Death of a Salesman - Father-Son Relationships


In many literary works, family relationships are the key to the plot. Through a family?s interaction with one another, the reader is able decipher the conflicts of the story. Within a literary family, various characters play different roles in each other?s lives. These are usually people that are emotionally and physically connected in one way or another. They can be brother and sister, mother and daughter, or in this case, father and son. In the Arthur Miller?s novel, Death of A Salesman, the interaction between Willy Loman and his sons, Happy and Biff, allows Miller to comment on father-son relationships and the conflicts that arise from them. During most father-son relationships, there are certain times where the father wants to become more of a "player" in his son?s life than his son believes is necessary. The reasons for this are numerous and can be demonstrated in different ways. Miller is able to give an example of this behavior through the actions of Willy Loman. When Biff comes home to recollect himself, Willy perceives it as failure. Since Willy desperately wants his oldest son, Biff, to succeed in every way possible, he tries to take matters into his own hands. "I?ll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time" (16). The reason that Biff came home is to find out what he wants in life. Because Willy gets in the way, matters become more complicated. Partly due to Willy?s persistence in Biff?s life, they have conflicting ideas as to what the American dream is. Willy believes that working on the road by selling is the greatest job a man could have (81). Biff, however, feels the most inspiring job a man could have is working outdoors (22). When their two dreams collide, it becomes frustrating to Willy because he believes that his way is the right way. If a father becomes too involved in his son?s life, Miller believes friction will be the resultant factor. As unfortunate as it is, there are many instances where a father favors one son over another, which leads to social conflicts within the less-favored son. In most cases it is the oldest son that is being favored while the younger son is ignored. Usually the father doesn?t even realize what is happening. He simply gets too caught up in the successes of his eldest son and he may even try to live out his life through his son?s experiences. Because Willy has dreams of grandeur for Biff, Miller subtly shows how Happy is overlooked. Throughout the novel, Willy makes references to how wonderful Biff is. " . . .You got greatness in you, Biff. . . You got all kinds of greatness" (67). Happy, however, is barely talked to. This kind of favoritism has a profound effect on a child. In order to be acknowledged by his father, Happy believes that he must become Willy?s version of a success by acquiring wealth and being popular. He convinces himself that this is the only way he?ll ever be truly happy. In the end though, he realizes that he is not happy. " . . . It?s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I?m lonely" (23). Happy has been living his entire life in a way that he believes will bring him attention from his father, yet he becomes more miserable than if he had gone his own way. When a father chooses to look favorably upon one son over another, disharmony occurs in the father-son relationship as well as in the son?s life. Within a father-son relationship, it is the responsibility of the father to provide sound values and leadership for his sons. In almost every family, the sons will look to their father as a role model and a hero. It is in the father?s best interest to use this opportunity to instill qualities that will allow his sons to become responsible individuals. Miller uses the Loman family to show how a father acts when he is more concerned with appearance than anything else. Willy is obsessed with popularity. He believes that if a person is popular, he has everything. Since Willy was never popular himself, he adores the fact that his sons, and Biff in particular, are. In a sense, Willy idolizes