On these pages, Arthur Miller uses Biff’s problem of working as a farm-hand and making less money than a salesman to identify key characteristics that Willy and other characters, both in and out of the play, may consider being successful traits within a person. In the early scenes of “Death of a Salesman,” a series of events involve the discussion from multiple characters of what it means to be successful. Through the analysis composed by Arthur Miller, it is clear that the older generations believe success is held in the amount of money and type of job a man holds while the younger generation believes that success comes from the ability for a man to do what makes him happy.
Miller begins using the recollection of Willy’s argument with Biff that morning to illustrate the viewpoint from Willy’s perspective as a member of the older working generation. Willy begins speaking with his wife by stating “I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?” (Miller 22). This suggests that one key component to success is that a person must be making money to be successful. Willy further expresses this sentiment by commenting on Biff’s working history: “But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!” (Miller 22). While this sentiment is clearly illustrated, Willy continues with other illustrations of what it means for a man to be successful.
Willy believes that a man can only be successful if he works the type of job that would provide a large amount of money. Willy asks “How can he find himself on a farm? Is that a life? A farmhand? In the beginning, when he was young, I thought, well, a young man, it’s good for him to tramp around, take a lot of different jobs. But it’s more than ten years now and he has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!” (Miller 22). Again, Willy references the need to earn money as a gauge for personal success while also being embarrassed that Biff works as a farmhand. This is clearly below the status of a respectable position and Willy makes his opinion clear that working as a farmhand is not a position that a man could possibly be successful.
In the end, the events turn to Biff in a conversation with Happy suggesting that happiness should be the key factor to determining success. This is the aspiration and goal that Biff is constantly searching for as he moves from job to job. In a conversation between Happy and Biff, Biff inquires about Happy’s happiness and his apparent success in his work life making money and living the dream life. However, Happy’s response is unsettling and shows that the younger generation values much more than money and job position are key components for success: “Sometimes I sit in my apartment — all alone. And I think of the rent I’m paying. And it’s crazy. But then, it’s what I always wanted. My own apartment, a car, and plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely” (Miller 24). Biff is constantly seeking to find a job that makes him happy and proud of the work that he does, while Happy is also clearly not content with his “successful” life. If not for the harsh words and mockery that Willy gives to Biff, it may have been that Biff would not move from job to job and would settle in one place and be married. Instead, Biff is still seeking out happiness and this is his only true gauge on his own success.
Miller, Arthur. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. New York: Chelsea House, 2007. Print.