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In the play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Biff and Willy Loman both struggle to preserve their dignity but in different ways. In the scene where Biff finally realized that he is dime a dozen, Willy refuses to believe in what Biff says and adds that he’s “not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!” because if he was to admit that he is no different than anyone else, he would admit that all his life is false. And Biff that he is dime a dozen does not know where his place in life is, we see it when he says “Pop, I’m Nothing! I’m Nothing”. While on one hand, Willy struggles to preserve his dignity because he struggles to maintain the illusion about his life, on the other hand, Biff struggles to preserve his dignity because he has not found his place in life yet and he struggles to accept that he is not somebody his father wants him to be.
Part of Willy Loman’s dignity is inside his illusion about his success, it is shown at the beginning of the play when Willy says, “I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.” and Willy lives believing that he is vital to the company. When Willy asks Howard to let him work in New York in office, he uses a point that “in 1928” he “had a big year.” and “averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions”. This idea that he has about his success is an illusion and Howard confirmed that Willy “never averaged” the amounts that he claims he did. Willy’s illusion about being vital to the company completely crumbled when Howard fired him, saying “I don’t want you to represent us.”
Another part of Willy’s dignity is in his pride as a father, and that he made everything he could so his sons achieve success. Willy’s recipe for success is based entirely around a cult of personality, according to Willy, only great men are truly well-liked and that is what brings them success. Willy’s beliefs and behavior have been transferred to his son’s, we can see it in the scene where Biff talks about Bernard, saying that Bernard is “liked, but he’s not well liked.” Willy tries to protect the illusion that he is a good father when he talks to Bernard about what happened to Biff when he visited Willy in Boston. Bernard asked Willy, “Did you tell him not to go to summer school?” on what Willy answered that he “begged him to go” and even “ordered him to go!”.
Willy tries to make it seem like it’s not his fault and Biff is completely at fault himself when in reality Willy has everything to do with it. Bernard asked Willy what happened to BifF when he “disappeared from the block for almost a month”, then asked another question “What happened in Boston, Willy?” and this leading question crumbles Willy’s illusion. Because Willy knows that Biff flunked math after visiting Boston because he finally saw who Willy really is, a “fake!” a “phony little fake!”. Biff realized it when he found out that Willy is cheating on Linda with some woman, trying to defend himself Willy said that “She’s nothing to me, Biff I was lonely, I was terribly lonely.” and all his words were not making him less guilty of his act, Biff was emotionally beaten down after seeing that his father is not somebody who he thought he is. That’s why Biff flunked math and you can say that Willy is responsible for this.
Unlike Willy, Biff’s dignity is linked to his sense of his place in life. When Biff and Happy talk about what would be in the future, Biff tells Happy “I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know-what I’m Supposed to want.” His words confirm that he has not found his place in life yet and does not really know who he is. Biff always followed his father’s philosophy that anything is possible as long as the person is well-liked, with this ideology in mind Biff never got anywhere because Willy blew Biff so full of hot air that he “could never stand taking orders from anybody”. Because of the wrong teaching of his father Biff never really got anywhere and that’s why he has not found himself yet.
Biff’s dignity is also linked to the image of what his father wants him to be. Biff has spent his life trying to live up to falsehood and a vision of himself that never existed. When Biff went to see Bill Oliver he “realized what a ridiculous lie” his “whole life has been”. Biff realized that Willy’s illusions of success for him were just illusions and nothing more, these illusions impacted all parts of his life and not in a positive way. But Biff’s struggle became easier when he confronted that he is a “dime a dozen”, this knowledge freed him from Willy’s expectations for him and he realized that all he wants “is out there,” waiting for him the minute he says “I know who I am!”.
In conclusion, Willy’s and Biff’s struggles are different, Willy struggles to preserve his dignity because his delusional world is falling apart and Biff struggles to preserve his dignity because “He is plagued by his father’s” poor teachings and philosophy that he passed down to him. Fortunately, Biff freed himself from his father’s illusions and confronted him, telling him “whose fault it is”.
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