The American Dream
In a majority of literature written in the 20th century, the theme of the ‘ American Dream” has been a prevalent theme. This dream affects the plot and characters of many novels, and in some books, the intent of the author is to illustrate the reality of the American Dream. However, there is no one definition of the American Dream. Is it the right to pursue your hearts wish, to have freedom to do whatever makes one happy? Or is it the materialistic dream prevalent in the 50’s, and portrayed in such movies as Little Shop of Horrors?
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Or is the American Dream a thought so intangible, it changes in the heart of every person and can never be truly defined? Or is it an ‘American’ Dream at all, is it simply a human drive to pursue a better life? In the book, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the writers portray two completely different literary works which have an amazing connection. Both works are written to illustrate two viewpoints on the American Dream; either the pursuit of happiness, or the pursuit of material wealth.
In both literary works, the authors show a comparison between these two visions of the American Dream, and in the end, the authors message is the same; the American dream cannot be a materialistic goal. Or, should not. For many Americans, the American Dream is a 2-door garage in a suburb, but as illustrated in the literary works, this sort of an American Dream leads to unhappiness, depression, and in the case of Willy Loman, suicide. In The Great Gatsby, it is Daisy who has a materialistic dream. She loved Gatsby. When he was a soldier, she loved him, but Gatsby knew he could never marry her, because of class.
So, Daisy married Tom Buchanan, a wealthy man, a good looking man, but Daisy did not love him. In the book, Daisy is miserable. She knows Tom is having an affair, and she often cries. She wishes for her daughter to be ” a beautiful little fool”( Gatsby 21) so that her daughter will not be smart enough to be unhappy. Daisy loves Gatsby, but she loves her lifestyle. And when she had the decision between the two, she chose her lifestyle, and she will regret her decision time and again. The concept of the American Dream is that of capitalist culture. If you work hard, you get more money.
Then, all of your materialistic dreams come true. Such was not the case in Death of a Salesman. Willy’s dream is to be rich, at whatever cost. In the end, Willy’s only option to become rich was to commit suicide, and collect life insurance, and Willy accepted that. Willy had an admiration for his brother Ben, who became very rich. It didn’t matter to Willy that Ben died at the age of 21, he died rich. In the play, Willy is seeking the American materialistic dream, despite the fact that he realizes the futility of it. Willy knows that by the time he pays off his possessions, they will be worthless.
By the time Willy paid off his house, the boys had moved out and Willy was dead. Miller is showing the depression and sadness that this dream leads to. And despite it all, Willy’s younger son, Happy( an excellent pun) decides to follow in his fathers footsteps, and try to become rich. Then, there is the other American Dream. To pursue happiness, no matter what the cost or the outcome. The authors are saying that the American Dream lies not in making money, but in being spiritually and emotionally fulfilled. In The Great Gatsby, this is the dream that Gatsby had. He wanted love. He wanted Daisy, at any costs.
Gatsby knew he needed to be rich in order to attain Daisy, so he became rich. He worked hard, he engaged in illegal activities, but he became rich. He had attained the American Dream so many others sought to achieve, that of material fulfillment, but Gatsby was not happy. He still wanted Daisy. Gatsby, unfortunately, never reached his goal. Daisy rejected his love, for fear of losing her social lifestyle and material stability. In the end, Gatsby was killed, pursuing his dream. Fitzgerald shows his opinion of the American Dream through the narrator, Nick. When Nick first moves to West Egg, he desires that material wealth.
But near the end of the book, Nick is disgusted by it; he moves home, and no longer desires riches. He wants to become a dreamer, like Gatsby. Gatsby may have died, but Nick realizes that living is trying to attain dreams, not materialistic success. The character Biff in Death of a Salesman has a similar revelation, as Nick did. Biff, at one point, had his future all planned out, to follow in his fathers footsteps. He had a scholarship lined up for the University of Virginia, all he had to do was make up a class he was failing. But, after seeing his father having an affair, Biff never even tried to make up his math class.
When Biff saw his father, in bed with another woman, his image of his father was shattered, enough so that he could see who his father truly was. Biff had to reevaluate his life, and he came to a realization; ” To devote your life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you want is to be outdoors”( Death 139). Biff came to the conclusion that humans were not meant to work in pursuit of this economic goal, but were meant to work outside. His father could never accept that, and if Willy had, the story would have had a much different ending.
The American Dream has no singular definition, but a multitude of interpretations. Yet, in these two completely different literary works, the authors share the same message; the American Dream should not be a materialistic goal, but a goal in pursuit of true, spiritual happiness. This is shown in both Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both authors feel very strongly about the issue, as do many other authors writing today, who fear American Economic views could doom the human race to a meaningless existence. With an ending not too dissimilar from Brave New World.