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The Death Of Dreams English Literature Essay

5782 words (23 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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Since Christopher Columbus found America, people have moved to this continent with so called American Dream. Early settler of America dreamt about freedom from ruler, having reasonable life which is that as they work, as they get. However this meaning of American dream finally transformed into more material way as time went by. People started to have more materialistic dream which is having a bigger house, a nicer car etc. The pure meaning and purpose of ‘American Dream’ corrupted because of materialism. Moreover, as American dream more focused on success of material life, this becomes unreal for normal people. In other words, American dream has become ‘illusion’ which can’t be come true real life.

Through this paper, I will see how the corrupted American dream appears in two modern American novels-The great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Death of a sales man by Arthur Miller. The great Gatsby was published 1922 in United Sates which is called the ‘Roaring twenties’. This time, all people in America enjoy the extreme materialistic lives, they turned into extravagant before they ran into deep slump. So in this novel, reader can see how wealthy people acts and thinks in this time of period. And Death of a salesman is a play written in 1949 when a slightly after the period of deep slump. Though there’s slight time gap in these two works, both deal with social context in early 20th America and people in that period who pursue so-called ‘American dream’. Then show the fate that their dreams couldn’t help becoming an illusion in that social context.

In many aspects, lots of similarities can be found in these two novels. The main character, Willian Loman and Jay Gatsby have lots in common in terms of their vision and goal of their life, how they conceive others. And not only these protagonists, but also surrounding of two and social background have lots of similarities. However, differences can be found between two works when deeply analyze their purpose of pursuing their dream and how surrounding character influences and react to their protagonists. So, I will see these similarities and differences in three aspects-characters, plot, social background and theme through this paper. Then answer a question ‘why both characters failed to pursue their American dream’.

2. Characters

2.1 Protagonists: Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman

In both story, protagonists have been searching for American dream for a life time. Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman were not from upper class, they made their own fortune. They both have strong belief of becoming successful at the end. For both, American dream they pursue is solely focused on becoming wealthy and popular. This perception becomes problematic and ultimately leads them to fail.

Willy is a salesman who only consider about being a successful and popular salesman in his company. These kinds of goal of life were formed of influence from his father who was the success salesman. And his desire of being a rich and his mere belief of becoming wealthy man came from success from his older brother who made a fortune from the diamond mines. His father and brother were typical American who achieved their American dream by getting a chance in the prosperous time of America. This fact made Willy to believe he can also become one of them and this belief became even a burden to him. As Willy believes that achieving American dream is being rich like his brother and father, he put these kinds of belief into his sons, Biff and Happy. He keeps encouraging them to become outstanding figure in the society, he failed to ask them about what these kids really want to be and how they want to establish their lives, and this became problematic at the end.

Gatsby is a young man, who is absolutely one of the richest men in the town ‘West egg’. His figure described as miraculous in the early part of the novel. However, he is not the one like Tom Buchanan who was borned and raised from wealthy family. He was in poverty in his youth which made Gatsby to establish desire to become wealth. He longed for his new life for his life time and he decided to make him by himself. He gave new name ‘Jay Gatsby’ and also made new history of Gatsby. Not only made up his past he also made himself to believe what he made was real. In this aspect, Gatsby was more proactive and aggressive to make his dream to become real compared to Willy in “Death of a salesman”. Willy devoted his life to achieve his dream, however, Gatsby changed his whole identity to make himself to fit in his dream. Gatsby also view himself as the hero of the great love story by making Daisy into perfect and pure lady in his story of life. Daisy Buchanan is wife of Tom Buchanan and also cousin of Nick Caraway who also from upper class. When they first met, Gatsby fell in love with her. And he says all the things he made have only one purpose, to love Daisy and marry her. Though he emphasizes his love which can justify all his behavior, this love can’t be determined like a true love of Romeo from ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The admiration toward her was made because of her background- rich, grace and luxury. He admire wealthy aura of Daisy not Daisy herself and had though that she can be a perfect lady of his own novel. He believed he plays a role of knight who saved lady-Daisy-from evil character-Tom.

