Biff Loman – The Final Sale

 ‘Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people… he died the death of a salesman… hundreds of salesman and buyers were at his funeral… Today it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear—or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore. 

– Willy Loman, Act Two


The fate of one Willy Loman was set in stone and told from the beginning: through his relationships with those in his life, his decisions and, most prominently, in Arthur Miller’s choice of a title. It is from this title that readers will wonder what the death of a salesman exactly is and how Willy will reach this demise.

In the quote above, Willy describes what he believes to be the death of a salesman – dying with the strong relationships necessary to make successful sales and to feel fulfilled enough that death is not to be feared. Willy claims he has lost these relationships in his life and in turn, feels he will not be remembered and admired as a successful salesman.

***

A salesman’s job is to sell. The very foundation of this occupation is built on the influence of others. Without this, or a salesman whom lacks in his way with words, will not be able to sell and will not feel as if their job in life is complete. A salesman who isn’t able to sell isn’t a salesman at all; they are only just a man, and a failure at that.

It is almost every father’s dream to see their son succeed, especially when the son’s respect runs so deep they venture into the same line of work. While this is true, it is even more common for parents to want to see their children succeed in certain areas when they themselves hadn’t been able to in their own life.

As Willy’s career begins to dissipate and he has an affair, the man is swallowed by his failures. He turns to destructive habits, devastating his life (and those around him) even further. While not explicitly stated, Willy is a father who only wants the best for his family. If Willy cannot make any sales, why not sell the idea of being a salesman to his son? What could be a better way to provide for his family and be successful as a salesman? No matter how much of a failure Willy may be, he still has a son who he can influence to succeed in his stead.

This is to be Willy’s final sale!

However, this idea was shattered the moment Biff and Willy’s relationship reached its breaking point at the knowledge of his father’s affair. No matter how deep the love and admiration that was once prominent in Biff, it cannot compare to the secret he has to withhold from the rest of the family. Any form of attachment was lost forever – and with this loss of love also comes the loss of any influence in Biff’s life from his father.

In result, Willy is not able to make his final sale which was to determine him as a successful salesman.

Willy ends up in a spiral of depression due to his affair, an unprofitable career, and his estranged relationship with Biff. In his mind there is no point of return for his life and career… Until at the end of the play, that is, when Biff agrees he needs to make an attempt to redeem his relationship with his father. Biff meets his father in the garden, who is planting seeds and talking about his plan to leave $20,000 of insurance money to the family. The two talk and as he is moved to tears, Biff breaks down crying in front of his father.

Excited and overjoyed, Willy sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Oh, Biff! [staring wildly] He cried! Cried to me. [He is chocking with his love, and now cries out his promise] That boy—that boy is going to be magnificent!”

He feels his relationship with Biff has been saved, and cries that Biff loves him – so much so, he wants to be a salesman as well as his father.

Willy believes he has made the final sale…

And he can finally die the death of a salesman – with the relationship he felt necessary to be successful in the palm of his hands.

***

I thought of writing this blog during our socratic discussion before the break – I believe it was Siddharth who asked the question of “Why did Willy Loman kill himself?”.

The instant answer that popped into my mind felt as if it stemmed from something Willy claimed in the play – to get life insurance for his family.

It is no doubt that Willy was not in the right mental state specifically at the end of the play. So, in his crazed state, I believed Willy was convinced Biff was going to create his own business and become a salesman.

I wanted to explore the reasons of why I thought Willy was illusioned into thinking his son wanted to strive for the same life, yet more successful. Someone said something during our discussion which made me feel as if I had a different idea to his death than others, although I’m not completely sure. I’m very interested in finding out what the class thought Willy’s motivations behind suicide were and whether or not the answer is told straightforward or if it is to be read in between the lines.

I feel as though we as readers miss so much on the first read, something that could completely change my ideas if someone were to point it out. If you comment, feel free to tell me what you disagree with or your own ideas about Willy’s death. I would love to hear it and be able to form a more concrete idea about the end of the play.

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3 thoughts on “Biff Loman – The Final Sale

  1. Dear Elissa,
    There’re two sentences that have been stuck in my head from my very first reading of this piece: “A salesman’s job is to sell. The very foundation of this occupation is built on the influence of others.”. I feel that these statements fully encompass the general idea of your piece in a highly efficient and effective manner, while also being simple enough to be easy to follow. It’s perfect for your introduction!

    If there’s a pattern that I’ve noticed while reading your writing, it’s that you excel at making the reader feel included in your writing. This aspect of your writing made it so that I’d have to read your writing multiple times before I could critically analyze it – I always get distracted because of the way that your writing connects with me. The development of your ideas throughout your writing is similar to my thought process, which results in two things: 1) I feel smarter because I’m able to follow your ideas, and 2) It’s easier to expand on the ideas you offered. To me, it appears that you never forget about your audience, always making your ideas flow really nicely to make it easy for the audience to follow, and even directly interacting with the audience at times. As a reader, this makes reading your piece immensely enjoyable because I’m able to read elegant writing while also following along with the insight that is being offered. You’re very consistent with this skill as well – your proficiency is evident in a majority of your writing pieces.

