I need to write a critical response on either F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and need some ideas on the topic. The topic question is: Discuss the...

I need to write a critical response on either F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and need some ideas on the topic. The topic question is:

Discuss the ideas developed by the text creator(s) about the significance of an individual's attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both of these works of literature – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman – offer fine opportunities to discuss “the significance of an individual’s attempt to live unconstrained by convention or circumstance.” If Willy Loman lived a delusional and deceitful life that would ultimately bring only sorrow to that small circle of people who loved him, however, it is the former James Gatz who best embodies the notion of the individual striving for something more than the conventional existence endured by the overwhelming masses of humanity.  Willie lives his life assured that, as long as he is well-liked (“I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing...” he says to Charley in defending his record), the rest will take care of itself even though, deep-down, he knows that’s just not true.

For all of Willy’s unfulfilled ambitions, however, he is a man of convention.  He laments his failure to go into business with his brother, Ben – “Why didn’t I go to Alaska with my brother Ben that time! Ben! That man was a genius, that man was success incarnate! What a mistake!” – but he is and forever will be a man of simple means and simple dreams, like the garden he tends within the confines of his yard.  For James Gatz, though, the conventional life will never do.  As a young man, more a boy, really, James stared in awe at the silver mining magnate Dan Cody’s yacht tied up on Lake Superior.  As Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, notes, “To the young Gatz, resting on his oars and looking up at the railed deck, the yacht represented all the beauty and glamor in the world.”  Gatz will, of course, assume a new identity, that of Jay Gatsby, as his path to a world he cannot otherwise enter.  This is a man who literally adopts a new identity, a new persona, and accumulates the requisite wealth through the only means available to him – organized crime – in his desperate pursuit of the American Dream.  That dream involves securing the rights to Daisy Buchanan, towards which end he uses his newly-acquired wealth to construct a huge mansion in the nouveau riche community of West Egg, where he can spy across the bay the Buchanan estate in the “Old Money” community of East Egg.  Gatsby’s desperation and the intensity of his efforts to enter Daisy’s world are illustrated at the end of Chapter One.  Nick has returned home from his visit to the Buchanan’s estate when he eyes the mysterious figure of Gatsby staring across the bay.  Initially he intends to introduce himself to his new neighbor (Nick having only just recently moved to his small plot abutting Gatsby’s estate), but then he reconsiders:

“I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.”

That green light, of course, represents Daisy Buchanan, the elusive object of his obsession.  Gatsby’s determination to wrest Daisy away from her stultifyingly dull existence with her husband Tom is the engine that drives him forward as he continues to perpetuate the myth of success.  Far more than Willy Loman, Jay Gatsby embodies the individual striving to escape the bonds of conventionality and the circumstances of his earlier existence as James Gatz.

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Death of a Salesman

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