Function Of Flashbacks In Death Of A Salesman Essay

Act I/ Scene III

This segment of the act takes place in the kitchen years before. Willy reminds Biff not to make promises to a girl, because girls will always believe what you tell them and Biff is too young to be talking seriously to girls. Willy surprises the boys with a new punching bag, and as Happy exercises he brags about how he is losing weight. Biff shows Willy a football he took from the locker room, but Willy tells him to return it. Biff tells Willy that he missed him when he was away on business. Willy says that someday he'll have his own business like Uncle Charley. Willy says that he'll be bigger than Charley, because Charley is liked, but not well-liked. Willy promises to take his boys on business and show them all of the towns in New England and introduce them to the finest people.

As Happy and Biff toss the football around, Bernard enters. Bernard is worried because Biff has a state exam (Regents) the following week and has yet to study for them. Bernard heard that Mr. Birnbaum will fail Biff in his math class if he does not study, and reminds Biff that just because he has been accepted to UVA the high school does not have to graduate him. Willy tells Bernard not to be a pest, and Bernard leaves. Biff says that Bernard is "liked, but not well liked." Willy says that Bernard may get the best grades in school, but when he gets out in the business world people like Biff and Happy will be five times ahead of him.

Act I/ Scene IV

Willy crosses from one part of the stage to another, where a woman is standing, putting on her scarf. Willy says that he gets so lonely, and gets the feeling that he'll never make a living for her or a business for the boys. The woman claims that she picked Willy for his sense of humor. Willy tells her that he will be back in about two weeks and that he will see her the next time he is in Boston.

Act I/ Scene V

Willy is back in the kitchen with Linda, who reassures him that he is a handsome man. Linda mends her stocking, but Willy tells her that he does not want her to do such menial tasks. Willy returns to the porch, where he tells Bernard to give Biff the answers to the Regents exam. Bernard says that he normally gives Biff the answers, but Regents is a State exam and he could be arrested. Bernard says that Biff is driving the car without a license and will flunk math. Willy also hears the woman's voice (from the hotel room), and screams for it to shut up. Willy explodes at Linda, saying that there's nothing the matter with Biff. He asks her if she wants Biff to be a worm like Bernard. Linda, almost in tears, exits into the living room.

Act I/ Scene VII

While Willy talks with Ben, Linda (as a younger woman) enters. Willy asks Ben where his father is, but Ben says that he didn't find his father in Alaska, for he never made it there. Ben claims he had a very faulty view of geography and ended up in Africa instead of Alaska. Willy was only three years, eleven months old when Ben left. Young Biff and Happy enter, and Willy introduces them to Uncle Ben, a "great man." Ben boasts that their father was a very great man, an inventor who could make more money in a week than another man could make in a lifetime. Willy shows Biff to Ben, and says that he's bringing up Biff to be like their father. Biff and Ben start to spar; Ben trips Biff, then tells him never to fight fair with a stranger, because he will never get out of the jungle that way. Ben leaves, wishing Willy good luck on whatever he does.

Charley returns, and reprimands Willy for letting his kids steal lumber from the nearby building that is being refurbished. Willy says that he reprimanded them, but that he has a "couple of fearless characters" as his children. Charley tells him that the jails are full of fearless characters, but Ben says that so is the stock exchange. Bernard enters and says that the watchman is chasing Biff, but Willy says that he is not stealing anything. Willy says that he will stop by on his way back to Africa, but Willy begs him to stay and talk. Willy worries that he's not teaching his sons the right kind of knowledge. Ben repeats that when he walked into the jungle he was seventeen, and when he walked out he was twenty-one and fantastically rich.

Miller's use of flashbacks emphasizes Willy's nostalgic, distorted perception of the past, which is juxtaposed against the harsh realities of Willy's present life. The flashback scenes also help to characterize Willy and his sons by portraying how they developed into their modern, unsuccessful selves. During the flashback scenes, Willy's terrible parenting is displayed as he encourages his son's bad behavior and gives them ridiculous advice on how to become successful in life. Instead of instilling the positive character traits of hard work, dedication, and integrity, Willy simply encourages his sons to be well-liked and develop amiable personalities. The audience also learns that his brother's success influences Willy's perception of how to attain the American Dream. Willy's brother Ben made a fortune mining gold in Africa, and Willy regrets not accompanying his brother.

In act 2, Willy's flashback provides significant information which explains why Biff resents his father and never attempted to earn an athletic scholarship by refusing to retake his summer math course in high school. Willy's flashback to the time Biff caught him cheating on Linda provides the audience context and background to their relationship. Overall, Miller's use of flashbacks characterizes Willy and his sons by providing significant information, which explains their current state of affairs, as well as their relationships with one another. The flashbacks also portray Willy's nostalgic view of the past juxtaposed against the harsh realities of his present life. 


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