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Comparison of Death of a Salesman and The Great Gatsby

Comparison of Death of a Salesman and The Great Gatsby


The Death of a Salesman is a novel by Arthur Miller. It illustrates how the protagonist Willy stops at nothing to achieve what he believes is the American dream in spite of encountering many costs. Willy is, however, not able to achieve his American dream, because he is very stubborn. The Great Gatsby is a novel written by F. S. Fitzgerald and is also about the pursuit of the American dream. The two novels detail the downfall of their respective protagonists in their quest to achieve the elusive American dream. However, the two novels are also different from the respective problems faced by the protagonists. In the end, however, they make some drastic, desperate, and illogical decisions due to the un-satisfaction with the course of their lives. This paper will compare and contrast the two novels, especially from the respective protagonist’s quest in achieving the American dream.

In the pursuit of the American dream, there are a number of things that one can lose. This is exactly what is being reflected in the two novels; The Great Gatsby and the Death of a Salesman. The two stories show the degree, to which the protagonists go to achieve what they believe is the American dream. According to them, it is an orthodox life that is characterized by a rich, powerful, and successful being.

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Jay Gatsby’s dream is to put lots of energy to recreate his past. This is due to the fact that his past was the happiest time ever in his life and he fondly remembers the same as he continuously speaks about it. Jay Gatsby lost the woman he loved, Daisy Buchanan, and unfortunately was unable to regain her love. This is despite the fact that he is a “wealthy” person now and can afford everything that money can buy. He tries to fix the things like they were in the past, and because of his money he thinks that he can succeed in that. Nick, however, tells him that it is too late to do it, and that is the sad truth. In the Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman also tries to recreate his American dream by improving on his personality such that he can be the most liked person. He is too proud of “who he dreams he is” in spite of the fact that he is broke and refuses a job offer from his neighbor. He eventually dies without achieving his much touted dream; the American dream.

Death of a Salesman illustrates a salesman by the name Willy Loman, who will not stop at nothing to achieve the American dream. He does not come to the terms, when he realizes that his son is an average performer. It is in fact his obsession with the American dream that causes his death. It seems that Willy lives in a fantasy world, as he thinks that everyone around him likes him and his sales activities. He, however, realizes the opposite; he is not well liked nor is he a good salesperson. While to Jay Gatsby’s obtaining the material dream is a means to personal fulfillment, Miller manages to present Willy Loman’s American dream as a means of obtaining the material dream. Miller, therefore, succeeds in presenting Willy as a confused person, who cannot separate the issue of being well liked and that of wealth.

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We are shown by F. S. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that the American dream is about material things. And for the protagonist, Jay thinks that he has now solved all his problems with the money he has. Jay seems to have everything that he has desired in the past. He has a big house, a good and expensive car, and piles of the best clothes. He now lacks one thing; the love of Daisy Buchanan. In spite of all the money he has now, he unsuccessfully tries to win Daisy’s love. On the other hand, Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman believes that success is measured by how much one is wealthy through the possession. In addition, Willy also believes that success is a direct result of the number of people, who will attend your funeral.

Jay Gatsby thinks that by flaunting his wealth, he can reach his goal; that of winning Daisy’s love. This simply implies that he was a man of means, and according to Nick, “in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes…Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of leather conservatory we started towards town” (Fitzgerald, 1925.). Also, according to Jay Gatsby, appearance is a significant factor in his quest to win. He achieves this by wearing the best outfits. This is described as, “and Gatsby in a white flannel suit, silver shirt and gold colored tie hurried in” (Fitzgerald, 1925.). We all know that gold and silver are symbols of wealth and Gatsby’s clothes only help in reinforcing the statement that he is a man who likes to show off. To him, these garments are more than just clothes. He, therefore, believes that he is on the right path to achieving his American dream, as he possesses material units that cost lots and lots of money. He, thus, thinks that these possessions will definitely bring him happiness. Jay Gatsby also loves his house very much. During a tour with Daisy and Nick, he proudly shows them each room and its contents. He quips during the tour, “My house looks well, doesn’t it?” (Fitzgerald, 1925). Daisy seems to be taken aback by the large piles of shirts and she confirms it by saying, “They’re such beautiful shirts, it makes me sad because I’ve never seen such–such beautiful shirts before” (Fitzgerald, 1925). The Great Gatsby parallels to the characteristic of what the American dream is to most people. On the other hand, Willy also tries his hand in achieving the American dream; however, not by material possession, but by the intangible characteristics; that of being well liked and his personality traits. We are shown that unlike Gatsby, who values material things, Willy only tries to achieve his dream by th different means; through his personality.

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In trying to achieve his American dream, Jay Gatsby’s main force of opposition against his realization is realty. Gatsby’s believe for achieving the American dream is by hard work and making lots and lots of money. He believes that the world runs in such a way that with enough money, he can recreate his past and also gain Daisy’s love. It is notable that Gatsby planned his life earlier when he was a kid on the way he will achieve the American dream. We are shown that he had a journal on how he was planning to achieve his greatest dream; the American dream. Willy is shown not to live in reality, but as a greater person than who he really is. Willy presents himself as a very important person and his dreams speak volumes of what he thinks about himself. For example, as the play begins, he narrates to his wife about the trip to New York and says that he almost killed somebody, because he was dreaming. Just five minutes later he goes back to dreaming and had forgotten that he was driving and nearly hit somebody. His dreams are indicative of a man, who has reached his goal. This is true when, for example, his neighbor gives him an offer. Willy, however, is too proud to accept the offer. He asks Charlie for money despite not accepting the job. Charlie generously gives him the money, because he knows that Willy will not pay back.

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The end of the two novels shows how the pursuit of the American dream fails for both protagonists. In spite of having many material possessions, such as fancy and expensive car, large house, and lavish clothes, Jay Gatsby missed what he desired the most, Daisy. In fact, he almost got Daisy’s love, but we learn that he never possessed her heart. This shows that money cannot buy everything. Daisy, in fact, tells Gatsby that he demands too much. It is, therefore, true that Daisy’s true love remained with Tom, her uncaring husband. We are finally shown that Jay Gatsby never achieved his American dream. This is in spite of the fact that he has enough wealth. He failed in his attempt to achieve the dream of having Daisy’s love. Willy Loman has also never achieved his dream. He gets fired from his job and later commits suicide.


At one point in our lives, each one of us has dreams, which are just human nature. In the works, Death of a Salesman and The Great Gatsby, the protagonist’s pursuit of the American dream was dashed horribly. Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman and the two characters, who are dominated by their pursuit of the American dream that leads to their down fall. They both try to recreate the “perfect” illusionary past. However, lack of control in their dreams causes their eventual downfall.

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