This paper is a study of Tennyson's poem "Ulysses," Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman," and Tim O'Brien's short story "The Things They Carried," and the uses each author makes of the contrasts between past and present. The contrast between past and present, especially the rosy glow that memory often gives to events in retrospect, is a useful literary device, allowing writers to investigate longing, regret, and the impact of time. This paper also discusses Miller's play in relation to two other dramas, Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" and Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex," with regard to what each play has to say about the nature and definition of success. Each writer's definition of success creates intriguing dramatic situations, in plays where this is the central theme and in plays where the playwright's conception of success influences other choices.
In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses," the hero of the Trojan War and of Homer's "Odyssey" reflects on his career and observes, "I cannot rest from travel" (575). The past for him is where his glory lies. Now, as he considers his adventures over, he feels useless and helpless: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end,/To rust unburnished" (575). He speaks to an unseen companion, saying, "You and I are old" (576). He is by nature and temperament a wanderer who is now forced to act as bureaucrat: "I mete and dole/Unequal laws unto a savage race,/That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me" (575).
He finds some comfort in the presence of his son Telemachus. He believes that his heir is probably better suited to stay in one place and rule a kingdom than is he; he finds himself looking longingly at his ship lying in port and, beyond it, "the dark, broad seas" (576). He remembers "the thunder and the sunshine" (576) he shared with his mariners, "men that strove with Gods" (576), and he longs to continue their exploits.
The travels of Ulysses represent perhaps t...