Talk about the function and importance of the first “flashback” scene in Death of a Salesman. This scene is the very first in the play which provides us any genuine insight into the past of Willy, the protagonist of the play. Its purpose is to reveal the audience of some of where Willy went wrong; we see some of his mistakes through his memories of his own past.
We see the way that he treated his children, and how this connects to what they are like now; we witness the difference in between what the impression of himself he gives and the failure he actually feels; we discover his affair with the lady, why he had it, and the horrible regret that overhangs him since of it.
This then explains some of the stress and distress that we have actually seen so far in the play. This, however, just takes us so far; we do not learn the complete story, of why he and his boy do not now share the bond we see in the flashback scene, and of why he becomes so depressed.
He does not want to see the fact– he is not prepared to realise where he went wrong. The scene gets increasingly more significant as it gets on. In the beginning, it shows us a picturesque, delighted time; Willy is obviously a fantastic success, who is admired by 2 loving boys. The eldest kid, Biff, is popular with the others at school and with girls, a fantastic sportsman, and generally “well liked”. They all live in a stunning house, surrounded by fields.
However we then discover about Biff taking and then his poor academic accomplishment, that Willy lies about how effective he truly is, and finally the affair with the female prior to the whole thing spirals out of control and turns into some sort of horrible problem. We move into Willy’s memories using a number of stage impacts– the lights brighten, we hear soft music, perhaps flute music, and the background turns from the extreme orange of the brick apartment or condos to the cool green fields of the countryside.
This has a soothing, nostalgic sense on the audience, who are for that reason encouraged to share Willy’s sensations at the start of the flashbacks; we feel that we are going into a happier, more pleasant past. When he speaks about himself to his children, he provides himself as a terrific success; he utilizes great deals of boxing language, such as “knocked ’em cold” and “slaughtered them”. He understands that his children praise athletic capability, and so likens himself as a fighter, and a winner.
Phrases like “open sesame” recommend that success in his glamorous job comes quickly to him; he is a person who takes coffee with the Mayor of Providence, who deals with “the finest people”. However Willy, although he does not realise it, does a great deal of harm to his boys through the lessons that he teaches them. In congratulating his kid on taking the ball from school, he teaches them that, so long as you are “well liked”, you do not need to follow the rules, that appeal is more crucial than honesty and stability.
He likewise teaches them that the key to success is not in schoolwork, however in being popular, and in turn, the key to being popular is through excellent looks and sporting skill. He informs them that Bernard will not go far, since, although he is excellent academically, he is not well liked, however Biff, being as popular as he is, will end up being a success. Bernard is “anaemic” and a “bug”, whilst he is clearly proud of his own boy, Biff. This, obviously, is impractical– Bernard’s hard working attitude is most likely to render him a success than Biff’s sport ability and looks, and we see this in the play.
In the next episode, with Linda, what he tells her contrasts greatly with the story he told his two kids. This does not occur immediately though; to start with he informs her he “was sellin’ thousands and thousands”; then he says he sold “5 hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston”, before revealing that he actually sold “approximately two hundred gross on the whole trip”. When he is talking to his kids, he is attempting to acquire their love and respect, however he understands that he already has Linda’s, therefore does not try to impress her.
After claiming to his boys that he is “well liked”, he exposes to Linda that the other sellers make fun of him behind his back, and refer to him as “walrus”. He greatly exaggerates his successes; his earlier claims of easy access to wealth contrasts with his resignation that he needs to be “at it, ten, twelve hours a day”. Linda is adoringly loyal and caring to Willy; she accepts and is used to his exaggerations. She patiently overlooks the lies, and awaits the true answer to her question. She tries to comfort him and make him feel great about himself, to display her love for him.
When he tells her that he talks too much, she replies “you’re just dynamic”. She tells him that he is, to her, “the handsomest man worldwide”. We are then presented with the Woman from Boston, whom Willy has the affair with. First of all, we hear her laugh, gradually loudening, whilst the Willy continues his discussion with Linda. She appears on stage through the use of a scrim, a material sheet which, with using lighting, can make whatever is behind the scrim slowly fade onto the phase. The use of the scrim and the laughter is reminiscent of a haunting ghost.
This makes the audience seem like this is not a welcome memory; it afflicts Willy’s thoughts like a ghost, a memory Willy want to be rid of, but can not leave. The memory of Linda darning some old stockings after he purchases this Woman shows the audience his guilt over what he is doing, and we feel some sympathy for him. He seems having an affair with this lady simply due to the fact that it makes him feel appreciated. He desires somebody to laugh at his jokes, to match him, and to make him feel that he is not useless.
He looks delighted when she tells him that she “chose” him. What he has forgotten, naturally, that he has the respect he so considerably desires from his better half, Linda. The Female and Linda both appear on stage all at once, which gives us the sensation that although he does not want to between them, he needs both; he has a burning need for attention, which is supplied by the Female, and requires assistance from Linda. From when he informs Linda to throw away the stockings that she is repairing, the end of the scene becomes less strictly practical, and more a problem, spiralling out of control.
Both Linda and Bernard end up being very out of character, relatively unceasingly noting problems with his son Biff, in spite of his cries of “Shut up!” and “Get outa here! “. He is dramatically attempting to lock out the memories, to prevent him from coming to the awareness that Biff was not perfect, and a great deal of it was his fault. Willy remains in between Bernard and Linda with a spoken assault of complaints about Biff. This peaks with an explosion of anger, with Willy telling himself that Biff was not a failure, comparing his boy with Bernard.
He lastly just rejects it– “I never in my life informed him anything but decent things”. This scene is not, by any ways, just a memory. Its purpose is to supply us with an insight into the functions of Willy’s mind. It assists us begin to comprehend how Willy entered into the frame of mind that we have seen in the play. As we have seen, making use of staging, language and structure have all been very important for us to begin our understanding. However Willy does not entirely confront the entire fact about his child, however he avoids it, leaving us questioning when he will inevitably confront his previous mistakes, and how he will respond.