    Your idea of Biff being Willy’s final sale intrigues me, mostly because I’ve always wondered about the nature of the product that Willy was selling (I don’t believe it’s mentioned in the play). Continually referencing Willy’s attempt to make Biff accept the life of the salesman as Willy’s “final sale” insinuates that Willy himself is at the end of his life as a salesman – when a salesman runs out of product to sell, his career is over. The final sale is always the most important because the final sale will encapsulate the entirety of the salesman’s career: his experiences, his hard-work, his dedication, his perseverance…everything the salesman has endured. The fact that Willy’s final sale is really just an act of “passing on the torch” to Biff means that Willy’s work as a salesman is not accomplished; the success of his final sale will determine if his dream will live past his own failure. Willy’s success as a salesman is entirely determined by his ability to make this final sale, which seems to be an extremity of success until you consider the fact that Willy Loman was highly unsuccessful as a salesman. Willy had to rely on deceit in order to delude himself into believing he was successful. I believe that Willy realizes this after conversing with Howard, and it’s at that point that he realizes the importance of the final product that he has to sell.

    From my perspective, Willy’s suicide was really about fulfilling Willy’s desire of providing for his family, particularly Biff. This desire is satiated with the prospect that the family will be able to earn $20,000 (which is worth over $200,000 in today’s money). I agree with your answer; logically, Willy would commit suicide in order to grant his family the life insurance money, because in this way he’d be providing for them. Willy never really had a father to look up to since his father left him and his older brother when Willy was very young, although Willy supposedly heard from Ben that their father made and sold flutes. Willy never had an inheritance from his father. I believe that Willy would want to be different for his boys, which is why he’s constantly lying to them in order to ensure that they idolize him; he’s trying to be the father that he never had for his boys. This can be evidenced by the sound of the flute that is said to be playing at various parts of the play. These sounds obviously symbolize Willy’s father, yet their presence implies that Willy’s father has a major influence on Willy’s actions. At the very end of the play, when Willy believes that Biff will pursue the dream that Willy himself has been unable to obtain, Willy realizes that he’s not leaving any inheritance to Biff that will aid him in achieving Willy’s dream. Overall, it’s the need to be the male figurehead provider of the household that ultimately drives Willy to kill himself.

    While you were able to connect your ideas and expand on them while maintaining a smooth flow to your writing, I feel that your piece could’ve benefitted if you elaborated on one point that you mentioned in your introductory paragraphs. You managed to effectively make use of the phrase “final sale” to ensure that the piece was unified (which was no surprise considering your skill), but you could have talked about Willy’s role as a parent to a greater level. You could accomplish this by referring to Biff as “Willy’s son” only, in order to emphasize the connection, or by comparing Willy’s fatherly characteristics towards Biff and Happy.

    With this piece, you’ve once again proven that you’re an insightful thinker on top of being an elegant writer (no surprise there). You’ve really done me a favour by making this piece (along with your other pieces) so inclusive of the reader – it’s something that allows me to improve as a thinker while reading your writing. I really appreciate that you posted a question on your blog post regarding the topic of Willy’s suicide because it warrants an answer from my brain which ensures that I put thought into the topic. That being said, I also have a question that I’ve been wondering about since I’ve read this blog post: how does the “final sale” of a salesman relate to the ultimate “death of a salesman”? I’m particularly interested in your answer to this (although, you don’t have to answer it) because I’m unable to think of the answer to that question as of this moment – I’m hoping that your answer will allow me to grow further in terms of my thinking ability, which you’ve already graciously helped me improve…and at such a perfect time as well!
    Thank you!

    Yours sincerely,
    Rehman

  2. Dearest Elissa,
    Diddly dang! I am taken aback by the amount of wisdom and insight you have to share – thank you. You brought up ideas that I had never ventured into thinking of and I can truly say your ideas have altered my interpretation of the book. “His final sale,” wow! What kind of magic goes on in that beautiful mind of yours? Please do tell 😉 My personal favourite line was “…a salesman who isn’t able to sell isn’t a salesman at all; they are only just a man, and a failure at that.” OH MY GOODNESS, girl! All this to say, I was very impressed.

    As far as your question about differing opinions goes I thought his suicide was his final attempt at being a success. (I mean after reading yours it really does feel simple.) I thought this as he must have felt so utterly defeated after not only having the affair, only earning commision, having to go to Charley for money on top of losing the respect of his son – the insurance money would have been his final chance at redemption. As a sort of way to prove that he could be someone worthwhile. Alas, those are merely the thoughts of a simpleton next to you.

    As far as improvement goes I am a little stumped; maybe mixing up the sentence style a tad – could add a level of complexity.

    Once again, I loved this! Great work.

    Much love,
    Ibukun

    P.S. Love the gif at the beginning.

  3. Dear Elissa,

    In this short yet impactful piece; you have been able to insightfully piece together the final hours of Willy Loman’s fate to die through reasonable evidence found throughout the play. You play it pretty real, rather than just having a pity party for Willy and how sad his life was, you told the readers the hard truth about who he really is: a failure. I love how you continued to mention Willy’s final sale; I felt as if it were a hopeful dream that he wanted to accomplish and chase until he was eventually lead to his death. I also love how you highlighted Biff and Willy’s relationship because it played a really big part in his decisions and train of thought. As you mentioned, when Siddarth said, “Why did Willy Loman kill himself?”, I immediately thought, “Because he wanted to provide money for his family, he thought that he was finally achieving the American Dream…” but there was so much more than that, and I’m grateful to have read “Biff Loman – The Final Sale” because I have a better understanding of the play and can learn from your analysis (as well as critical thinking in genera). Thanks for offering such an intriguing and eye-opening read!

    Sincerely,
    Faith

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