The American Dream
The American Dream
To achieve higher expectations of success than the previous generations, and accomplishing what hasn’t already been accomplished, can be considered the overall American Dream. Generally, every child wants to surpass the achievements of their parents as a natural act of competition and personal satisfaction. Throughout The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and Death of a Salesman, there is a constant yearning desire to achieve the “American Dream;” whether it be reality or illusion. Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Miller, all portray the ideas of the American Dream relating to the time period that they are referring to.
The strive to achieve a goal whether it be to be the wealthiest or achieve a great life by hard work seems to be the template for the original American dream in the books. To be able to support one’s family, have a decent job, a car, and a home, is the stereotypical, “American dream. ” Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Miller incorporate their ideas of the American dream symbolically throughout their stories. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald downplays the American dream in the sense that the wealthy people of the West and East Egg slightly forget about the hard work that goes along with the process in achieving the American dream.
Gatsby, the main character in the story, achieves the American dream through a criminal background, without having to actually “work” for his success. The basis of the original American dream includes: putting hard work and effort forth, thus resulting in the glory of success and personal achievement. The old American dream gets destroyed or changed in the sense that the people are no longer dreaming for themselves or their family, the people are achieving the American dream, yet in all the wrong ways. In the story, Gatsby wants to win the love of a woman named Daisy.
His attempt to win her heart includes his shortened version of the American dream. Gatsby would rather resort himself to criminal activity, rather than prolong the process of the true American dream and earn it morally. Gatsby’s morals about the American dream are non-existent and he degrades himself to the life of a criminal, rather than justly achieving the American dream through actual labor. Gatsby takes the quickest route to achieving the American dream and has lost all genuine meaning of it, thereby serving the American dream as an illusion. “I think he killed a man,” (Fitzgerald, 54 ).
In this quote, Fitzgerald refers to Gatsby and gives hints about his criminal life throughout the story. Gatsby uses his criminal life in fulfilling the American dream and is blinded by the false route to money, fancy cars, and a big house. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald displays a whole new meaning of the American dream through an illusion. The yearn and the passion for the American dream gets lost in the discovery of the criminal way to the American dream. Fitzgerald clearly portrays through the protagonist, Gatsby, the lack of heart that the American people suffer from in this particular generation.
The whole vision of the American dream becomes impaired when the people resort to using other tactics to illegally achieve the American dream. In the article entitled, The True Heir of the American Dream, Marius Bewley states that “The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American dream as it exists in a corrupt period, and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the reality from the illusions. ”(page 98) This comes to show that The Great Gatsby is more of a modern version of the American dream.
In The Great Gatsby, the author demonstrates how the American dream has become quite different than that of the “old American dream. ” As stated in The American Dream: All the Gush and Twinkle, Louis Auchincloss analyzes how, in The Great Gatsby, “It is the restless rich, with their greater freedom to experience life’s possibilities, to seek fulfillment in action and experimentation, who most clearly reveal the aridity at the heart of the American faith that the way to wealth is the way to a new status. ” Auchincloss portrays that the American faith no longer exists where the people want to live a normal life.
He makes clear that the American people in this book are solely concerned with their wealth. It is no longer a motive to achieve, it is the push and shove to reach the top and to be the wealthiest in a social class. The Great Gatsby can be closely compared to today’s society because of the goals that Americans set for themselves. For instance, it is no longer a goal to reach personal achievement, nor is it a goal to provide safety, housing, and food for one’s family; it is the strive to get on top and to be the most powerful, or the wealthiest of everyone else.
The American people today are no longer satisfied living in a comfortable environment where they have all their necessities. This type of dream, no longer exists and has been replaced with the strive to be the best regardless of whether one is living comfortably or not. It has become the need to have what everyone else wants and the American people lost all heart in what the American dream is all about. Instead of wanting to achieve and be successful for one’s family, today people are willing to go against family members in order to get what they want.
The “old American dream” dealt with the will to achieve for the better of a whole family, where today, everyone is out for themselves and will only work hard if it benefits themselves. Overall, the basis of, The Great Gatsby, is surrounded by the false interpretation of accomplishing the American dream. On the other hand, The Grapes of Wrath takes on a more ethical idea of the American dream. Steinbeck views the American dream through the eyes of immigrants and their everlasting hope for a better future for their family.
