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Comparing The Great Santini and Death of a Salesman
Elementary school taught everyone that to compare and contrast two things, the best way to go about doing that is with a Venn diagram. Truthfully, this is an effective method, but it is quite rudimentary under the circumstances. "The Great Santini" by Pat Conroy and "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller are two books that can become victims of the dreaded Venn diagram. The two stories are accounts of the lives of two families, each living out its version of the American Dream. The focus of both stories is on the father and how he interacts with everyone and everything around him. Bull Meechum of "The Great Santini" is a marine, raising his children as "hogs" and expecting only the best, if not better, from his brood. Willy Loman of "Death of a Salesman" also expects great things from his children, to the point that he refuses to believe that either of his sons is a failure, even when it is clear that they are. Although the two men themselves have many similarities, there are also other similarities between the two stories. One similarity is the role of the first son in the two anecdotes. Also, there is the role of the second child. Finally, both stories involve characters that are realizing what it means to be a man and what responsibilities come with the title.
Bull Meechum is the father of four kids: two boys and two girls. His oldest son is Ben, a senior in high school who is well on his way to a career in basketball. As the son of a marine, Ben has been raised to take orders, no matter what the possible consequences may be. At the beginning of the story, Ben is talking to his father about his future. When Ben vehemently expresses his interest in pursuing basketball, Bull protests and reminds his son that he will serve in the marines for his four years, and then he can do whatever he wants. Unfortunately, Ben's basketball calling is cut short because of his father's hot headed insistence that Ben must take out a player on the other team, resulting in a broken arm and Ben's expulsion from the team.
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Mary Anne Meechum and Happy Loman are the second children of their individual families. Both Mary Anne and Happy play the role of the "less important" child, receiving less respect and attention from their entire family. For Mary Anne, the lack of attention that she is given is even harder for her to accept because she is a drama queen, craving the spot-light at all times. At one point, in attempts to catch her father's interest, Mary Anne tells Bull that she is pregnant and that the father of the baby is everything that her father could ever hate about someone: a black pacifist. Even when she tells him all of this, he continues to ignore her, getting mad that she is interrupting him while he reads the paper. The same kind of thing happens to Happy. In an endeavor to get his parents' attention, he announces that he is getting married, to which they nonchalantly respond with little more than a "go to bed." All that these two victims of second-child syndrome want is a little respect and an occasional word of approval.
In the process of becoming an adult, respect, among other things, is something that is taken for granted as a privilege that comes with age. Willy does have his family's respect, but he has a horrible fear of losing that admiration. For that reason, when he does not have enough money to pay the bills, Willy borrows money from Charley so his family will not notice the difference. In Bull's case, he has his children's respect because he is not actually their father, but essentially their drill sergeant, and they are not really his children, but in fact his "hogs." Willy and Bull seem to feel that as the heads of their respective homes, it is their job to be the "manly man." In some cases, the man of the house is known to have some sort of immoral streak. In Bull's case his appalling facet is that when he gets very angry, he takes it out on Lillian, his devoted and loving wife. For Willy, his vice is the affair that he is having. Learning what it means to be a man is not only important for Willy and Bull, but also for Biff and Ben. The two boys go through the process of becoming men in much different ways. To start with, Biff has to finally accept responsibility at a much older age than most boys would. He is already thirty-four when he realizes that if he ever wants to turn his life around he is going to have to do it one step at a time. Ben on the other hand is only a senior in high school when he takes charge of not only his life, but also the lives of the rest of his family. One of Ben's lessons in becoming a man is the experience that he has with Toomer's death. He also finds out that defending his mother when his father is hitting her is also one of his new responsibilities as a man. It is finally evident that Ben has accepted the role as the man of the house after his father's death. When the family is moving back to Atlanta and Ben follows the old custom of his father of getting his family up at three in the morning to avoid traffic, its clear that he has truly become a man.
Becoming a man; the first child; the second child; all of these are topics that "The Great Santini" by Pat Conroy and "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller have in common. Through the relationships between father and child, the two books can be compared and contrasted. Not only can the stories be compared by their relationships concerning the father and child, but also just the fathers themselves can be compared and contrasted in so many ways that one could probably write a thorough essay just comparing Bull Meechum and Willy Loman.