He keeps saying himself that the reason why he wants to get rich and popular is only for his love Daisy, and justifying all behavior he made- distributing alcohol and trading in illegal securities. In short, the motivation of Gatsby’s dream was based on false belief.

So Willy and Gatsby both have dream to become successful but how they create their dream and why they had that kinds of dream were different. The reason that Willy want to become wealthy was inspired by his surrounding, father and his brother. And Gatsby’s dream was made superficially because of the love toward Daisy. Willy literally devoted his whole life to achieve his dream to become rich and popular sales man, but he failed. Out of his efforts, he found invisible wall to prevent him to reach goal. On the other hand, Gatsby partly become what he wanted to be. He finally became ‘The rich and great Gatsby’ by changing his past and even his identity to make his dream true. However, it can’t be said that he achieve his American dream successfully as he failed to get love of Daisy and all the wonder land he built revealed to be fake at the end.

As Gatsby made up his identity and built his own wonderland, he tries to make himself to looks like an innocent young man to others. However, these efforts made Gatsby something unnatural and suspicious. When Nick first met Gatsby, Nick realizes unnatural way of Gatsby speaks. “His elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.”(40) This line shows that Gatsby tries to make himself in a certain way. He wants to create himself as great, young, prominent figure.

To fulfill his figure, he adds romantic image by loving Daisy with passion. That is Gatsby makes Daisy an idealistic perfect lady who can’t not suitable for real. Daisy is not a perfect figure to fulfill the fantasy of Gatsby. That is, Gatsby doesn’t love Daisy herself but he loved the idea of girl like Daisy. He was searching for a figure who acts like an object to be loved by him. Then she found Daisy as a perfect one. Or he wants to find a good reason to justify all the morally corrupted behaviors.

This self-justifying can be also seen in Willy. Willy, even though he is no longer any prominent salesman, tries to make himself as renowned salesman. He once a professional salesman when he was young, but after he got older, he is no longer in the place he used to be. Though he was once a successful man, he can’t be said as a good father or good husband. His two sons were under the pressure of Willy’s expectation which made them to pursue their dreams. And her wife, though she stands by Willy for a life time, Willy only ignored her and even cheated on her faithful wife. However he doesn’t want to admit that he made mistakes in the relationship with his family. To justify his behaviors, he sticks to the fact that he was and is a successful sale man. Even after, he get fired from his office where he commit his whole life, he keeps saying himself that he is still renowned and successful. This self-justifying and strong but false belief leads these two hero make tragic result at the end of the story.

2.2 Other Characters

2.2.1 Nick Carraway.

The important character in the Great Gatsby is Daisy Buchanan and Nick Carraway. Nick is the novel’s narrator and at the same time only dear friend of Gatsby. Nick is the one who describes the mysterious character Gatsby. As a narrator of The Great Gatsby, every Gatsby’s behaviors view through Nick’s eyes. So, readers only know about Gatsby from his point of view. Since he met Gatsby, he wants to see him in a good way. He tries to understand Gatsby’s behavior, though others suspects about him as times goes by. He expresses sympathy of him after he learns about Gatsby’s history. So, readers who only learn Gatsby from Nick’s voice, naturally have pity toward Gatsby.

And not only Nick plays a narrator in this novel, he is also an important surrounding character of Gatsby. He is the one who made a chance to reunite Gatsby with Daisy. Also, Nick is only one who stay Gatsby’s funeral. Nick become understanding Gatsby’s situation and have sympathy of his life. Though Gatsby was the great figure who is always in the middle of public eyes, he ends up being alone. Nick was the one who sincerely cares about Gatsby and takes care of him after his death.

2.2.2 Daisy Buchanan

Daisy is a beautiful young woman from Louisville. The main role of hers is the object of Gatsby’s love. Daisy was the popular young girl who was born in wealthy gamily. This fairness was the reason to Gatsby fell in love with her. Though they loved each others, Daisy decided go and get married Tom after Gatsby gone for military service. So, Gatsby devoted his whole life to win Daisy back from Tom. To achieve this goal, he decide to become rich and popular, In the reality, however, Daisy is not the one that Gatsby imagine. She is far short of Gatsby’s ideal type of lady. She is yes, beautiful and charming, but she is opportunist and has shallow thought. Nick characterizes her as a perfect creature, just like a lady in the typical heroic story, but Daisy was just ordinary woman who has lack of moral sense. She hit woman without a sense of guilt, and leaves Gatsby without hesitation when he is in needed.

