American Dream vs. Reality

The American Dream

The American Dream is a desire to reach personal goals and satisfy specific accomplishments that lead to a meaningful and successful life. In the search for a perfect American dream, much can be lost; this notion is reflected in Death of a Salesman, written by Arthur Miller, and The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The American Dream represented in each text is personal and unique to different individuals. These literary works describe the lengths that some persons can go to with the aim of achieving the stereotypical life of a wealthy, powerful and successful American that is usually considered the American Dream.

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Loman and Gatsby are heroes who are dominated by the American Dream, which destroyed them. Willy Loman wants to be respected and regarded as a successful salesman; he wants his two sons to achieve financial freedom and success. Similarly, Jay Gatsby’s American Dream involves financial success, but he only wants the money to impress Daisy and win her love. Both men struggle with attempts to fulfill their American Dreams; yet, ultimately, both stories fail to meet the real life and end with deaths. Loman is not a successful salesman, and Gatsby’s love for Daisy is idealistic as he fails to accept the reality of her life. These two men are connected by the grandness of their dreams, but they are crushed by the reality of their lives as both could neither accept this reality, nor achieve the American Dream.

In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby believes that he has lost Daisy’s love because he does not have wealth or an implemented dream of life; Daisy gets married to Tom who has both. His dream puts him on a road where he spends all of his energy on recreating his past as it was the happiest time of his life. Therefore, Gatsby desires to achieve his dream as all he has to do is to become very wealthy. He focuses his entire attention on becoming a man idealized by his American Dream. Gatsby reinvents himself through creation of a new identity and following actions of any lengths in order to earn money. The hero does these things with the aim of winning Daisy; however, Daisy represents nothing more to Gatsby than the final acquisition necessary in order to implement his dream.

For this reason, Gatsby becomes a man of substance by illegal bootlegging. He does not speak about his business and when Nick Carraway asks, “I thought you inherited your money.” Gatsby responds, “That’s my affair” (Fitzgerald 90). Gatsby is very secretive about how he made his money as he does not want to admit that he gained money by breaking the law. Furthermore, he wants to be a perfect man in the eyes of Daisy. In addition, his American Dream does not include any illegal things as he plans an ideal life.

He expected Daisy to come and see that he has worked all his life in order to get a large amount of money and gain her attention. Gatsby thinks, “He half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night, but she never did” (Fitzgerald 79). Moreover, Gatsby believes that if Daisy wanders in one night she will finally see his worth, extravagant home and huge parties. He thinks that after seeing his wealth, she will leave Tom, and come back to him again. It was his main dream, but as Daisy never attends one of his parties, Nick arranges for Gatsby and Daisy to meet privately. The main hero of the book believes that such meeting can change all his life as from Nick’s house she will see his own marvelous house. The house he has built for her. He tells Nick, “My house looks well, doesn’t it? See how the whole front of it catches the light.” (Fitzgerald 89). Gatsby is pleased and knows that Daisy will love him and see his beautiful home. Gatsby uses wealth in order to accomplish his American Dream of winning Daisy. However, his perspective is not based on reality of the world surrounding him as real life is not ideal and cannot be ideal. No matter how hard an individual strives for perfection, there is no ideally perfect life. Gatsby wants too much from his life and instead of continuing it he tries to repeat the past.

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Daisy is a central figure of his Dream. The protagonist cannot believe that she once left him and ruined his life. Therefore, he wants to return her and recreate his idealized world. Gatsby claims that Daisy “only married you (Tom) because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone except me” (Fitzgerald 130). These words prove Gatsby’s belief about Daisy and her devotion to him. Daisy admits her love to Gatsby; however, she is not capable of meeting his expectations.

Gatsby is unrealistic when he says, “Daisy it’s all over now. Just tell him the truth-that you never loved him – and it’s all wiped out for ever” (Fitzgerald 134). This quote shows that for Gatsby it is more important to prove that Daisy has never loved Tom than gain her entire love. In Gatsby’s mind, once Daisy admits to never having loved Tom, then he and Daisy can have the perfect, loving relationship. Daisy’s response sums up the reality of the situation, “Oh, you want too much” (Fitzgerald 134) Gatsby has this grand vision of an ideal love and he expects Daisy to fit his vision of true love.

Furthermore, Gatsby expects Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him. However, her words, “You ask too much of me… I did love him once – but I loved you too” (Fitzgerald 130) do not bring him to reality. Gatsby cannot accept this reality and is devastated. Moreover, he cannot believe that his dream can be ruined despite his tremendous efforts. The real life does not fit his plan; therefore, he cannot and does not want to accept it. In his mind, he and Daisy have a pure love and it cannot be tainted by love to Tom. Gatsby’s American Dream ends with his death; his desire for Daisy’s love is unattainable and unrealistic because he thinks that he can obtain happiness through power and wealth. In addition, his dream is unattainable as he is in love with a memory and cannot realize that Daisy is not the same as she was in the past.

