To the Fathers of the Year: Death of a Salesman and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn The way a child turns out in life is shaped by the behaviors, decisions, and actions of the adults that raised them; poor parental guidance like Biff and Huckleberry Finn set the pattern of a socially, and emotionally alienated children. To have any sense of order in a family, there should be a balanced parenting style tied with the cooperation from both the parents and the children, there need to be limitations and firm grips on reality. Whether it is through realism, illusions, or symbolic representation, the relationship between a father and his son in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is non-existent.
It is through the parenting styles of Pa and Willy Loman that both Biff and Huckleberry’s identities are constructed to create a sense of fantasy and freedom. In Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, the reader is introduced to Willy Loman, his wife Linda, their youngest son Happy, the black sheep of the family, Biff. There is a great deal of parental influence on the children in this play, but they are mostly aimed at Biff. Willy’s lack of reality drives a deep wedge between him, and Biff tries hard to understand his father’s constant obsession in living in the past, but he is unable to grasp any sort of it. Willy seems to be acting like a friend to Biff and Happy instead of a father. He is most interested in Biff’s appearance, wealth, and his academic achievements. “When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that a criticism?”.
Willy is infatuated with chasing after the American Dream that he fails to notice he has created a world full of illusions engulfing his family. In his attempts to ‘provide’ a better life for his sons, he ultimately has put up barriers around them and the real world causing the family to be separated not only from the truth but also from each other. Willy dreams of his sons not relying on him, but themselves, but he knows that it’s not possible, even though both his sons have steady jobs, he wants more from them, more of them. Willy is ultimately trying to live his life through his sons by altering their views of the world around them through the incorporation of ideas, and morals of a life filled with luxury, wishes, pride, and fame, this is the opposite of what a parent should do. Instead of encouraging Biff to live and work on the land as he wants, he instills laziness into Biff’s mind giving the audience a feeling of helplessness and anger.
“The trouble is he’s lazy” (Miller, 1712). Willy is a confusing man to please and live with, he does not have the basic foundational skills and morals to raise his sons properly. His mind is a highway of multiple illusions of the person he is trying to be, his brother Ben. Ben is Willy’s dead ‘successful’ brother, he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it, Willy not so much. Through the memories of Ben walking “into the jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he is rich!” (Miller 1725), the fake morals of popularity instilled by Willy onto Biff, propels Biff into his illusions of being successful, “Yeah. Lotta dreams and plans” (Miller, 1714). Willy’s disappointment with Ben is really towards himself and how at the old age of sixty-one, all his identity was held through the title of a salesman, while Biff’s identity was known in and out of society.
Willy’s expectation of Biff when he was a teenager is nothing to brag about, he did not focus on Biff’s grades, even if he was failing, he paid close attention to his son’s talent when it came to playing football and the ways that people are drawn to him like mosquitos to a flame. Willy’s state of parenting is inadequate causing what little father and son interactions and hopes they had evaporated into nothingness. With his values, ideals, and morals, Willy’s son Biff entraps himself in a world dominated by achieving something his father dreamed of and confusing his identity with his father’s. Biff and Happy are now and forever stained and left vulnerable to the outside world after Willy’s death. The only time the audience experiences any sense of individuality in the closing scene when Biff states “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong” (1775). This quote is highly important because it shows that only through Willy’s death that the Loman family are freed from the illusions of a greedy illusionist who imprisoned his family in a world of perfection.
Miller attempts to show how illusions can create conflicts resulting in a father losing his way when trying to teach his son the morals of his own. Willy ingraining Biff’s mind and dreams of success and popularity being the only thing a man needs further supports Willy’s outcome in life. Pride and loyalty were never encouraged in the family and that is the downfall of Biff and the reason for a wedge existing in the father and son relationship. Arthur Miller’s portrayal of how characters interact with one another allows him to comment on father and son’s loss of identity being a huge problem in the play. Being a father is a very important role that should be taken very seriously in life. It is a huge responsibility and requires dedication, and emotion, that is not the case in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In Huckleberry Finn, Pap shows little to know concerns when it comes to Huck’s health and education.
The only thing he cares about is the money that Huck acquired and how he is going to use it. Pap is the opposite of Jim, a runaway slave, a man of honesty and pure goodness, while Pap is the filthiest of them all, he was described as “long and tangled and greasy hair and hung down… As for the clothes—just rags, that was all” (Twain 142), it made Hick feel like he was living in poverty, creating an image of a lost child is heavily influenced by adults. He prides himself on two things, his control over Huck just like Willy Loman and his skills at manipulating Huck into giving him what he wants. Pap behaves in a way that a father should not a bully. Even when Huck gives Pap what he wants, it is not enough. Unlike Willy who wanted his sons to not have to rely on him, Pap, even though he as no job or source of income, wants Huck to rely on him, but he is the one relying on Huck for survival. Huck’s education plays a huge part in Pap’s resentment of Huck, he does not like the fact that Huck can read and right, in Pap’s twisted mind, this is dangerous and uncultured, creating a prison for Huck based on his illusions.
Just like Biff, under Pap’s guidance, Huck escapes into a world heavily romanticized and free of societal norms and judgments. In his mind he is part of nature, this contrasts with Biff because it is outside of Biff’s mind that Biff is part of nature. According to Pap, away from society, Huck is truly “free” to exist in anyway he chooses, however, that is not the case, Huck’s true existence is of Pap’s choosing. Pap ridicules society for keeping him away from his son, but he does nothing to protect Huck from the dangers of society he introduces Huck to the benefits of society and that according to Pap is racism.
Pap’s inability to love his son conditionally is his downfall, however, the irony of this novel is how a runaway slave shows the type of compassion that a free white man could not give his son. “Doan’ look at his face—- because it’s too gashly” (Twain 161). Jim is protecting Huck as if Huck was his child. It is through Jim that Huck learns the importance of family and friendship that can be found with and outside of society. Jim guides Huck just like the river is guiding them, he shares with him a bond that Pap should have share with him. After Jim explains to Huck that the dead man was Pap, Huck just like Biff is free, but still trapped, trapped in the same romanticized world and role he wants to play for him to escape reality.
Even though Jim is not Huck’s biological father, he instills knowledge that I father should share with his son, to respect and treat everyone equally, he helps Huck come to the conclusion of right and wrong, who is good and who is pretending. By sharing his morals and ideals, Huck begins to embody the knowledge he has gained and is transformed, he is a new person with a new view of the world around him. Both Twain and Miller convey the rawness of parenthood and the possibilities and outcomes of it when done the wrong way. By bringing both reality and illusion together, they created a symbolic vision of parenting and how a relationship with a child should not only be firm and grounded, it should be true and incorruptible by society.
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