In Act I of Death of a Salesman, what do the scenes with Ben reveal to the audience about Willy's frame of mind?

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This section of Act I clearly goes on to develop Willy's delusional state of mind. As Willy plays cards with Charley, Ben, Willy's dead brother enters. Willy confuses Charley with Ben, and a dialogue with the dead brother follows. Charley of course leaves, unhappy with Willy's strange responses and his inability to concentrate on the card game. Willy's replies to his dead brother begin to be confused with his conversation with Charley. Ben then enters into conversation with Willy and Linda as if he had returned and was alive.

For the first time in this play, Willy is unable to distinguish what is going on about him from the imaginary visit of his brother. Ben is an imagined rather than a remembered character. It appears that he is a figment of Willy's imagination whose purpose is to reinforce Willy's ideas. It is clear that Willy suffers from a lack of self-understanding and he turns to Ben as a substitute father figure. Consider the following quote:

Can't you stay a few days? You're just what I need, Ben, because I - I have a fine position here, but I - well, Dad left when I was such a baby and I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel - kind of temporary about myself.

This quote is very revealing. Note that Willy says this quote "longingly", indicating his own need for a figure like Ben to be with him, guide him, advise him and support him. It also shows how he is opposite to Ben in almost every way. Willy feels "kind of temporary" about himself, indicating that he is not fixed on one thing or even one identity, whereas Ben is introduced as "utterly certain of his destiny" - of course, the kind of man that Willy would love to be.

In this episode therefore we are shown an insight into the mind and character of Willy. The disparity between the reality which the audience can perceive and that which Willy can see is greater than ever as we see Willy "creating" the figure of Ben to gain authority and support for his ideas in business.

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Death of a Salesman

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