In Death of a Salesman, Loman’s American Dream is rooted in the thought that he should be financially successful and that his legacy of financial freedom will be continued by his sons, especially by Biff. However, despite great desires, this dream does not meet the reality. To the main character of the play, the American Dream is the ability to become rich by charisma as Willy believes that not hard work and innovation, but personality is the key to a successful life. For this reason, he says to his sons, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it-because personality always wins the day” (Miller 65). This quote shows his philosophy that success is measured by how many friends a person has.

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Therefore, Loman thinks that being a salesman is the best and most honorable occupation for a man and says, “I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want… be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people” (Miller 81). Loman wants to be a successful salesman because in such a way he will be loved and respected by others. The play describes the differences between reality of family’s lives and their dreams.

Death of a Salesman shows the loss of identity and a person’s inability to accept changes of identity and society. Loman cannot accept the fact that he is considered a mediocre salesman. For this reason, he strives to achieve his version of the American Dream even if he is to deny reality for achieving it. Therefore, instead of confirming that he is not a successful person, Loman retreats into the past and relives memories in which he is considered a successful individual. Moreover, he thinks that he can obtain a more lucrative sales position in NYC with the help of his influence. Loman assumes that whom a person knows is more important than what a person knows. Therefore, he tells his boss Howard, “Your father came to me the day you were born and asked me what I thought of the name Howard” (Miller 80). Loman honestly believes that he will get the job in NYC because of his connection with Howard’s father more than thirty years ago, but the reality is that Howard fires him leaving him without success or financial support. 


Loman thinks because his son, Biff, is a successful football player in high school, he can use those connections to begin a successful career. However, the reality is that Biff has had numerous jobs over the last fifteen years and Loman does not accept that his son cannot be financially independent. He tells Biff, “Because you got a greatness in you, Biff, remember that. You got all kinds of greatness” (Miller 67). This greatness is a part of his American Dreams. Therefore, it is important for him to encourage his sons. Moreover, Loman has faith in both of his sons and believes that they can, “Lick the world! You guys together could absolutely lick the civilized world…. I see great things for you kids, I think your troubles are over. But remember, start big and you’ll end big” (Miller 64). These words show that Loman believes there is nothing his children cannot accomplish. However, Loman’s beliefs do not match his reality, as neither Loman nor his sons are successful.

Willy Loman’s grand dream of being a successful salesman and achieving financially freedom for him and his children is not based on reality. In his head, Loman thinks he is a wonderful salesman but reality proves the opposite things. After being fired, Loman says, “No, but it’s a business, kid, and everybody’s gotta pull his own weight” (Miller 80). The reality is that Loman losing his job is strictly a business decision, because Loman is not a good salesman.

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The author shows that Loman is so busy of reaching success in life that he has forgotten about the reality. Despite substantial hopes for his sons, they have not achieved success. Loman realizes this when Howard asks, “Where are your sons? Why don’t your sons give you a hand” (Miller 83)? It is the first time when he realizes that he fails to implement his American Dream. However, Loman cannot accept this. Even when Biff tells Willy, “You phony little fake” (Miller 120), he continues to believe he and his sons can achieve success and the American Dream. Willy still believes that it is the Loman family that will achieve success because they are well liked by others and have great personalities.

The problem of Loman is that the society is constantly shattering his dreams. He maintains a misguided attitude towards success. The lack of understanding and suppression of life and reality surrounding him has led to this belief. Loman even refuses to accept the reality that his son was a common man with a common job. He cannot understand Biff’s words, “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you… I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you” (Miller 132). Loman’s major problem is that he cannot live with the reality that he and his sons are failures and that his grand dream is unattainable. “After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (Miller 98). This quote shows that Loman finally realizes that the reality is opposite to his unattainable American Dream.

Thus, Gatsby and Loman died failing to achieve their ambitious American Dreams. While Gatsby’s goal is to use wealth in order to impress and win Daisy’s love, Loman’s ambition is to be loved, to be respected, to be a successful salesman, and to leave a lasting legacy. Death of Loman shows how a person can stop at nothing before achieving the American Dream, despite the substantial costs. Both men are blinded by their visions of what could be possible; Loman’s and Gatsby’s dreams,’ however, do not meet the real world. Gatsby and Loman only see the world around them through their unique perspectives, yet neither accepts the reality that surrounds them. Failure is too heavy of a burden for either man to deal with in life. Therefore, Gatsby’s murder and Loman’s suicide is the only escape for them both. There is one true thing about the American Dream according to which everyone desires to gain something in life, and everyone desires to get it. However, some dreams are not realistic and cannot be accomplished.


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