering... (full context)
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...of the water heater, which she thinks means that Willy had tried to asphyxiate himself. Biff decides that though he hates the business world, it will be best for his family... (full context)
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When Willy enters, having overheard his family arguing about him, Biff tries to joke, saying that Willy might whistle in an elevator. Willy takes offense, thinking... (full context)
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To diffuse Willy's anger, Happy announces that Biff is going to ask his old boss Bill Oliver to ask for stake money to... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
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...by the sporting goods idea, which they call the "Florida idea," Willy gives advice to Biff regarding the interview. He tells Biff that he should walk into the office very seriously,... (full context)
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In bed that night, Linda asks Willy what Biff has against him, and reminds him to ask Howard Wagner for a sales position in... (full context)
Act 2
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When Willy wakes the next morning, Biff and Happy have already gone, and Linda tells Willy that Biff is on his way... (full context)
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Right after Willy leaves, Linda answers a phone call from Biff. She tells him what she thinks is good news: that the rubber hose Willy attached... (full context)
The American Dream Theme Icon
Fathers and Sons Theme Icon
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...he can reach out and touch his success. Willy responds by pointing to his son, Biff, who plays football and is about to go to college. He tells Ben that what's... (full context)
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...in a new memory, Bernard enters as the Loman family is preparing to go to Biff's football game. He asks to carry Biff's helmet, but Happy insists on carrying that. Biff... (full context)
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...course of conversation mentions that he has a case in Washington, D.C. Willy replies that Biff is also working on a big deal. Willy suddenly becomes upset, and asks Bernard why... (full context)
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The two of them agree that Biff's life derailed after he failed math. Bernard recalls that Biff had been determined to go... (full context)
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At Frank's Chop House, Happy banters with Stanley, a waiter he knows. When Biff arrives, Happy is flirting with an attractive girl, Miss Forsythe. She claims to be a... (full context)
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Once she is gone, Biff tells Happy that he waited in Bill Oliver's waiting room for six hours. When Oliver... (full context)
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Biff tells Happy that he wants to confess all this to Willy, so that their father... (full context)
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Willy arrives. Biff begins, hesitantly, to tell him what happened. But before he can say much, Willy reveals... (full context)
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Willy remembers a young Bernard knocking on Linda's door, telling her that Biff has flunked math. Distracted by this memory, Willy ignores Biff's confession and instead tells Biff,... (full context)
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Trying to calm Willy down, Biff falls back on Happy's strategy and lies: he tells Willy that Oliver is going to... (full context)
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...returns, now with a friend, Letta. Willy, in a daze, wanders off to the restroom. Biff berates Happy for not caring enough about Willy. He pulls the rubber hose that he... (full context)
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Alone in the restroom, Willy relives the memory of being surprised by Biff while he was with The Woman in a hotel room in Boston. The memory begins... (full context)
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Trying to get Biff out of the room, Willy pushes him toward the door and agrees to drive back... (full context)
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Biff and Happy return home later that night. Happy has brought a bouquet of roses for... (full context)
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...company must honor the policy because he has paid all the premiums. He adds that Biff will see how important he is from the number of people at his funeral. Ben... (full context)
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Biff enters and takes the hoe out of Willy's hand. He tells Willy that he is... (full context)
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Biff puts the rubber hose in front of Willy, demanding that he answer to it. He... (full context)
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Biff continues, saying that what he really loves in this world is to be outdoors, and... (full context)
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Willy, suddenly in better spirits, comments that Biff must really like him to cry over him as he did. Linda and Happy assure... (full context)
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...also come upstairs soon. Alone, now, Ben appears to him, and Willy assures Ben that Biff will be magnificent one day, once he has twenty thousand dollars in his pocket. The... (full context)
Requiem
The American Dream Theme Icon
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...why Willy would kill himself now, when they had nearly paid off all their debts. Biff brings up the memory of Willy doing craftsman's work around the house, and maintains that... (full context)
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Biff again says that that their father didn't know who he was, angering Happy. When Biff... (full context)
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Biff enters, and supporting Linda, leads her away. All the characters exit the stage as flute... (full context)