Method of Dramatized Memory in Death of a Salesman

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      The realm of dreams. Every human being dreams practically every day of his life. It is a wonderful experience. Sometimes we are overjoyed when we have pleasant dreams. Scientists are of the opinion that our dreams are caused because we have thousands of repressed feelings and emotions which stage a return when we are in a relaxed state. Prognosticatory treatises aver that dreams foretell something. Thus dreams seem to connect man with his past, present and future.

      The land of dreams is one devoid of time and space. Utterly insignificant and trifling elements of truth or fact play havoc with our minds. Our imagination interlaces threads of unfettered fantasies into newer and newer patterns. Our memories and experience get blended together into a mixture of absurdities with what might have been and what should have been. Given some-flimsy base of reality our imagination improvises a huge edifice of utter nonsense with flights of fanciful thoughts.

      Dream technique in literature. A set of writers belonging to the Expressionist School make use of a device akin to dream where time and space get dissolved completely. The sequence of events does not follow any logical pattern. The imagination is given a free play and all types of complex situations and contradictions in consciousness are dramatized without any restraint. Miller has made ample use of this technique in order to heighten the tragic effect by revealing the contradictions in Willy Loman’s consciousness. Willy’s dreams occupy practically half of the play.

      Mobile concurrency of past and present. Miller does not use the ‘flash-back’ technique like writers who made use of it as an easy way to elicit exterior information. Most of us are able to drown our past in a normal manner. No communication among men is possible without this ability. In the case of Willy there are recollections of past guilt and these memories merge with the reality in the present context. There is a hopeful dream for future as in the case of almost all of us.

      Brother Ben. Willy’s elder brother Ben symbolizes his dream of success. He feels and often says openly: ‘That man was a genius—he was success incarnate.’ Ben walked into the jungle when he was seventeen. At the age of twenty-one he walked out rich with the diamonds of Africa instead of the gold from Alaska, his original destination. We are made to realize the opportunity lost by Willy in failing to accept Ben’s offer. In the dream appearances of Ben to Willy the latter cannot distinguish between truth and fantasy, between the present and the past. In one of the dream sequences Ben tries to test the courage and vitality of Biff and offers a practical suggestion for success: ‘Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way.’ Willy too depends upon the advice of his elder brother saying that he feels a kind of temporariness about himself. Before planning the car suicide for leaving a legacy of twenty thousand dollars to Biff, Willy holds his fanciful communion with Ben and expresses his doubts and misgivings regarding the wisdom of the step. Of course he feels that the inheritance of the amount by Biff will enable him to start on a glorious career.

      Recollection of the adolescence of Biff. In a couple of dream sequences in the play we get an idea how hopeful Willy was about the future success of his two sons. He praises Biff for being able to make the girls pay his expenses. He does not mind the theft of a football by Biff because he considers him an extraordinary boy needing the practice with a regulation ball. He was confident that his sons would be much better in the business world. He was proud of the fact that Biff is obeyed by all his school friends when they visit the house. Biff's backwardness in Mathematics does not worry him much. He never wanted his sons to be book-worms like Bernard. These past recollections enable the audience to understand that Willy has been deceiving himself by entertaining extravagantly unrealistic hopes about Biff.

      Depression and optimism. Willy is rather muddleheaded thanks to his moody dreamy nature. Many of his dreams are turned into airy nothings of nightmarish disagreeably. Illusions and false beliefs appear to him real and potentially promising. Mere wishful thinking carries him away from the awful present and dreary future. He was optimistic because he had faith in the power of personal attractiveness, and when faced with failure he becomes depressed. He tries to show his superiority but immediately he suffers from a sense of inadequacy. As Linda feels, he is basically and essentially a human being undergoing some sort of spiritual crisis.

      Family background. We get the details of the family background of Willy from another dream-sequence in the play where fantasy and actuality have the coexistence needed for the dramatic success. Willy and Charley play cards together when Willy recollects Ben. Some conversation with the imaginary character gives the audience the details of the family history of Willy. His father was a manufacturer of flutes and sold them through the various territories of America. His brother was an adventurous man during his youth and he amassed a great deal of wealth then. Though Willy did not possess an adventurous spirit like his father or elder brother he was glad that he could work with his hands whereas Charley and Bernard could not even hammer a nail. By failing to accept Ben’s grand offer to take Willy along with him abroad in search of success and wealth he lost a very good opportunity of a lifetime. He tried to cling to the American dream of success through personal magnetism and attractive features arid a smile on the face as advocated by Dale Carnegie and others. This only leads him to pathetic failure and helpless futility.

      When dream becomes reality and past becomes present. A brief recollecting memory scene portrays the events connected with the failure of Biff in the Mathematics paper along with the subsequent visit of Biff to the Boston hotel where Willy was having an illicit affair with a woman. Here also we find the mobile concurrency of the past and present, The reality of the present in this context is the interlude of the two girls and their enticing of Happy and Biff in the restaurant. Biff tries to make his father understand that his mission to Bill Oliver was futile. Willy refuses to believe, always insisting that Bill would give him plenty of cash as advance for his successful career. Biff's discovery leads to a permanent estrangement of Biff from his father. He had to resume his wandering, aimless vagrancy for earning what little he could by honest labor and supplementing the same with thievery. The possibility of imprisonment is also there.

      Final disintegration of Willy. The last dream-sequence reveals to us the suicide plan of Willy. He seeks the approval of his brother Ben. After expressing some doubts about the advisability of the step because it is ethically improper, Ben says; ‘It is dark there but full of diamonds’, and ‘A perfect proposition all round’. He approves of it but warns him that he got to be sure that he is not making a fool of himself.

      Thus by means of a happy blending of recollected memory and portrayal of current events the play reveals the tragic story of Willy in a new light. The dream technique, emphasizing the hold of the past and the futile day dreaming, the wishful thinking and refusal to see, gives poignancy to the tragedy.

University Questions

Discuss the use of the method of dramatized memory in Death of a Salesman.
Friction, collision and tension between past and present is at the heart of construction of Death of a Salesman.

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