“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.” This quote from Thoreau basically states that the dreams of a character define his or her life, whether it be their characteristics or their lifestyle. This statement is prevalent in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This inspiring novel and play express this lens through the literary elements of theme and characterization.
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While each member of the Loman family is living in denial in one way or another. However, Willy Loman’s situation is most disturbing. Willy is incapable of accepting the fact that he is a mediocre salesman. Instead, Willy strives for his version of the American Dream, a main theme in Miller’s play. Willy’s version of the American Dream revolves around success and popularity, even if he is forced to deny reality in order to achieve it. Instead of acknowledging that he is not a well-known success, Willy retreats into the past and chooses to relive past memories and events in which he is perceived as successful. For example, Willy’s favorite memory is of Biff’s last football game because Biff vows to make a touchdown just for him. In this scene in the past, Willy can hardly wait to tell the story to his buyers. He considers himself famous as a result of his son’s pride in him. This fulfills a great need in his life. According to him, his son has made him well known, and this makes him happy since being popular and well liked is his dream. The success Willie yearns for leads to the denial of his personal failure. Since it is Willie’s dream to be successful, he puts on a front to make others believe that he is. This unfortunately makes Willie somewhat believe it as well.
Willy’s dream to be a success also relates the character to the lens using the element of characterization. Since Miller has the salesman dreaming of success but failing, Willy begins to lose his grasp on his dream, the most important thing he has in his life. The fact that he is not able to satisfy his dream makes Willy’s life incredibly hard. Not being able to deal with this failure of his dream alters his character greatly.
Willy’s world begins crashing down around him when he has to confront Howard. Willy does not like to deal with Howard because of Howard’s failure to appreciate him. However, Willy is confident that Howard will accept his request to work in New York. Still, Howard is a bottom-line businessman who sees Willy as a tired old man relying on his ability to talk rather than his ability to sell. Howard turns down Willy’s request because he feels it would be an improper business decision. This causes Willy to resort to his safety mechanism; when the present isn’t tolerable, revert to the past. Willy begins to tell Howard stories of Singleman, continuing with stories of Howard’s birth and the derivation of Howard’s name. However, as Willy’s character tends to do, he exaggerates greatly to soothe his mind and hopefully the mind of others, resulting in his firing.
Willy’s dream continues to change his character completely, making him rely on past events, and live in the past as well. Instead of being impressed, many people begin to question Loman’s sanity and the importance of his American dream.
The American dream plays a large part throughout Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as well. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in Europe. Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident enough to try to win Daisy. In fact, Gatsby buys the mansion, throws the parties, wins popularity, and almost fulfills the American Dream all for Daisy. However, this dream skews his character as the lens implies. The yearn to obtain “the girl,” the last piece of Gatsby’s puzzle, seems unreachable and restrains him from reaching his own American Dream.
Fitzgerald takes into consideration that one will do almost anything for love, and places this theory upon Gatsby. Gatsby’s dream is to be with Daisy. It is a kind of romantic idealism, “some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” Nick calls it. It is a belief in fairy tales and princesses and happy endings, a faith that life can be special, remarkable, beautiful. Gatsby is not interested in power for its own sake or in money or prestige. What he wants is his dream, and that dream is embodied in Daisy. He must have her, and, as the novel’s epigraph on the title page suggests, he will do anything that is required in order to win her. In his effort to win Daisy he has made certain changes to his lifestyle and even to his name. However, through it all, he loses himself. His academic morals, outstanding schooling, and his history of the army all seem to fade. His dream of Daisy preoccupies him and leads him to try to buy her love. Since he has left her, his character has gone to piece and never matured from the boy that he was when he was with her. However, the dream he has for her is just like the green light. He sees it, but no matter how hard he may try, it seems unreachable.
Miller and Fitzgerald express deep thoughts and strong views through their works. Dreams are powerful and amazing. They have the strength to change one’s priorities and to alter lives, as seen in Gatsby and Willie Loman.