Perception and Views of the American Dream in Three Stories Comparison

A Comparison of characters in “Death of A Salesman,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”

            Three stories that have characters who possess various similarities and differences are Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The characters in question are Willy Loman (Death of A Salesman), Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby), and Stanley Kowalski (A Streetcar Named Desire). These three can be compared on several points: their perception and views of the American Dream, their relationships with their family and friends, and their inability to accept the realities presented before them.

            In “Death of A Salesman,” Willy Loman, the play’s main character, is one who believes that he can achieve the American Dream, which the is the attainment of life’s material comforts, through his “attractiveness” (Miller, 1999). As depicted in the play, Willy is shown to be a very poor and ineffective salesman.  He has difficulty in paying for the bills, the car, and the insurance, among others. To make his situations worse, he always surrounds himself with delusions to make him believe that is indeed living the American Dream.

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            For example, in the latter par of Act I, Willy Loman suddenly becomes lost in his memories and sees himself as a successful salesman and is convinced that he will be able to establish a more prosperous business than his next-door neighbor Charlie because the latter is not “well-liked” (Miller, 1999) compared to him. He also sees his sons, who, in reality are failures in their own respects, as equally likeable and budding businessmen. In other words, it can then be deduced that Willy has a very superifical perception of the American Dream because he believes that he can attain it by banking on his self-perceived likeability.

            On the other hand, in “The Great Gatsby,” the central protagonist, Jay Gatsby, views the American Dream as nothing more than the attainment of material wealth, goods, and pleasure. This is epitomized by the lavish parties that he throws every Saturday night. Although, these parties were meant to attract his former lover, Daisy, Gatsby is symbolic of the significant decay of the American Dream, which is marked by the absence of moral values, greed, and the pursuit of pleasure and not hard work. The fact that Gatsby decided to pursue Daisy, who is married to Tom, through extravagant means indicates that his desires are ill-founded and selfish. As observed by Nick in the story, “The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. he service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent” (Fitzgerald, 2002). Meaning to say, in a twisted way, apart from the material goods and wealth, Daisy is Gatsby’s American Dream. And like Willy Loman, he too finds himself in an illusion that he can win Daisy through his massive wealth.

            In contrast, Stanley Kowalski of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, has the most contrasting view of the American Dream. This is highlighted by his bitter hatred of Blanche, the sister of his wife Stella. Basically, Stanley views Blanche as obsolete survivor of an aristocracy due to the wealth that she inherited from her family. Despite being Polish by blood, Stanley indicates that the only way to attain the American Dream is through hard work. This evident by his reaction when Blance called him a Polack, “I am not a Polack. People from Poland are Poles, not Polacks. But what I am is a one hundred percent American, born and raised in the greatest country on earth and proud as hell of it, so don’t ever call me a Polack” (Williams, 2004). Meaning to say, Stanley is able to full embrace his American citizenship and in effect, the American Dream. He rejects the notion of inheriting wealth and is satisfied with his average social-status.

            Furthermore, Willy, Gatsby, and Stanley, also have comparable points in terns of family relationships and their perception of reality. Willy has the most strained relationship with his family among three characters. As shown in the play, as Willy surrounds himself with false realities, he rejects the love that his family gives him and constantly berates his eldest son, Biff, for being a failure. In addition, instead of accepting the realities around him he burdens his family by being delusional.

            Gatsby, on the other hand, only has a close relationship with his former lover Daisy, with whom he rekindles their passion. In the context of modern society, their relationship is illegal as Daisy is married to another man. However, the larger issue here is that Daisy has become Gatsby’s obsession as shown in the lavish parties that he throws to impress her and his constant fabrication of false identities. As a result, he, like Willy, fails to recognize the true essence of the American Dream and is unable to accept the reality that Daisy does not feel the same way about her. Finally, Stanley can be viewed as the character with the most healthy relationship with his family among the three. As shown in the play, he is very passionate about his wife and loyal to his friends. However, it is revealed towards the end of the story that he only pursues earthly desires such as sex, drinking, and gambling. Another major issue with him is that he possesses animal-like behavior and that he cannot accept the aristocratic yet tragic past that his sister-in-law Blance had, which led him to torment her.  Meaning to say, like the other characters, he too has difficulty accepting reality.

            Over-all, Willy, Gatsby, and Stanley are similar in the sense that they have immense difficulty in the acknowledging and accepting the realities presented to them. They also have significantly contrasting views of the American Dream as each one pursues different objectives in life: Willy pursues his delusions, Gatsby chases forbidden love through wealth, and Stanley lavishes in sex, gambling, and drinking.


Fitzgerald, F. S. ( 2002). The Great Gatsby. The Project Gutenburg Retrieved May 25, 2009 from

Miller, Arthur. (1999). Death of a Salesman. New York: Reed Business Information, Inc.

Williams, T. (2004). A Streetcar Named Desire. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation.

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