Understanding Oneself: Self Knowledge In Miller’s “Death Of A Salesman”

928 words - 4 pages

Many individuals give into societal norms and their parent’s expectations instead of aspiring to find their ultimate purpose and objective. When an individual alters their perception of reality, they live an unhappy and unfulfilling life. Karl Harshbarger critiques Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in “‘I Know Who I Am’: The Revenge of Biff Loman” arguing that Biff is living in a distorted reality that supports the endless delusions he has created. Although many critics like Harshbarger tend to argue that Biff doesn’t enhance his self-knowledge, through a few telling moments that Harshbarger shines light on, it is made evident that Biff does understand his feelings, purpose and character ...view middle of the document...

While Biff is in some ways desperate to impress his father, he also realizes that Willy has flawed, materialistic dreams that Biff is not able to achieve. Harshbarger argues that Biff doesn’t pursue his scholarships because he “[flunks] math in order to hurt his father, and that his real purpose in going to Boston [is] to hurt Willy with the news of his failure, not to seek his help” (Harshbarger 253). When in fact, it can also be assumed that Biff doesn’t pursue his scholarships and continue his education to ultimately become a salesman, because he understands that he is going to be trapped in a lifestyle that is superficial and delusional. In contrast, Happy follows his father’s dreams and works in the world of business, only to lead the same deceptive lifestyle as his father (Miller 922). Furthermore, as the play concludes, the words that are spoken at Willy’s funeral by Happy and Biff expose the reality that they will now choose to live in. Happy decides to “[stay] right in this city, and… beat this racket” (Miller 925), while Biff hopelessly glances at Happy and states that “[he] knows who [he] [is]” (Miller 925) and will live a simple lifestyle instead of chasing money or superficial success like his brother.
Furthermore, Biff’s self-knowledge throughout the play is made apparent through his epiphany at Bill Oliver’s office. Biff’s understanding of his inability to succeed in a pressured business environment and a life, which is superficial, is made evident after his brief meeting with Bill Oliver. After Biff’s encounter with Bill Oliver he shares with Happy that that he waited six hours to see, and when...

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