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Transcript of Critical Essay
"The Father/Son Relationship in Death of a Salesman"
Bigsby's literary essay revolves around the father/son relationship between Willy and Biff in Arthur Millers, "Death of a Salesman."
Bigsby divides the argument into separate points, all supporting why there are many conflicts within Willy and Biff's relationship.
Bigsby first points out that the problem with Will and Biff's relationship is that Willy puts his life in his son's hands, leading to Biff distancing himself from Willy and having identity conflicts.
Bigsby then makes the argument of how Willy and Biff's relationship is "bedeviled by guilt."
By: Caroline Robson
The main argument in the essay is about how Willy and Biff do not have a normal or strong father/son relationship.There are many conflicts that lie within their relationship.
1. Willy puts his life in his son's hands.
2. Their relationship is made up of guilt.
3. Only way for Biff to survive, be happy and successful is to reject Willy's values.
4. There is a gap between what they both desire for Biff's life.
"The son's identity depends on creating a boundary between himself and his father, on perceiving himself outside the axial lines, which had defined the father's world" (Bigsby, 126).
Willy has tried to mold Biff into who he is, rather than who Biff is. This forces Biff to become further from his father since he is trying to step outside his father's world and not fulfilling Willy's dreams.
"Willy feels guilty because he feels responsible for Biff's failure... But Biff feels equally guilty because he recognizes a responsibility which he cannot fulfill, the responsibility to redeem Willy's empty life" (Bigsby. 126).
Willy feels like a failure as a father, Biff feels like a failure as son. This guilt creates tension and leads to other conflicts.
Bigsby then argues that the only way for Biff to survive, be happy and successful in life is to reject all of Willy's values.
"In order for Biff to survive, he must release himself from his father and the values in which he promulgates; in order for Willy to survive, he must cling to Biff" (Bigsby, 129).
Bigsby then supports her argument with the point that there is a gap between what Willy and Biff both desire for Biff's life.
"This relationship between father and son is a crucial one because it focuses on the question of inherited values and assumptions, dramatises deferred hopes and ideals" (Bigsby, 126)
This is another negative aspect in their relationship. The only way for Willy to "survive" or plant out his hopes of the American Dream, he must pressure it on Biff. Willy does this to make up for Willy's abandonment by his own father. However, for Biff to survive and be successful, he must drift away from his father's unrealistic ideals.
Willy tries to force his own hopes and, dreams upon Biff. He has a set image on how he wants Biff to be. However, Willy feels that Biff betrayed him when Biff walks out of his ambitions for him but not taking the math exam. This shows how Willy wanted Biff to be a different way than how Biff wanted himself to be.
This use of personification enhances the tone in the essay. Saying that the "light never swung in their direction" adds to the emotional feeling of depressing and gloomy. This personification also gives a visual image of darkness which creates feelings of sadness and being gloomy.
"Where is the love between them? The problem is the light never swung in their direction" (Bigsby, 131).
The language level in this essay is formal. There is no use of contractions or pronouns. It is impersonal and very academic with a high degree of diction as shown in the following quote:
"Thus it is possible to see them in a vindication of the material success in which they represent" (Bigsby, 131).
The emotional tone in this essay is candid, depressing and gloomy.
1. Candid - it is very frank and truthful. It reveals the truth on Willy and Biff's relationship:
"If Willy loves Biff he also plainly hates him" (Bigsby, 126).
2. Depressing/ Gloomy - the essay generally focuses on the conflicts between Willy and Biff. It is depressing to read about a poor father/son relationship.
"It is a love which threatens to destroy him, since it expresses itself in a desire on Willy's part to bequeath his son the thing he values most of all - his dream" (Bigsby, 129).
This particular quote shows that their relationship is based off of Willy forcing his own values upon Biff. They do not have a normal form of love that is expected for a father/son to have. This is what makes the essay depressing,
What I enjoyed about the essay:
1. How the author had several points to back up the argument.
2. It was upfront and clear.
3. Made interesting points, some I did not think of before, gave insight.
What I did not enjoy:
1. Not an uplifting read.
Methods of Development
Cause and Effect
One example of when Bigsby uses cause and effect is when she makes her point about guilt
"Willy feels guilty because he feels responsible for Biff's failures. Having discovered Willy with a woman in a Boston hotel room, he had refused to take the math examination, thereby abandoning his chances of getting in university"
Bigsby states that the cause of Willy and Biff's relationship having conflict arises from the incident in Boston. She then explains the effects of that in their relationship and how it caused Biff not to take the math exam, which caused him to be a failure, which caused Willy to feel guilty, which caused their relationship to suffer (domino effect).