Monday, December 19, 2011

Death of a Salesman and The Bell Jar

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Mythology defines the basis of literature today, while it has shaped writings of all kinds for thousands of years. The voyage of the hero is illustrated in a number of mythological works. Each step in the heroes journey, define an aspect of himself and his life. Campbell notes that mythology is still incorporated into our everyday lives. Often writers relate motifs and archetypes from mythology into short stories or novels, which help the reader to understand the similarities between mythology and modern day society. These classic literary works have common motifs and archetypes that are evident in ancient mythology.

Esther and Biff travel through many aspects of the heroes quest. The shadow archetype thrives through each of these classic works of art. Esther and Biff create double personalities in which they do not know who to adhere to in situations and circumstances. Both want to please their fathers, even though one is just a fantasy. The shadow archetype reveals that in order to achieve enlightenment the two figures must intertwine together.

The first step that they undergo in the heroes quest is the second step of Divine Sign. For both of the characters the divine sign is one that is negative at first and later on in their lives turn into a positive experience. Esther is traumatized by her father’s death at such a young and pure age. “My mother hadn’t let us go to the funeral because we were only children then, and he had died in the hospital, so the graveyard and even his death had always seemed unreal to me.”(Plath). Esther has a life changing experience as a child.

Biff also undergoes a wake up call at a young age. His life is grand and everyone loves him, until he finds out that his father is cheating on his mother. All of his dreams come crashing down before his very eyes. Biff shouts to his father, “You fake! You phony little fake! You fake!” (Death) This is also Biff’s turning down point of his life. From this moment on, Biff is a changed person and must take on what he believes to be true. Biff and Esther experience a traumatic experience that leads them to meditation and withdrawal.


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After Esther’s father dies, she retreats to comfort within herself where she speaks of her real feelings and emotions to no one. This in turn becomes her meditation step in the heroes quest. She forms a double personality. When she creates Elly Higgenbottom, she reveals that she is forming two sides to herself. One part of Esther is the good and pure Esther that everyone wants her to be, but this part of her is killing the real person inside of her. She is not allowed at any time to be her own person when she is around people. Only in her writing and by her self can she express her true emotions. The world’s wants and Esther’s wants are opposite. Like Esther, Biff withdraws from his old world too, but he physically moves away. Biff moves into the country where it is peaceful and quiet. He needs a serene environment to think about his family and what they have created within him as well as within themselves.

Biff must experience the death of himself as well as the death of his father in order to emerge into his real self. He must uncover the lies and stare the truth directly in the face to bear down and break the cycle. Facing truth is not an easy task. Biff’s life has always been full of lies and deception. It is easier for him to keep up with the lies by telling his father that he has an appointment with Oliver to borrow twenty thousand dollars than to tell him the truth. Esther must deal with many deaths in the novel. Esther experiences death firsthand by trying to end her own life. She also is forever traumatized by the death of her father. “The air of the bell jar wadded around me and I couldn’t stir” (Bell)

While Esther is enclosed in the asylum and Biff returns to his house of lies they are both descending into the underworld. Esther puts all of her experiences into perspective when she replies, “But they were a part of me, they were my landscape.” (Bell). Biff keeps up his sherade of lies and deception to his father, and he seeps further and further away from his real self. Both characters art carrying the burden of how society views them as individuals and what society expects of them. While each of the characters parents push a heavy load upon them to become perfect, Biff and Esther inch further into the depths of the underworld.

There is a light to the darkness. “I had hoped at my departure I would feel sure and knowledgeable about what lay ahead- after all, I had been analyzed. Instead all I could see were question marks.” (Bell) Esther is emerging from the underworld, but she is still unsure of herself. It will take other quests and journeys to cure this problem. Biff, on the other hand, realizes he must live for himself and he does not have to be “well-liked.” He is going back west, where he can be happy alone. He speaks of his father to his mother, Charley, and Happy, “He had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong. He never knew who he was. I know who I am kid.” (Death).

I believe that there is enlightenment for both of these main characters, Esther and Biff. But how long does this last? There are other journeys and quests that these characters will embark upon later in their lives. I look at these two novels as lessons towards life. Either see life through your own eyes, or see life through the eyes of society. Without your own eyes you are blind.



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