That is who Gatsby loved as not Daisy herself, but the image of her. That means, Daisy can be shifted by other figure. Nick says that “there must have been the moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams-not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He has thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way.”(87) Though this part, it turns out that Daisy is not love of his life like a classic romance, she was the great illusion that Gatsby made by himself to decorates his life more attractive or to make some excuse of what he done to gain his life. Gatsby tries to justify himself from blaming of his immoral life by hiding under truly moving love story.

2.2.3 Biff Loman

Biff Loman is one of Willy’s sons. Biff represents high expectation of Willy at the same time he shows how Willy had tragic mistakes in his personal life. Though Biff always had huge expectation from his father, he failed to fulfill Willy’s expectation. Willy believes he was child of his proud, he doing perfectly good in the school and even popular among others. The reason why Willy put burden of expectation to Biff is that he want to get vicarious satisfaction from his son. As Willy knows inside himself that his life can’t be said successful and there’s rare chance for him to make huge return, he want to be satisfied by seeing his son’s life. However this plan also failed because what Willy believed about his son is actually not real. There’s obvious evidence that show Biff is not the distinguished child in his school, Willy keeps saying everything is oaky as long as Biff stay popular which is the important value to Willy. Biff was actually a normal student who failed go get scholarship because he got failed in math class. Finally Biff tells Willy that he is not the one Willy imagined, and moves out West to find his work by his hands. This thing makes Willy to get frustrated in the end. And this plays huge influence of his suicide.

Biff can be compared to Daisy in the way that both plays role as an ideal image by Gatsby and Willy. Though Biff and Daisy was not perfect creature, Willy and Gatsby made them perfect which are worth to admire or give expectation. Willy believes Biff can become great figure like his older brother. Giving too much expectation into his son, also gives a huge burden to Biff. Willy want to Biff fulfill his unfulfilled American dream. In this sense, Daisy plays a role as perfect image for Gatsby. By using her as lovable lady in Gatsby’s story, he fulfills his dream and makes his life more romantic.

However, Biff and Daisy can’t play their role. Not like expectation of Willy and Gatsby, they were far from illusion of Willy and Gatsby. Biff ran off to West and become ordinary farmer in the end. And Daisy chose to run from Gatsby and go back to become Tom’s wife. For her, the love with Gatsby was just an affair. Or she doesn’t want to take a risk to run away with Gatsby who finally turns out as suspicious person. After having a talk with Tom, Daisy decided to choose reality rather than illusion which Gatsby gave to her. Sadly, Gatsby stay all night in front of her house believing that she will come out for him and two will run way.

3. Theme

3.1 Meaning of American dream for two

Willy believes that he can achieve American dream like his brother and father. The problem of Willy was neglecting small success from his surroundings. For him achieving American dream and becoming a successful American can be only done by becoming mighty and popular figure. He considers the meaning of the American Dream is that becoming attractive and renowned man in business. And he believes he can acquire the material thing from this popularity. The problematic point of his belief is he had misunderstanding of true meaning of American dream. That is when American dream is defined, hard working should be put before becoming successful. Willy’s interpretation American dream was wrong. This misunderstanding occurs because he formed his own American dream by seeing success of his brother and father. Becoming rich from gold or diamond mine has the rare chance like winning a lottery. As understood American dream without hard working, his failure was obvious. And the other problem of his understands of American Dream is that his goal is based on uncertain perception. For him ‘popularity’ and ‘attractiveness’ are the main thing as he says about success. He emphasizes only these things when measuring others. This is why he ignored Bernard who is son of Charley when he was in the school and believed his son, Biff will be better off in the future. His belief turns out to be wrong. Bernard becomes successful lawyer when Biff lost his way after high school. Willy’s blind perception of the American Dream leads to him to put himself miserable life.

