Analysis

Biff, like Singer, is largely a quiet observer of the scene around him. The fact that he reads the newspaper every day but never reacts positively or negatively toward anything he reads is indicative of his observer status. Biff merely collects the newspapers and files them neatly and methodically. This failure to integrate what he experiences or sees with what he feels is also evident in his own life: he never synthesizes past, present, and future in any way. He repeatedly recalls the same few memories, but he does not relate them to one another or to his life in the present. Instead, Biff responds primarily to individual, separate occurrences; he does not shape his own life through an active participation in the life surrounding him.

A perfect example of this is the fact that Alice and Biff address each other as "Mr." and "Mrs.", a pattern they began years before after an argument. The implicit formality of such naming highlights the distance that has grown between the two. To us, Alice remains in the background of the story, which is probably the role she has played in Biff's life as well. The two live opposite existences: when Biff is sleeping, Alice runs the café; when Alice is sleeping, Biff runs the café. Sometimes they work together in the later part of the day, but even then their paths do not seem to merge.

Biff's feelings for Mick are somewhat ambiguous: at times they appear sexual in nature, at other times fatherly. In any event, Biff appears unusually drawn to the girl. But since neither Biff nor the narrator explains where these feelings come from or what motivates them, they remain an unintegrated part of Biff that is never fully explained. Toward the end of the novel, when Mick has more fully entered adolescence, Biff appears more clearly to be attracted to her.

Biff does, however, have unusual sexual views. As he watches Mick at the table with Singer and Blount, he thinks about how androgynous she still looks despite her skirt and blouse. Biff then reflects that the two sexes are by and large the same; this can be seen in youth, before sexual organs develop, and in old age, when the infirmity accompanying advanced years gives each sex traits of the other (women losing their hair, men whose voices sound high and wobbly, and so on). Biff himself is impotent, at least with his wife. Generally, protective and kindly behavior toward women appears to have replaced any sexual pleasures he had in the past. In a bizarre twist, Biff himself becomes more feminine after Alice dies, as he starts to sew more and wears her perfume. Yet at the same time, he removes all of the "feminine frills" from the bedroom they once shared. It is difficult for us to synthesize these conflicting impulses in any reasonable way, as neither Biff nor the narrator reflects upon them.