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Free Barron's Booknotes-Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller-Free Book Notes
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ACT I (continued)

Happy has been looking for the chance to talk to Biff about their father. But Biff is still mad about that quarrel this morning, and asks, "Why does Dad mock me all the time?" Happy points out that when Willy is mumbling to himself he usually seems to be talking to Biff. Perhaps if Biff had a regular job, Happy hints, their father would stop worrying. Bristling at the suggestion that he is entirely responsible, Biff shifts some of the blame to Happy.

NOTE:
We all recognize the conflict between brothers who have grown up to be quite different. Biff cares about saving his soul, Happy about making money. Happy is more like Willy, but isn't it ironic that Willy likes Biff better?

Still, Biff does admit that he himself is worried about his inability to settle down. For six or seven years after high school he tried various jobs in business, but he hated the routine, the competition, the having to "get ahead of the next fella." He fled the business world to the outdoor work he loved. "Go West, young man" was a very real call to him. In the wide open spaces he felt free. (Remember, nature also means a great deal to Willy.)

Though Biff loved working outside, he has made little money at it, which doesn't fulfill the expectations he's inherited from his father. He says,
...There's nothing more inspiring or-beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it's cool there now, see? Texas is cool now, and it's spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling my God, I'm not gettin' anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week! I'm thirty-four years old, I oughta be makin' my future. That's when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don't know what to do with myself.

NOTE:
Look at the dialogue throughout the play. People usually talk in short, simple sentences so that a long speech like this one is unusual.

Hearing this passionate outburst, Happy calls Biff a "poet" and an "idealist." No, says Biff, "I'm like a boy." But he is no longer a boy, good at sports, the apple of his father's eye; now he's a man, but with none of the confidence of an adult. He is full of uncertainty, resentment, and guilt over "wasting" his life.

NOTE:
Biff's dilemma is interesting. Is his problem simply that he refuses to grow up? His parents accuse him of this. That's an easy accusation, but sometimes such behavior comes from a refusal to compromise one's ideals. In order to grow up you have to have a role model, but Biff doesn't want to become like his father.

Biff asks if Happy is content in his job. We see that on the surface he looks happy and successful, but he really isn't. "It's what I always wanted," Happy says, but confesses that he's lonely and stifled. He has lots of girlfriends but nobody he cares about. He has a car and his own apartment but he hates taking orders from "petty" people, including his boss. He's in good physical shape, and sometimes he wants to strip down in the middle of the store and start boxing with the merchandise manager to show him his real merit. What does this say about him? Maybe he hasn't outgrown his adolescent preoccupation with athletic prowess.

Hearing Hap's complaints, Biff has an idea: "Why don't you come out West with me?" They dream of buying a ranch, "us[ing] our muscles." Together they could be happy, not care about the rest of the world. They feel the old bond of their childhood again. It's an appealing idea to escape to a dream world where the two of them could have fun just like the old days. But is it practical?

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