Gatsby understand American dream as becoming wealthy, so he can play role as a gentle man. When it’s compared to Death of a salesman, The great Gatsby focus more on corrupted American dream in the whole society. Through this novel, readers can see different types of corrupted American dream among upper class and working class. Readers can finds corrupted part of society early 20th period in America. Upper class which represented by Daisy and Tom, people in this statue doesn’t have moral sense. Though they have huge fortune, they spend this by throwing fancy parties everyday. Tom thought he can buy a woman and had affair with Mrs. Myrtle. For him, faithful vow of marriage was useless. Daisy was the one who lacks of morality. She hit Myrtle by car and drove away without guilt.

3.2 Desire toward the past

As Gatsby and Willy dissatisfy their reality, they long to recreate past. Gatsby longs to recreate past-his time in Louisville with Daisy. He believes he can return Daisy easily because Daisy is in the same place like him. In the past, when he had in poverty, he dreamed of Daisy, but after he become rich man, he think he can be the one for Daisy without obstacle. So, Tom can’t be a obstacle to prevent him to win her again. But, as Daisy confesses, she once loved Tom with great passion. That is Gatsby believed Daisy also though him as the only one, but Gatsby was just another one for Daisy. Though Tom has an affair with Myrtle Wilson, he doesn’t have any intention of breaking his marriage. And maybe Daisy doesn’t want to break their marriage either when seeing that she returns to her statue at the end. So the plan that Gatsby had to regain Daisy was just his wish.

As the only goal of his life was regain Daisy, turning back time when Gatsby and Daisy love each other, and make love just like what they had in Louisville. He has strong belief that he can regain his love again, because Daisy still fell in love with him. This belief makes him fall into deep depression after he realizes that belief was only his wish.

Just like Gatsby, Willy has strong desire of the past. Now, Willy is old salesman who rarely makes profit. He was once on the roll as a salesman. He has lots of people know and was one of the cherish salesman in his office. However, time passed, boss changed who is son of Willy’s boss, and he no longer makes profit. His son who was the hope for Willy’s life turns out to nothing, Happy and Biff are no longer prominent in their school, and even failed to get scholar. Biff was once a popular player in his school team, which makes Willy proud of him more than anything-for Willy, popularity is the most important value. However, these boys can’t fulfill Willy’s dream in current situation. This fact makes Willy to look back past and has desire to go back to his glorious past.

3.3 The relationship

For Willy and Gatsby, relationship is very important value of their life. As Willy is salesman, he knows lots of people by sight. He believes this relationship will last for good, and believes these people are true friends for him.

“Miller introduces in Death of a Salesman who shows Miller’s tragic vision. In the play, Willy Loman lives to the principle of close human relationship in a new pattern of consumer society. Willy models his salesman principle on Dave Singleman whose popularity brought “hundreds of salesman and buyer” to his funeral. Willy believes that a salesman’s success in the local markets of the 1920s where confidence in a salesman counted more than profit motive. However, the consumer trend of the post-World War 2 America was changing as the rapid economic expansion produced urbanized mass markets.”(Moon 5)

Willy’s pride as salesman was popularity and true relationship with them. However, as time changed, this salesman and consumer relationship changed. Willy can’t accept this changed and make himself to believe that he still have continuous relationship with his past consumers. He says “hundreds of salesman and buyer”(32) will come to his funeral and his one dream and belief is that his funeral will be magnificent. But in the end of the scene, in the funeral, only his wife, sons and only one dear friend came. This scene makes more tragic of him.

Gatsby has similarity with Willy that he wanted true relationship but failed to have any. Early part of the novel, there’s many fabulous and luxurious parties that Gatsby hold in his home. The scene of the party time is well described in this part. “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music…”(34) However, people in the party are anonymous. Nick says that “I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were invited-they went there”(34). Though party was huge and many people enjoy time in the Gatsby home, they were not invited and they even don’t know of host of the party they are in. The relationship is so fragile. People are attracted by huge wealth of Gatsby, not himself.

