Summary: Is society responsible for the sacrifices an individual makes? Both F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby and Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman" explore the notion of individual sacrifice in pursuit of the American Dream, which society created along with the means through which to pursue it. The protagonists in both stories gave the ultimate sacrifice in this pursuit. How much responsibility for this sacrifice should rest with society, and how much should rest with the individuals themselves?
"The relationship between an individual and his or her society is responsible of the sacrifices he or she makes."
"The relationship between an individual and his or her society is responsible of the sacrifices he or she makes." This statement questions the role society plays in the actions and sacrifices of the individual. This can be examined through the study of the two texts "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. In both texts, the notion of sacrifice; giving up something of value or importance for somebody or something considered more worthy; is explored through the pursuit of the American Dream. The Dream that anyone can, by exercise of will power and energy achieve anything, especially wealth which brings happiness is central to the plot of both texts. In both "the Great Gatsby" and "Death of a Salesman" the central characters give the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in pursuit of their own American Dream. Society created the Dream, and the mechanisms in which to chase it, so then how much responsibility must it take for the sacrifices of these men. Is society responsible for the sacrifices an individual makes?
Through "the Great Gatsby" we can see the ways in which society and the American Dream had become corrupted because its main aims became wealth and power. For Jay Gatsby wealth became his superficial goal overshadowing his quest for the love of Daisy. Society of the 1920's created the notion that it was acceptable to sacrifice morality in order to attain wealth. And through this the American Dream became so focused on money that any means of obtaining it were condoned, even if those means were unscrupulous. Determined to marry Daisy after returning from the war, Gatsby is blind to her shallow, cowardly nature. So, was it society that caused Gatsby to sacrifice his own soul in order to please the lost soul of Daisy? In many ways the answer to this question is yes. For it was society that provided the mechanisms, to chase the Dream, and also society that created the Dream itself. "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us." Fitzgerald used the symbolism technique, with the green light representing more than Daisy, but the Dream itself to show the way in which the members of society chase a dream that is always out of reach, symbolized, by the water keeping Gatsby from the light. No matter what Gatsby sacrifices, his morals, his way of life, and in the end his life he will never achieve his goal, or the green light. Had society not been corrupt in the ways of capturing wealth, then maybe Gatsby would have realized that his sacrifices were not worth it.
The same pressures to have wealth in order to achieve happiness can be seen in Arthur Millers "Death of a Salesman." Lingering at the end of the play is the question of how much of Willy's sacrifice is due to a culture that encourages the American Dream, and how much is due to his character and personal circumstances. Biff comes to a realization at the end of the play that his father lived a life of illusion, "he never know who he way." Willy spent so much time believing in the false promises of wealth and popularity that society had created as part of the Dream, that he was never happy nor successful. It could be said, that it was society who stripped Willy of his dignity, piece by piece. And that it was society that stripped him of his lifestyle. Society gave the impression that by achieving wealth, the individual would achieve happiness. So Willy sacrificed being happy with what he had, in pursuit of what he thought he could achieve. Through Miller's technique of using flash backs throughout the play, the audience can see and understand the way that society pressured Willy into chasing the dream. In many ways society can be blamed for Willy's sacrifices, because it was society that gave him the dream and society that did not allow him to move forward in his pursuit of the dream.
However, can society really take the blame for the actions of an individual? F. Scott Fitzgerald's depiction of the soured American Dream dramatizes the internal and external forces at work in this modern tragedy about human potential for corruption. Society may have caused the American Dream to become corrupted, with its main aims being wealth and power, but it was Gatsby as an individual allowed himself to become caught up in this, and sacrifice everything for it. Gatsby became corrupted because his main goal was to have Daisy, at all costs, so really it was not society that corrupted him and made him sacrifice his life. Fitzgerald uses the modified first person narration to help him communicate some of these ideas, using Nick he guides the reader to see his own view point. "I'm inclined to reserve all judgment, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veterans bores..." However, Nick judges everyone throughout the story, thus allowing Fitzgerald to communicate his views on society and its role in the actions of the individual. Gatsby himself can be the only one blamed for sacrificing his morality and soul for love, society has little to do with ones heart.
In a similar sense, society can not be blamed for Willy's actions and sacrifices. What brings Willy to the point of sacrificing his life can not be reduced to the malignant influence of the society in which he lives. Society only created tremendous grief and hardship for Willy, aggravated by the endless promise of the good times to come. It did not create the faults in Willy's personality, and his inability to see reality. Society can not take the full blame for Willy's failure, for society also created the same chance at great success. So really society is not at fault for Willy's sacrifices, rather Willy as an individual must take the blame for not becoming what he wanted.
In both texts, "the Great Gatsby" and "Death of a Salesman" there are many contributing factors to the sacrifices the characters make. Society created the American Dream, and then corrupted it. But the characters chased the Dream and were corrupted for reasons society had little control over. Society does not control the heart. So then perhaps it can be concluded that both society and the individual are responsible for the sacrifices and actions. For without an individual there can be no society, and without a society there is no individual.