In the story, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck reveals the common American dream of reaching California, which is considered to be the “promise land,” to all immigrants in search of hope for a successful life. The idea is that once California is reached, there will be jobs and the opportunity to work hard and earn the common items that all Americans want, which include: a fancy car, a nice house, food, and for their family to have a pleasant life. Steinbeck uses several biblical allusions in order to display the American dream in the late 1920’s.
When Ma was speaking to the preacher, the preacher states, “Somepin’s happening. I went up an’ I looked, an’ the houses is all empty. I can’t stay here no more, I got to go where the folks is goin’. I’ll work in the fiel’s an’ maybe I’ll be happy. ” (page 121) The preacher adapted the American dream only because he felt that this was the dream that everyone was supposed to have. His initial dream is to be a preacher, but he sees that everyone is moving rapidly around him and pretty soon there will be no life left for him to live, if he stays there.
Instead of actually desiring the American dream, the preacher takes the American dream as a task that he must fulfill. In this sense, Steinbeck portrays the American dream as an illusion, just as Fitzgerald does in The Great Gatsby. The idea of the American dream becomes falsely interpreted when the people stop dreaming and begin to take the American dream as a requirement. Hence, the people loose the genuine meaning of the American dream. In the story, Pa states, “No, we ain’t got no money, but they’s plenty of us to work, an’ we’ll put ‘em together.
We’ll make out. ” The inspiration and hope that the family has to succeed is revealed by Pa. The American dream transforms from wanting to travel West to California and own materialistic items, to the desire for survival. Now the people are fighting for their survival, rather than trying to succeed. Their goal consists of getting enough money for food and shelter, rather than concentrating on moving up in a social class. The Joad’s wanted to go there and live a comfortable lifestyle, when in actuality, they were struggling for survival when they got there.
The original American dream changes when the Joad’s get a taste of reality once they reached California. Steinbeck demonstrates various views of the American dream through the characters in the story. The American dream portrayed in The Grapes of Wrath can be compared to the actual immigrant’s view on society in the 1900s. The people were eager to reach America because they thought that there was a lot of opportunity here, but when they got here they realized that there was a lot of hard work and effort that needed to be put forth in order for them to be successful.
It was not all they had thought it would be and they learned that firsthand by having to find jobs just like everyone else. Everyone came to America wanting the same thing, therefore it was hard for everyone to succeed. The idea portrayed by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath is that not everything is going to be handed to one on a silver platter; one must work hard for the accomplishments that they achieve in order to have a feeling of personal satisfaction. Steinbeck gives the before and after view of America to the immigrants and what it was really like when they got there.
It was no longer an image of what they dreamed it to be, it was the “real deal. ” The people couldn’t just change their minds and say they wanted to go back, and even if they could go back, there was nothing for them back there. The needed to work towards achieving a comfortable life for their family. As Mimi Reisel Gladstein presents in her article, Steinbeck Speaks for All Immigrants, she points out that, “The immigrant’s dream is often unrealistic, and extravagant expectations can lead to bitter disappointment. Even Ma, who acts as the cheerful leader for the venture, has her moments of doubt.
” Yet, again this portrays the ultimate disappointment for the immigrants once they reached their final destination. Life was not all that they had set out for it to be in California. They realized once they got there, that it wasn’t just an easy ride, things would get quite more difficult from there on. The idealistic view of the American dream is demolished when the “promised land,” turns out to be a means of the survival of the fittest. The Death of a Salesman provides an overall understanding of the typical American dream. Miller analyzes the old fashioned belief that one must work to be better than their father.
Biff is the prime example of trying to over achieve the accomplishments his father has made. Biff’s goal in life was to reach the American dream that entitles him to become successful and make enough money to support his family. When Biff was young he had looked up to his father, and wanted to be a success so that he could follow in his father’s footsteps and achieve the American dream. Once Biff learned about his father’s affair with another woman other than Linda, the respect that Biff had for his father diminished. Biff lost all faith in the American dream.