Not only anonymous guests of the party, Gatsby failed to build true loving relationship with Daisy. For him, all the pubic reputation he built was to make himself as a great figure, so that Daisy is attracted by him again. Though Daisy and Gatsby have a chance to make love again, this doesn’t last long. After the real Gatsby revealed, Daisy simply run away from him and go back to her place. For her, love with Gatsby was not that big and sincere which can be altered easily. The fact that she even not appear in the funeral makes this relationship more vain. Just like Willy’s funeral, the funeral ceremony of Gatsby is shabby. The end of the novel, funeral finished with a few people, out of all the effort Nick made to bring large guests.

However, this fragile relationship was the result of Gatsby’s behaviors. Gatsby want to become a figure, not person, so he doesn’t show the real him to anyone. Every his words and acts were collected by him with deep thought. Like he is wearing mask of ‘The great Gatsby’, his every moves show the desire to become the certain figure. So this acting makes him so unnatural and unreal. When Nick met Gatsby at the first time, this awkwardness showed. “Sometime before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care”(40) And when Gatsby confess his past to Nick which was absolutely non-sense, his words are unnatural. Nick says “he looked at me sideways-and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phase ‘educated at Oxford’ or swallowed it, or chocked on it, as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something sinister about him after all.”(42) The confession was all lie, and Gatsby was not good at lying which makes Nick to notice at the early place. After Nick know the truth that Jay Gatsby was invented by James Gats. So if was James Gats, at least true relationship with Nick was possible and they will share personal connection. However, as it was Jay Gatsby which was just illusion of James Gats, the true relationship was never built.

Moreover, not only the relationship with other character but also the relationship with his true and only love, Daisy was built on the fake. Though Gatsby tries to convince others that everything he does is for Daisy and he is always willing to devote himself for her. However, this loving relationship is also built on his fake belief. He convinced himself that he love Daisy, but what he really love is not Daisy, just an illusion of Daisy. So, the true trust and love couldn’t make between him and her.

4. Social Background

4.1 America in 1920s

4.1.1 Blooming of materialism.

Horton says that the driving force of America to develop modern civilization is Idealism and Materialism.

“According to the former(Turner), the greatest single factor in determining the character of American life has been the democratizing effect of a continually expanding frontier. The prospect of opportunity for all caused the United States to drive westward, and this expansion brought the pioneer into contact with a primitive environment which, while encouraging individualism, at the same time had a leveling effect which tended to erase distinction of birth, social status and education.”(Horton & Edward 3)

Turner argue that in ‘The significance of the Frontier in American history’, Frontier of America get and individualism, optimism and idealism in the way of developing west. In this sense, materialism was not used in negative form in the first place. This was naturally followed by infinite chance in the land of opportunity. The one great motivation to develop west was made from the belief that as they work, they will get. This is the basic idea of materialism in the first place. However, as time changed, materialism became in corrupted way that only pursue wealthy life. In the 1920s in the America, which is the main background of The great Gatsby was the peak of this materialism. All meaning of the American dream turns into useless and people in this period just want to gain more and more wealth. Arthur Mazener describes this period like this.

“The twenties were a silly, happy age when everyone was busy get drunk in speakeasies or out of silver-lasks at Yale-Princeton game in the Bowl, or dancing to the pretentiously bad “Jazz” of Paul Whiteman and George Olson, though no one of any intelligence in the period itself took this aspect of its life seriously”(Mizner 5)

This silly life of royal family appears in the great Gatsby, especially when Nick describes about luxurious parties that Gatsby hold.

Not only the royal people, people in the middle class of the west also has this materialism in their mind though they are hard to achieve their dream in reality. But effort to imitate upper class behavior is shown by Mrs. Myrtle. A desire of Myrtle to become one like upper class can be shown in the way she display her apartment. “The apartment was on the top floor-a small dining room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of tape-stried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continuously over scene of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles.”(25) Mrs. Myrtle is a woman who has an affair with Tom Buchanan who is husband of Daisy. Mrs. Myrtle is from low class whose husband runs small car repair shop. However, she has great ambition to go upper class someday. And this dream makes her to imitate upper class where Tom lives, though her circumstance is not appropriate to hers. She wants to become hostess like Daisy, and throw party in very small apartment. Though there’s not enough places, she keep buying overly large furniture for her apartment. Moreover, when she has party, she invites so many people that there’s no place to even stand in her place. These acts show the desire of Mrs. Myrtle to become upper class.

