Compare the Death of a Salesman
Four motifs run through both F - Compare the Death of a Salesman introduction. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. All of these are related to one encompassing theme common to both works – the pursuit of the American Dream. To own a house and a car, to be successful in life, and above all to become financially wealthy and independent – that was the heart of the dream. All of these rewards will come to those willing to work and sacrifice enough for it.
Jay Gatsby’s and Willy Loman’s respective pursuits of the American dream, however, belie this ideal. Jay Gatsby seemed to have it all: a Gothic mansion, Rolls-Royce, extravagant parties every weekend, and a seemingly infinite number of friends. However, the way Jay attained this goal was by becoming a bootlegger (Fitzgerald, 67) and a totally different person: “…he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end (Fitzgerald, 105).”
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Willy, on the other hand, was always in debt. Despite the massive obstacles that kept blocking him from attaining the American dream, he still stuck to his guns. His idea of the American dream, however, is already a diminutive version of the real thing. When he relates his dream of opening a bigger store than Charley, he sincerely believes that he will definitely succeed “because Charley is not-liked. He’s liked, but he’s not-well liked (Miller, 1069).” Eventually, Willy’s notion backfires on him, leaving him desolate for not achieving the dream he was so fixed upon.
With the failure of both these characters to actually achieve the real American dream of happiness from security, their lives are eventually wasted. In the end, both Jay and Willy qualify as tragic characters, implying that despite not being “mean and evil” men, there is a flaw in their characters that led them to doom.
For Jay, the flaw is in his utter idealism. Daisy becomes the paragon of everything that he hopes to be – rich, powerful, and beautiful. His dreams proved to be too big for him and the foundation upon which he builds it is weak. On the other hand, Willy’s flaw is his inability to accept his family and their unconditional love for him. He believes that as he cannot attain the dream, he is not worthy of their love and acceptance. Despite overwhelming evidence showing him their love, Willy refuses to accept it, pushing him into depression.
Another idea common to both is infidelity. Luring Daisy shows the dark side of Gatsby – he had no moral scruples when it came to chasing his goals. Lacking conscience, Gatsby paves the way for his downfall by initiating an affair with Daisy. In the end, the idealization he has vested upon Daisy turns on him: Daisy was not the glamorized girl he had in his imagination. For Willy, the affair with The Woman boosted his frail ego. This was especially important for Willy, who sincerely believed that being likeable and attractive would lead to his success as a salesman. However, Biff catches Willy with his father, which eventually destroys all chances he has in going to college. Because of his infidelity, Willy not only destroys his son’s future but also exhibits the grave consequences the American Dream has on its chasers.
As with all tragic characters, dying becomes a resolution in their downfalls. For both Gatsby and Loman, death comes is the inevitable result of chasing the distorted American dream. Gatsby meets his fate in the hands of George Wilson, who is misled by Tom Buchanan into thinking that Gatsby killed his wife Myrtle. Gatsby’s death eerily echoes his prodigal nature – his dead body was found in the pool he has never once used throughout the summer (Fitzgerald, 168). For Willy Loman, suicide out of despair cut short his life. His suicide was prompted by his tenacious and illusory view on the American – “Can you imagine that magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket (Miller, 1098)?” – referring to the payout from the insurance company upon his death. To his death, Willy still believes that wealth will change Biff and urge him to pursue the American Dream that was denied him.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.
Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman.” A Treasury of the Theatre. Ed. John Gassner. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. 1063-1099.