America: a land of endless wealth, and the dream; a dream of endless opportunity, is not depicted as such in the books The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby. The Dream is instead portrayed as hypocritical in the assumption that spiritual satisfaction is always accompanied material gain.
In The Great Gatsby America is shown as a land of dreams that is undeniably corrupted by materialism to such a degree that even the image of god (the blue eyes of Dr. Eckleburg be) was looking “out… from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles” (Fitzgerald 23) (the yellow being a symbol of materialism). Following the theory that yellow is symbolic for the corruption of wealth. It could be hypothesized that Daisy is the personification of a tarnished American dream. Just as Daisy is “high in the white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl” (Fitzgerald 120), so the American dream hides the corruption of materialism within its purity.
Unlike The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath does not focus on the corruption of the Dream as much as it focuses on the corruption of the people withholding the Dream. California is a Garden of Eden, but it is a garden with “guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low” (Steinbeck 319). The Joads were not “son[s] of god” (Fitzgerald 99); they did not desire an intangible dream, the Joads’ desire was simple: land and food. But because of the selfishness of others to such a degree that “children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange” (Steinbeck 477), the dream that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone” (Adams) is unfulfilled.
Also unfulfilled is the dream of being “recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (Adams). Gatsby is looked down upon because he is newly rich and it is automatically assumed that “newly rich people are just big bootleggers” (Fitzgerald 109). The Joads are mocked because they are Okies, due to the fact the Okies were hungry and poor they are not accepted because “the whole United States ain’t that big…for your king an’ my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat” (Steinbeck 163).
The Dream also consisted of (while not necessarily correct) the belief that material gain is certain as long as a list of rules is followed. So when he was young James Gatz adhered to a set of General resolves (derived from the almanac of Benjamin Franklin), as such he was “bound to get ahead” (Fitzgerald 175).
However James Gatz’s version of the American dream was “founded securely on a fairy’s wing” (Fitzgerald 100).
Both books also ended in references of the American Dream. The great Gatsby ended on a note of going back to the past, a past when the simplicity of the Dream was not blemished with the mounting materialism of society. The Grapes of Wrath ended on a note of hope for the future. In desperate circumstances and a hopeless situation altruism and optimism were still present.
The American dream is just that, a dream, concealing but not entirely suppressing the brutality of reality.
John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath F Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
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