Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby dedicate their lives to searching for different versions of the American Dream, but because they have distorted views of themselves and the world they live in, neither is able to reach his goals. Gatsby’s only motivation becoming rich is to win Daisy Buchanan’s heart. Gatsby throws lavish parties and lies about his background in an attempt to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her. Similarly, Willy comes home to his family and brags about the sales he has made, when in reality, his boasts are mere lies that he tells in order to be loved by his family and others. Both characters value fame and fortune, and their superficial lives are based on lies that they tell to impress other people. When Willy and Gatsby fail to attain their dreams the only thing left for them to do is die.
Gatsby believes that Daisy embodies everything that the American Dream stands for. When Gatsby was a military officer he met Daisy Buchanan and immediately fell in love with her grace, charm and affluence; everything that he desired so much in life. Daisy promised to wait for him when he returned from the war but ended up marrying Tom Buchanan. From that point on Gatsby dedicates his whole life to being rich and marrying Daisy. Gatsby’s life is surrounded by illusions and he even changes his name from Jay Gatz to Jay Gatsby to create a re-invention of himself. Gatsby’s new life is composed of lies and rumors that he hopes will appeal to Daisy. Gatsby throws huge parties every weekend to capture the heart of Daisy and is concerned whether or not she enjoys herself at the parties. At the end of one of his lurid parties Gatsby suggests to Nick that, “ She didn’t like it…. I feel far away from her.” With Gatsby’s statement it becomes apparent that his parties serve only one purpose, and that is to get closer to Daisy.
The parties that Gatsby throws for Daisy are ironic because he doesn’t even know the names of the guests he invites. Gatsby’s only way of recognizing the guests at his parties is by calling them “ old sports.” David F. Trask reproduces a comic situation of Gatsby saying that, ” Gatsby has an immense desire to serve…but the guests could not even thank him because most them do not know who he is.” Gatsby is content with being anonymous and does nothing to prevent rumors from circulating within his life. Gatsby is so obsessed with Daisy that she becomes the focus in his life and everything that he does revolves around her. Gatsby tells Daisy that he graduated from Oxford and that he collected jewels and won a set of medals for his participation in WWI. In reality, Gatsby only attended Oxford for a short amount of time and was never honored for his participation in WWI. Gatsby tells Daisy a list of false accomplishments in hope that she will give him recognition and consequently fall into his arms. He also has an extensive library that he claims is filled with books that have “ real pages and everything.” The books in his library however have never been read because they have never been cut. Gatsby’s new identity and stories are all fake acts that he puts on in order to attain Daisy; the dream of his life.
Willy Loman devotes his life to the dream of success. Willy Loman desires to live out the American Dream of fame and fortune. Just like Jay Gatsby, Willy Loman lies about his accomplishment in order to make a good impression of himself in the eyes of his family. Also just like Jay Gatsby, Willy Loman is transfixed in the past and his flamboyant, exaggerated stories of his success as a salesman is far from the actual truth. When Willy Loman falls into his daydream trances he tends to exaggerate some facts and minimize others so that he is seen as a “ big shot” in the sales world, to his sons and wife. When Willy comes home from his business trip he brags to his sons how famous he is upstate. He says, “ You and Hap, I’ll show you all the towns…And they know me, boys, they know me up and down New England… And I can bring you fellas up there’ll be open sesame for all of us, cause one thing boys; I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and cops protect it like their own.” Willy Loman claims that he has many friends upstate, but in fact he has none, which is shown by his funeral that is virtually unattended. Willy has a hard time separating reality from fantasy and the atmosphere of his lies and deception ultimately lead to his own self-destruction.
As Willy approaches his death, he comes to terms with his failure to achieve the American Dream. Willy spends his entire life in search of prosperity and good – fortune and finally comes to the realization that he does not live up to his ambitions. He says, “ Why does it take more guts to stand here the rest of my life ringing up a zero?” At this point in his life, Willy recognizes that his occupation fails to sustain him and his family in the way he desires. Willy proposes a solution to this problem and decides that the only way he can bring life to his dream is to give his family the money offered by his life insurance policy. Willy is determined to carry out his suicide, and he affirms that his “…funeral will be massive” because he is well known around the world. Willy’s world is filled with illusions; he is confident that other people will be attending his funeral bringing him fame, when in reality not a single person bothers to go to his burial.
In Gatsby’s mind, Daisy represents the American Dream that he spends his whole life striving for. Gastby instills Daisy with characteristics that she neither deserves nor carries. Gatsby fails to realize Daisy’s real character because he is too blinded by her aura of charm, grace, and beauty. Daisy is beautiful but she is also shallow, fickle and bored. Nick describes Daisy as “ a careless person who smashes up things and then retreats behind her money.” Gatsby’s failed attempts to win Daisy over are meaningless and in the end Daisy chooses to remain with Buchanan. When Gatsby realizes that his dream crumbles, he no longer has anything to live for so the only thing that is left for him to do is die. Gatsbys funeral is very similar to Willy Lomans. Just like Willy Loman, Gatsby does not have any real friends and the only people that attend his funeral are Nick, a few servants, and his father.
In both works the main characters are transfixed in the past and they surround themselves with a cloud of deceptions that they hope will help them reach their versions of the American Dream. Gatsby throws huge parties and lies about his back round in order to capture Daisy’s heart, but in the end he dies because his goals have become hollow and empty. Willy Loman also comes home and manipulates his salesman stories with exaggeration and lies in order to prove to his family that he really is famous and successful. Both characters are too concerned with the past. This makes it harder for them to accept their failure to attain their dreams in the present.