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Willy's First Flashback (Death of a Salesman)

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Introduction

WILLY'S FIRST FLASHBACK How do the audience know a flashback is occurring? � Miller tells us in the stage directions: � 'The apartment houses are fading out, and the entire house and surroundings become covered with leaves. Music insinuates itself as the leaves appear.' � It is clear from Miller's depiction of the set design that a softer glow will replace the harsh, threatening 'orange glow' which dominates the stage when the characters are seen in the present. When Willy's memory takes over, this glow is more dream-like with shadowy leaves and music, evoking a happier pastoral era. Remember at the close of the play, however, we see the looming 'hard towers of the apartment buildings' dominating the setting once more. Without Willy's retreats into the past, the dream of a happier, more Edenic life cannot exist in this city. He lives in a claustrophobic urban environment indicative of the harsh life he has chosen. What is the mood in this sequence? Why? � It is happy and bright because Willy is revisiting an auspicious, hopeful past in his mind. He is expounding his philosophy of success through being 'well-liked'. He is recalling a time some 17 years previously when he returned from yet another sales trip. From his perspective, he remembers feeling powerful, positive, optimistic, heroic. ...read more.

Middle

Be liked and you will never want. You take me, for instance. I never have to wait in line to see a buyer. "Willy Loman is here!" That's all they have to know, and I go right through.' � He continues, 'Knocked 'em cold in Providence, slaughtered 'em in Boston. � Then, the audience becomes aware of the reality: � 'They seem to laugh at me...I'm not noticed...I joke too much...I'm fat...I'm very foolish to look at...' � There is a deep poignancy in his very frank confession to Linda when the audience realises that Willy is not completely blind to reality, but there is no sooner a glimpse of it when Willy erects the grand delusion again to assuage his deteriorating mind. Why do you think that Willy is obsessed with being 'well-liked'? � Because behind the veneer of confidence and success he is plagued by insecurity. This is normal for most people, but Willy never allows this to take over. He must find refuge in his ever-increasing self-deception and disillusionment. He never rebukes the mythical promise of the American Dream - however its values have changed - Willy has not changed with them. He provides insight into this at the beginning of the play - 'I don't want change!' � See also notes on being a salesman in Willy's time. ...read more.

Conclusion

How does Miller show that we are back in the present? � 'The leaves are gone. It is night again, and the apartment houses look down from behind.' How do you think Willy's home features as a metaphor for his ambitions? � When Willy and Linda purchased their home, the neighbourhood was quieter than they now find it, surrounded by space and sunlight. At this time Willy was a young man with ambitious hopes for the future, and his house represented a space in which he could expand his dreams. In the present the house is hemmed in on all sides by apartment buildings. Willy is a much older man, and the chances of achieving his dreams are much slimmer. � His home now represents the reduction of his hopes. There is less room to expand, and the sunlight does not even reach his yard. In the past the house was the site of hopeful departure and triumphant return. Willy would set out each week to make a lot of money. When he returned, his sons worshipped and greeted him as he whispered into their eager ears his hopes to open his own business. Now, the house is the site of Willy's frustrated ambitions. As the play opens, Willy returns to his home a defeated man in many ways - defeated by his 'measly existence' as a salesman and defeated by the American dream. The leaves (signifying the past) represent the promise of success, happier, more carefree times. ...read more.

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