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The idea of the American dream sits at the heart of every person identifying as an American, and it continues to be the core reason for their everyday hard work. Most Americans believe this dream’s authentic definition has affluence, prestige, and happiness at the center. The pursuit of the same also has sheer hard work, a concept demonstrated by F. Scott FitzGerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” These two literary works not only craftily fulfill the American Dream’s thematic purpose but also demonstrate people who did not attain this Dream. These two pieces share features in their plot, writing styles, and historical and artistic contexts, making them essential mirrors of their authorship’s society.
The two pieces are stories of two American men, Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman” and Jay Gatsby from “The Great Gatsby,” chasing the American dream, each having their definition of the same. For Willy Loman, the American dream means being wealthy and famous, which should add happiness to his life (Miller, 1996). Jay Gatsby is already wealthy and famous, and the only missing piece in his American dream is the affection from the love of his life, Daisy (Fitzgerald, 1991). The plot of both stories has the central characters navigate through life in the pursuit of their American dream, only to die in the end without attaining it.
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Throughout the story, both characters have hard work as the top priority for wealth, amassing and attaining the American dream. For Jay Gatsby, he first fails to be with the one he loves due to social status. To make this happen, he enrolls in World War I and later does illegal business to be wealthy (Fitzgerald, 1991). He held parties every weekend where the house was always full, yet none of the party attendees arrived at his funeral. The priority of sheer hard work leads to one losing real connections with others.
Similarly, Willy Loman has a loving wife and two sons but has no wealth and is not as prestigious as he should be based on the American dream (Miller, 1996). However, to reconstruct the past life when he was a successful salesman, he loses his connection with the family through infidelity. Finally, he dies without forming a real bond with the people around him.
Further, the plots of the two pieces have the central characters reconstructing an experience close to their definition of the American dream. For example, Jay Gatsby strives to rekindle the love between him and Daisy, who is now married and does not love him like he does, taking the blame for her mistake (Fitzgerald, 1991). This attempt to bring back their past love drove him to death, yet Daisy continued with her life. Willy Loman similarly reconstructs his past when he had a job and got huge deals that he successfully closed (Miller, 1996). These flashbacks and daydreams deteriorate his mental health, ripple as an identity crisis, and he eventually commits suicide. In short, the two pieces share plot aspects, primarily through the characters’ lives and demise.
Both pieces’ writing styles carry an elegiac style complimented by flashbacks and the reconstruction of a past life. The elegiac style involves using elegy throughout a piece, which brings a sense of loss and nostalgia. This writing style gives the piece’s readership a sense of humanity in the quest for something they have lost in the past. To accomplish this, the authors use flashbacks, recollections, and remembrance to bring this style. “The Great Gatsby” has Jay Gatsby recollecting his past failed love, now that he feels he is from a similar class background due to the wealth amassed (Fitzgerald, 1991). The recollection has him try to revive the love they shared in the past, a quest that ended him in the grave. Willy spends time daydreaming and remembering his past life as a successful salesman and all the hopes and dreams he had for his family, a quest that also brings a nostalgic effect (Miller, 1996). These examples demonstrate the elegiac style of writing that the two pieces share.
Historical and Art Contexts
“The Great Gatsby” was written in 1925, while “Death of a Salesman” in 1949. These two eras were significant timelines in American history, of which the two pieces depict, that is, post-World War I and post-World War II, respectively. FitzGerald’s piece reflects the ‘roaring twenties, a moment in American history when the Jazz age, economic bloom, and flaunting of liquor laws typified it (Zeitz, 2017). In the Jazz age, jazz music and dance went popular in America. This age is evident in FitzGerald’s piece, as Gatsby’s parties always had jazz music (Fitzgerald, 1991). Also, there was a spirit of consumerism during the piece’s authorship decade, influenced by postwar economic prosperity. Gatsby was a bootlegger who, in the twenties, was a person that illegally sold liquor against the laws passed.
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Miller’s piece reflects the post-World War II economic boom that brought great prosperity and pride to America. The American dream during “Death of a Salesman” defined the American dream with affluence and prestige at the center. American dream achievers had white picket-fenced suburban houses with new appliances, fancy cars, and happy families headed by respectable and admirable fathers (Elhefnawy, 2022). All these aspects are present in Miller’s play, making its historical context evident. For instance, Willy desires the prestige of being a respectable person in society due to wealth possession, making him reject Charley’s offer for a job after he gets fired by Howard (Miller, 1996). Also, the appliances in Willy’s house are a matter of concern, reflecting the society then. Willy’s desire to be a successful salesman matches many’s desire to have wealth during that time. The two pieces also share their art context, where they both adapt modernist literature contexts. Themes of materialism and sexuality, as depicted in both pieces, typify modernist literature. In both literary works, the center characters search for material wealth, which defines the American dream.
As shown above, the two literary works are a bold reflection of the various societies and their authorship. In the plot, the main characters ferry the theme of the unattainability of the American dream, where both end up dead. The elegiac writing style dominates in the texts, giving a nostalgic feel supported by flashbacks. Also, the two texts reflect their historical and artistic contexts, making them perfect mirrors of societies back then.
- Elhefnawy, N. (2022). The Special Conditions of the Post-War Economic Boom: A Note. Available at SSRN 4117509.
- Fitzgerald, F. S. (1991). The Great Gatsby (1925).
- Miller, A. (1996). Death of a Salesman: Revised Edition. Penguin.
- Zeitz, J. (2017). The Roaring Twenties. The Gilder Lahrman Institute of American History.