Pursuit of the American Dream: a Comparison of the Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman

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The pursuit of the American Dream is a theme that transcends a variety of literary genres. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller are two examples of how this theme can be featured in two very different ways. An analyzation and comparison of the two literary works will highlight the settings, key character traits, different viewpoints regarding the works, and how each author chose to depict the American Dream. The meaning of the American Dream has evolved over the years. The original meaning was rooted in the Declaration of Independence which was written in 1776. Thomas Jefferson’s words "all men are created equal" were in reference to seeking freedom from Great Britain [ (Barbara A. Bardes, 2009) ]. During the time period when The Great Gatsby and Death of a Salesman were written, the America was viewed as a land of freedom with opportunity and equality for all. This way of thinking led to an influx of immigrants pouring into the U.S. Since 1900, the American Dream has come to mean a dream of financial success, with the assumption that material wealth, popularity, and happiness will naturally come to follow. The Great Gatsby is a fictional novel. The storyline took place in 1922 in New York, specifically in areas called the West Egg and East Egg districts of Long Island, Valley of the Ashes and New York City. The West Egg was inhabited by people who had recently come into wealth. “New money” as some would call it, has the tendency to be flashy and gaudy. However, the East Egg is where the people with “old money” and established social connections lived. Nick Carraway is a young man from Minnesota and rents a house in the West Egg to pursue a business venture. The house he rents happens to be next door to Jay Gatsby. Despite living in the West Egg, he has more social ties in the East Egg, such as his cousin Daisy. Death of a Salesman is dramatic play, and aside from also taking place in New York, that is the only similarity as far as the setting goes. Willy Lomen lives in a small house in Brooklyn with his wife Linda. A good portion of the play takes place in the kitchen. Willy and Linda’s sons Biff and Happy are home to visit their parents for an uncertain amount of time. For Jay Gatsby, obtaining the material dream is a means to personal fulfillment, but for Willy Loman this concept is reversed: personal fulfillment is a means to obtaining the material dream. Miller presents a confused dream through Willy Loman who cannot separate the issues of wealth and being “well liked”: “Be liked and you will never want”

Here, Miller is illustrating the myth that popularity is the key to being professionally and financially successful. Willy immerses himself in a past where commerce and emotion were linked. Miller presents a dream that is carried by America’s individuals who will not allow contemporary society to kill it off, as shown in Happy’s vow to continue Willy’s dream after his death. Both authors use fruit to depict how pursuing the dream can lead to being used and abandoned. Fitzgerald refers to “pulpless halves” of the oranges and lemons left after Gatsby’s parties. Gatsby was used in life, and yet forgotten in death. Gatsby’s party guests could be viewed as the “pulpless halves” that accepted invitations to take advantage of what is offered to them without any regard for other people. Miller also presents this idea of the American Dream as consuming: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit!” Willy feels his sales company has used him. The pursuit of the dream is presented as a selfish way of life that leads people to use others. Miller presents the unrestrained desire for money and pleasure as leading to corrupt methods of achieving the Dream. There was a great belief that money was the route to happiness. The all consuming Dream drove people to the extent lying, cheating, and stealing in order to achieve it. For example, Gatsby...
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