Chronology in Death of a Salesman – English Essay (100 Level Course)
Arthur Miller uses irregular chronological sequencing to convey themes to the reader effectively. Strategically placed flashbacks help to explain what Willy is feeling and why he is struggling in life now. These flashbacks give the reader insight to the past that has caused his troubled present. In addition, they serve to illustrate
Willy’s mental breakdown caused by a hard-fought life.
Willy expresses his idea of the “American Dream” throughout the play. His idea is that success will magically descend upon those who wait for it. In other words, success is not measured by hard work and perseverance and you cannot earn it, it has to find you and decide that “it” will make you successful. Willy displays this to Biff his entire life and now Biff cannot work for anyone. Biff tells this to Willy at the end of the play. The reader sees Willy have flashbacks earlier in the book to when Biff was still a quarterback for his school. He fills Biff’s head with fantasies about being well liked and successful, but ignores the fact presented by Bernard that Biff is failing math and could possibly not graduate because of it. Yet, Willy even goes so far as to convince him not to go to summer school after he fails math. The flashback to the time this occurs aids the reader in being able to understand why Biff is unsuccessful now. Without it, one might speculate and perceive the problem differently, being caused by different reasons. The sequencing is integral to the storyline because it shows the reader why a problem is happening the way it is after the problem is identified.
Another way that flashbacks assist the reader is the way they tell the prequel to the story during the actual storyline. These flashbacks are broken up and dispersed throughout the play and make their appearances at their respective times. This helps to show major themes of the play by giving better explanation to the messages be given to the reader by way of the problems and situations facing the characters. For example, Willy’s flashback of Ben’s visit and the constant visions of him show that Willy’s own flashbacks serve to reinforce his distorted view of how to be successful and live life. Many times when he was in doubt, he imagined Ben telling him of how he walked into the jungle and walked back out a rich man. Willy convinced himself that this would happen to him if he were patient enough. This caused Willy to ignore reality and try to live out a fantasy in the unforgiving real world. In all, putting the background in with the storyline helped to show more effectively how and why the many problems presented in the book occurred.