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Miller: Death of a Salesman

3. Biff, Happy and Willy

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the relationship between Biff, Happy, and their father, focusing in particular on: (i) the sense of promise surrounding the younger Biff and his failure to fulfil that promise; (ii) Biff’s tendency to steal things (e.g. Mr Oliver’s carton of basketballs, his fountain pen, etc.); (iii) Happy’s self-destructive streak; and (iv) the general uneasiness of the relationship between the two sons and their father.


In this course, Professor Grace Ioppolo (University of Reading) explores Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, ‘Death of a Salesman’. We begin by thinking about the historical context in which the play was written, focusing in particular on the development of American theatre between the 1930s and 1950s. After that, we think about the opening of the play, the character of Willy Loman and the themes of capitalism and the American Dream. In the third module, we explore the relationship between Willy and his two sons, Biff and Happy, before turning in the fourth module to the treatment of women in the play. In the fifth module, we focus on the climactic scene of the play – the scene in which Biff walks in on his father with another women – before moving on in the sixth module to consider the play’s ending. Who is to blame for everything that has happened? Has anyone learned anything?

Note: We use the Penguin Modern Classics edition of play (ISBN: 978-0-141-18274-2). Students using a different edition of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and the page numbering.


Grace Ioppolo is Professor of English at the University of Reading. Her teaching focuses mostly on Shakespeare and his contemporary dramatists, although she also has an interest in American drama of the 20th century. Her recent publications include the Norton Critical Edition of King Lear (2015) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (2018)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Ioppolo, G. (2019, March 08). Miller: Death of a Salesman - Biff, Happy and Willy [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ioppolo, G. "Miller: Death of a Salesman – Biff, Happy and Willy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 08 Mar 2019,

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