Memories are a window into the past, and through this window one is able to reflect upon the decisions they have made and the future that lies ahead. Memories are exactly what make “Death of a Salesman” what it truly is; a story that is true in all forms, that paints the canvas of the mind not with flights of fancy but with the raw truth and realism that society is built from. Every being is crafted and influenced by experience, every being aspires to create something from that experience, as for Willy Loman he does neither, for he lives his experiences and memories.
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Willy Loman at a glance is a hardworking middle class man who only seeks a better life for his family and wishes to live the ‘American Dream’. He pursues his happiness as readily as any man would; in his pursuit he is both blessed and cursed with memories that help him understand what he must do, and cursed in the way that it costs him his mind. Willy seeks help from his experiences, like any person would, except for the part where Willy relives them. His first memory is that of his boys, Biff and Happy, and how wonderful everything is for both him and his family. Willy remembers the warmth, sense of security, and ‘Good Times’, in some sense this first memory acts as a retreat for Willy to escape the truth that is reality. In his retreat of that ‘which was’, he remembers Biffs grand accomplishments and how he believed Biff would do phenomenally in the real world. Willy remembers Happy but not in the sense that Happy was the ‘main act’ of his memory more so the ‘side show’ that little attention is paid to. The purpose of this memory is to remember the ‘good old days’ and to foreshadow what lay ahead as made clear by Charlie’s son Bernard when he says “Where is he? If he doesn’t study!” and “Just because he printed university of Virginia on his sneakers doesn’t mean they’ve got to graduate him, Uncle Willy!”. This memory lays the foundation of why Biff and Happy are home and how things all went downhill. So begins the building of Willies philosophy that his sons hold dear, the philosophy that they can do anything if they’re well liked.
Even with Willies bigger than life philosophy he suffers and longs to know how to raise his boy the ‘right’ way. This sense of raising his boys the ‘right’ way is what sparks Willies next memory, that of his brother Ben. To Willy, Ben is the guardian angel figure; Ben is the embodiment of Willies thoughts into a form that Willy finds most comforting and easiest to accept. Willy first asks Ben to remind him of their father, through this description of Willies life it is conclusive that Willies family was nomadic in nature and that his father abandoned him. This shows the very structure with which Willies mind has been drawn from, that of a fatherless childhood, and one with no friends. Willy then asks Ben how he is to raise his boys and asks Ben how he did it, Bens main reply is “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I walked out I was twenty one. And by God I was rich.” Bens answer symbolizes the idea that in order to pursue happiness one must try very hard for it and sacrifice both their time and being in their pursuit (not always physically). As Ben is about to leave Willy begs him to stay, this represents Willies longing for the past and how he can’t escape the ‘old days’. IN some sense Willy has made himself a prisoner of his own mind, always trying to hold onto to the past. This too is foreshadowing and the beginning of Willies meticulous thinking on how he will enter the jungle (strive through his problems) and come out with diamonds (obtain the happiness he has always seeked).
After Willy tries to find diamonds (get a new job in the firm) and fails he has another flashback in Howard’s office that includes yet again, his guardian Ben. Willies memory is that of the proposition that his brother had offered to him to go to Alaska. This part of the memory is important because it shows how Willy regrets not going to Alaska; it also shows that Willy is fed up with trying to survive the big city. Later on in the memory he tries to convince Ben that everything will be fine because Biff is well liked and three great universities are begging for him. “Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging for him, and from there the sky’s the limit, because it’s not what you do, Ben. It’s who you know and the smile on your face! Its contacts Ben! Contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the commodore hotel, and that’s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!” The true purpose of this memory is that Willy is trying to comfort himself and that Ben is actually a representation of one part of his conscience. This memory is also built on the very first memory because in this memory Willy comforts himself by lying with his old philosophy of like is better than do.
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In the garden Willy has one final flashback/memory/enlightening moment in which he talks to Ben and asks him what to. It is in the garden where Willy must come to the decision to enter the jungle (be rid of his problems through suicide) and find diamonds (his family receives twenty thousand dollars in life insurance). This is also the time in which Willy finally realizes his philosophy was backwards all along and that it is better to do than to be liked, thus immortalizing him as a tragic hero. In all matters Willies first memory is what sparked a chain reaction of flashbacks that guided him to his final decision in the end, for it was his decision which was the underlying story all along.
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