We all have goals and dreams we want to accomplish. But the pursuit of a dream based on false illusions will ultimately lead to tragedy. This is true in Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman”, and in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby”. In both works, the main character is in pursuit of a dream for success that ultimately causes his demise.
The American Dream is the idea that through hard work, courage, and determination one can achieve prosperity. Based on the Protestant work ethic, these values were held by the European settlers and passed on to subsequent generations. . The development of the Industrial Revolution combined with the great natural resources of the enormous and as yet unsettled country created the possibility of achieving wealth. The American Dream was a driving factor not only in the gold rushes of the mid to late 1800s, but also in the waves of immigration throughout that century and the following. Nearing the twentieth century, major industrialist personalities became the new model of the American Dream, many beginning life in the humblest of conditions but later controlling enormous corporations and fortunes. This acquisition of great wealth appeared to demonstrate that if you had talent, intelligence, and a willingness to work extremely hard, you were likely to be a success in life as a result.
In “Death of a Salesman”, Willy Loman’s values are all based on the American Dream of success. Willy measures success by being “well liked” and having material things to show off. But this dream is guiding him down a path of destruction. He is always looking to the future for success and happiness because his present state is never enough. Willy begins to lose his mind while he is out on the road selling. He isn’t succeeding the way he used to and the lifestyle is wearing him out. This dream has assumed such an importance in his life that has caused his to wrongly justify his actions taken in achieving it. Willy lies about his sales to his boss and about his income to his wife, he steals sand and lumber to fix up his house, and he even encourages his son, Biff, to cheat for the sake of a college scholarship. Probably worst of all, Willy commits the adultery while on the road, losing Biff’s respect forever. Willy’s ultimate downfall comes in the end when he makes his suicide look like an accident in order to insure his wife gets the life insurance policy. He kills himself for the sake of his destructive dream of success and wealth.
In “The Great Gatsby”, Jay Gatsby is chasing the unattainable goal of Daisy Buchanan. He fell in love with her as a young man and spends several years trying to make in to high society. Daisy comes from a wealthy family and she could never marry anyone below her. Gatsby knows this and has dedicated his entire life to becoming a successful and wealthy man to gain Daisy’s acceptance. He throws lavish and expensive parties to see if Daisy will come to one of them. He buys an extravagant mansion across the river from Daisy’s house just to be near her. When he finally is reunited with Daisy, it’s as if they had never been separated and their love is still alive. Gatsby sees Daisy as he wants to see her: beautiful, innocent, and perfect. But in reality, Daisy has changed. She is now a wife and mother. At the end of the story Gatsby finally sees the true Daisy. He realizes that “her voice is full of money.” Daisy is materialistic, fake, and not the kind of woman he wants her to be. Daisy was driving Gatsby’s car when she hits and kills Myrtle. To protect Daisy and his dream, Gatsby does not turn Daisy in. Myrtle’s husband kills Gatsby because he assumed it was Gatsby who hit his wife. Gatsby’s demise comes from his destructive dream for Daisy’s love.
Willy Loman and Jay Gatsby are both prisoners to the illusion of their dreams. Although they are chasing different goals, they both can’t see the reality and are caught up in a fantasy. Willy is after success in the business world by being well-liked and has already attained personal success with his wife and sons. On the other hand, Gatsby is after success in his love life by winning Daisy back; he has already become a rich and powerful man in business. But these men are a lot alike. Both are so caught up in their individual ideas of success that they can’t see the truth. They will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Willy lies to his boss about his sales in order to keep his job and to hold on to his dream of success. It is rumored that Gatsby was involved in illegal bootlegging in order to amass the fortune he needs to win Daisy’s love. Gatsby even protects Daisy from the law after she hits and kills a woman.
Both men also lie to themselves. Willy tells himself it is important to be well-liked and that having friends is all it takes to be successful. But Willy is not well-liked and is not making sales he should. He tells himself his funeral will be packed with friends who liked him; when he dies only a handful of people show up. Gatsby lies to himself throughout the novel. He tries to believe that Daisy is this perfect woman and completely in love with him. But the truth is that Daisy is superficial, selfish, and not willing to leave her husband for Gatsby. These men are chasing dreams that ultimately end in tragedy as they both die in pursuit of their goals.
Arthur Miller and F. Scott Fitzgerald have embodied the corrupted American dream in their literary works through the main character in each. Willy Loman and Jay Gatsby have skewed visions of the American dream as success at any cost. They have dreams based on false illusions that ultimately lead to tragedy in their deaths.