He viewed the American dream as an illusion because of the way he would falsely praise his father for his accomplishments, when in the end it turned out that Willy, the father, was no better than any other man. All of Biff’s beliefs that were inspired by his father proved to be false. Before Biff learned about his father’s affair with another woman, he had looked up to his father. No longer did Biff want to impress his family, now he wanted to make a living for himself and attempted to discover the path to accomplish the American dream on his own.
When discussing the American dream with Happy, Biff states; Well I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still- that’s how you build a future.
(Miller, 10-11) Biff reveals from this quote that no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be obstacles to overcome and the American dream will not just fall in one’s hands. This particular quote reveals that the American dream is not all it is set out to be. Biff explains to Happy the obstacles that he has been through trying to achieve the American dream, and for what? He is right back where he has started. No one truly understands the difficulty in reaching the American dream. Willy was a major character that was caught up in the American dream.
Willy talks to himself and has psychological issues due to the fact that he confused between what reality and the act of “dreaming,” is, and cannot distinguish the two. Willy’s perception of the American dream is intertwined with his reality and he is unable to tell the two apart. When driving on the road, Willy always drifts off and dreams about the country because this is Miller’s way of incorporating the American dream in the text. Willy’s distractions are a matter of distinguishing the American dream from actual society and the reality of his own life.
Willy is focused on the “dream,” to the extent that he cannot tell the difference between his wants and what he actually has. In the end of the story, Willy commits suicide partially because Biff explains to Willy the bitter truth of Willy’s illusions of the American dream. Biff destroys Willy’s “dream,” and he finally commits suicide after his various attempts throughout the story. Willy was not able to accept that he did not fulfill the American dream and therefore he cannot live with himself. Just before Willy commits suicide, he gets into an argument with his son Biff. Biff states, “ Will you let me go, for Christ’s sake?
Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens? ” (Miller, 106) During this point in the story, Miller portrays the sudden breaking point between the two characters. Biff wants his father to understand that he cannot live in a fantasy land of what he wants his son to be, and has to accept the reality of life. Willy finally realizes that his son is not going to be what he wants him to be. He comes to the conclusion that his son is going to go far no matter what he does, even if it isn’t what he originally wants him to do. At this scene in the story, illusion meets reality.
Biff realizes he is not going to be what his father wants him to be and Willy realizes Biff will isn’t who he wants him to be. At this point Willy’s two worlds of illusion and reality collide. This situation displayed in The Death of a Salesman, can be related to everyday life because now-a-days, parents are persuading their children to become lawyers and doctors so that they will make a lot of money, even though these types of jobs may not be their child’s true calling. The overall idea that is being portrayed is that a parent cannot push their child to be something that they’re not.
The “old American dream,” is brought up yet again when one compares the idea of following in their father’s footsteps to the idea of individualism. In this era it is a matter of Willy wanting Biff to be like him, when in actuality, Biff knows that he is not going to succeed trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. In today’s world many children are persuaded to have a job that they do not like and only do it to please their parents. The lesson being taught here is that one must find what satisfies them individually and their parents must understand that their children are not always going to follow in their footsteps.
Miller demonstrates this type of situation in the relationship that he creates between Willy and Biff throughout the story. Biff realizes that he must do what he has to in order to make a living and acquire the necessities in life. Therefore, Miller portrays the American dream through an illusion just as Fitzgerald and Steinbeck did. The American dream goes from being an actual goal in life, to an essence of doing what is necessary to survive. Therefore, the American dream can be viewed from several points.
Whether it be from the eager immigrant wanting to reach the beautiful promise land of California, or the young graduate wanting to become a business man and falling in his father’s tracks, or even the wealthy people of the West and East Egg community who are blind to the American dream, the original American dream is never actually reached in any of these books. Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Miller demonstrate the clear truth that the American dream is simply an illusion that one dreams about, and doesn’t realize it is an illusion until that person actually tries to achieve it for themselves.
Is the American dream attainable, or is it a mere illusion created by the people to have something to look forward to? Each individual author creates their own idea of the American dream through the lessons that are taught in the stories. The original idea of the American dream in each story are molded to fit the characters and their beliefs in what the American dream is. The main idea that the authors get across is that the dream that the Americans follow, is a guideline for their future, whether or not they succeed or find what they are looking for.