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Death of a Salesman | Study Guide

Arthur Miller

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Death of a Salesman | Discussion Questions 51 - 51


How does Death of a Salesman compare with other literary treatments of the American Dream such as Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or The Great Gatsby?

Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, George and Lennie in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are trapped outside the American Dream, with no clear path of penetration. Willy is shut out due to his self-delusion and his inability to define the dream in a way that fulfills him, while George and Lennie are shut out due to poverty and mental disability. In both cases, the men desire a dream that realizes itself in nature—a garden or a farm where a man can plant seeds and tend rabbits and build a life with his hands. Yet Willy lacks the courage to claim this dream, while George and Lennie are unable to overcome—in life, anyway—the social barriers that define them. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain offers readers a vision of the American Dream that eludes Willy, George, and Lennie. Huck and Jim realize a version of the American Dream within nature that is denied them by society. Life on the river is life without restriction. Huck evades the social constraints Miss Watson, the Widow Douglas, Pap, and Judge Thatcher place on him while Jim, more importantly, evades the social constraints of racism. It is only within this natural setting that Huck, too, is released from the shackles of racism and is able to view Jim as a human being. While it seems that Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby achieves the kind of American Dream that Willy Loman desires, Gatsby, in turn, learns that an American Dream based on consumerism is an illusion. Gatsby is the true self-made man who comes from nothing and through hard work—legal or not—builds an empire to capture the attention of the elusive Daisy. However, Gatsby's social reputation and economic success rob him of the opportunity to find real love or self-fulfillment, as Daisy becomes a translucent symbol of false dreams rather than a real companion. Combined, the four works suggest that the American Dream is realized only when people reject the pull of social recognition and wealth in favor of self-reliance and self-fulfillment in a natural setting.

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