4.1.2 Corruption of American dream

Over the centuries, many immigrants from Europe escaped their country for free and happy lives. They ran from their home from political and the religious discrimination which does not the problem in the new world-America. They could be whoever they wanted to be in the new world. In the land of the opportunity, they can restart their life. As they work, as they get. This makes the basic idea of American Dream in the first place.

The American Dream is a national truth of the United States, which can preserve social mobility by individual. In the other words, they can gain wealthy and comfortable life through hard working. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.

However, this American dream getting changed after America got through World War 1 and 2. Young American happily get involved in war under the great mean that as the new experience and romantic opportunity to show his encourage. However, reality was different. As they gone through the savage and cruel war, they come back to their country depressed with sorrow. Those who went through depressing war started to enjoy their life with extravagant consumption. At that time, economy was boom, and American doesn’t need to worry about monetary problem. They get whatever they want. This lead to people stuck into convenience and happiness to materialism. They enjoyed the life that material can give.

The Great Gatsby shows this corrupted materialism which can be shown in every class of society. Lower class yearns to have wealth, yet those who already have wealth and status are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. In the novel, the elitist group displays characteristics of being bored and unmotivated just like a dead body. The first scene that Nick went into the Tom’s house shows the lack of energy in upper class. “The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young woman were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both white and their dresses were ripping and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.”(10) Daisy and Miss Backer were in the white dress and were motionless. No energy is found in them. Daisy easily get bored and try to find new thing which lead Tom and Nick go to New York sometimes, but always they failed to find exciting experience and vitality. However, compare to this upper class people, Mrs. Myrtle described as the woman with vitality. Gatsby devoted his life into belonging to the exclusive group, but he approved that his life was unhappy by killing himself. So, though upper class has everything they want, they never get happy but get bored with morally corrupted atmosphere.

Willy also lived in the period when the meaning of American dream changed as ‘A unlimited desire of material wealth’. He adds more value on that which is the popularity. For him, American dream also means being ‘a renowned figure’ in the society. This is not the profound problem that should be defined as corrupted dream. However the main reason that his dream defined as corrupted American dream is that the reason of achieving his dream is driven not from his inner mind but from others. He just wants to show off his popularity and wealth to others and get satisfaction by comparing them to himself. Moreover, He justifies what he does to achieve his goal. He neglects his life of son, how they think and which life they want to live were not the matter for Loman. He destroys the faith for his wife by having affair with secretary. All the immoral things he made were justified by his strong belief of dream.

4.2 Hierarchy in society- Invisible wall to go upper class

American always represented as the world of freedom, the society with enormous opportunity. However this is not always true when you look deep inside it. The great Gatsby and death of a salesman shows the limit of going upper class, there’s invisible war that makes people to go upper level. Willy spends his life time to get wealthy and popular. Going upper level was his life-longed dream. The tragic end comes from the fact that he was just a common man. According to Joseph Odd Hruth, the tragic fate of Willy was made by the society.

“Willy Loman is the victim of an unjust competitive society. He was first corrupted by the false ideals and then exploited by those more ruthless than he. Society made him what he was and in a better society his fate would have been better”(Joseph 328)

This is the fault of Willy little, and the real reason why he failed can be blamed that of the society. System of society is not appropriate for Willy to achieve his dream. There’s a certain limitation for him to go upper, and this makes Willy’s life misery. Miller argues that tragic matter occurs, because of that fact that Willy was just a common man.

“I believe that the common man is as apt subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were. On the face of it this ought to be obvious in the light of modern psychiatry, which bases its analysis upon classic formulation, such as the Oedipus and Orestes complexes, for instances, which were enacted

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