Discuss the significance of the flashbacks. Why are they included and what do we learn about the characters? The flashbacks that we see in this play, ‘Death of a salesman’, are all coming from Willy Loman, the father of the the family and the main money earner. He brings mostly all of the money back to the family from his job as a salesman. We realise that this is a stressful situation for him because he has to earn enough for all four members of the family. From what he tells us he is a well liked man that does well in his job but we soon find out that he over-exaggerates about his popularity and his wealth as well.
These flashbacks may be a way of Willy getting away from his troubles, a place that he can relax and re-live the good times that he has had before. The first Glimpse we get of Willy’s flashbacks is when Happy and Biff are talking in their bedroom and below them they hear Willy mumble ‘You gonna wash the engine Biff? ‘. Throughout the flashbacks we see that Willy most refers to Biff and the times he has had with Biff. We do not know why this is, but it is probably because of the current situation that Biff and his father are going through.
Biff and his fathers relationship used to be good because Biff was the well liked one in school and was always succeeding. Due to a occurrence, Biff’s personality changed and he lost all of his confidence. He started looking for jobs and ended up working on over twenty jobs, which he did not stick too. He then ended up working on a farm and his dead detested this. Maybe his father would have liked Biff to follow in his footsteps, but Biff prefers to be outdoors, surrounded by nature.
In the same flashback, Willy tells Biff to ‘be careful with those girls’ which tells us that Biff was very popular amongst the girls and therefore was probably popular with everyone. In Willy’s mind this means that he has brought up his children the right way because he thinks that popularity is everything, if you a popular you are successful. We can clearly see that Biff is the favourite son because Willy always tells Biff that he is doing a great job whilst he tells happy that he is doing all right. He always replies to Biff and kind of blanks Happy out. Willy tells Biff he has done a good job but does not refer to happy at all.
Then when happy says ‘I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop? ‘ , Willy shows that he does not care and continues talking. Happy is always trying to seek his fathers attention but never seems to succeed. Willy applauds his sons bad behaviour when Biff takes the football, because it can be classed as stealing. Willy tells Biff that it is fine because his is well liked, ‘If somebody else took that ball there’d be an uproar’. Willy likes to show off to his kids and he tells them a ‘secret’ that one day he will have his own business and it will be bigger than Uncle Charley’s.
He tells his kids that Uncle Charley is ‘liked, but he’s not – well liked’, implying that he is more liked than Uncle Charley. Willy also tells his kids that he met the Mayor and that he sold a bill there. He once again over-exaggerates and tells his kids ‘I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like their own’, and that he has many friends. Willy wants to impress his kids and make them believe that he is a success and that he has done well in life, due to his values of popularity and other things that he tells them all the time.
He is actually just giving them false hope of seeing these things because they will never become true. The kids admire their father and believe everything that he tells them. They see him as their role model and Biff wants to impress his father as well. He tells his father that in the game coming up he will ‘break through for a touchdown’ just for him. He wants to dedicate this one play to his father. We see that Willy does not value intelligence when Bernard comes into the play. Willy asks his sons if Bernard is well liked and they say he is liked but not well liked.
Willy then tells them that this is the reason he will never be as successful as Biff. He goes on to say that Bernard can achieve the best grades in the world but as soon as he enters the business world, Biff will be five times ahead of him, which is not the truth. All the focus is on Biff which makes us feel bad for Happy. Happy asks his father once again if he has noticed he is losing weight and once again Willy totally ignores him. This does not just happen in the flashbacks but in the present as well.
Willy is lying to his whole family about his job and especially the money that he is earning. The minute that he gets the money it goes straight to paying bills and to repairing items around the house. He has to go to his brother Charley to get fifty pounds every week to provide for his family. Another flashback that we see is when Willy had the affair with ‘The Woman’. He cheats on his wie and clearly wants to see this woman again in the future. This is maybe why Biff’s relationship with his father is now the way it is, because Biff is the only person that knows about this affair.
Once he comes out of this flashback his wife mentions how she is mending her stockings which Willy does not take well. He tells them to throw them out immediatley and this could be because it reminds him of the affair or he does not want to look cheap because his wife is wearing mended stockings. For Willy the image of him is everything, the family name is the most important thing because it is to do with popularity. If someone sees his wife walking around with mended stockings they will relate it to him and he does not want that.
This is another chance for us to see Willy’s values in life and he keeps on repeating them over and over again. The last flashback that we see in these particular scenes happens whilst Willy and Charley are playing a game of cards. Willy is talking to Ben whilst he is playing cards with Charley and Charley finds it hard to keep up with what Willy is saying. Willy is unwilling to accept help and has a self defence mechanism. Charley is more successful than Willy even though Willy said he was not well liked.
Ben has turned up to see Willy’s lifestyle, to see his success, or the lack of it. Willy does not want to face up to the truth and everyone around him is hiding him from it. He would really have loved to be like Ben but it has not happened for him. His values have not worked out and we see that he is kind of a failure. Everything that Willy has taught his sons wont help them in life because it has not worked for him. The flashbacks are just a way for him to escape of troubles in the present and go back to a place in the past where he was happy.