The American Dream

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Both John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby not only describes the idea of the American Dream in both the “traditional” version and the personal yearnings of the people, but also the negative side of this dream, material wealth. In both fictional novels, the characters, though in different regions of the US and are of different status, still experience the same hunger, a hunger that craves for something better. Success in the American Dream, as mentioned above, could be measured by how much wealth one gains. In New York, Jay Gatsby, a young man of which the book The Great Gatsby revolves around, is a poor young individual at first, but later works his way up to “success” through “hard work”. The Joads of The Grapes of Wrath were a family living in Oklahoma who was forced to leave their home due to failure to raise crops in the Dust Bowl. They leave places where they had grown up in search for the promised work in California, eventually taking nearly whatever work and money could get their hands on. However, these novels reveal the traditional idealism of the American Dream’s one flaw, its relation with material wealth. Both of these characters dream of the American Dream- a goal where they could achieve what they want through personal achievements.

First, what IS the American Dream? The American Dream is the idea that one can obtain a better life through his or her hard work and determination, though usually this is measured by money. Nowadays, the traditional definition of the American Dream is facing criticism since it seems to be revolving around materialistic means- the ever so famous “get rich quick” views of happiness (An example of modern day “get rich quick schemes is the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”) instead of happiness derived from the “free” things and simple pleasures of life. Of course, everyone has his or her own definition of the American Dream. Take for example, John Winthrop with his “City Upon a Hill” as a place of religious freedom or Martin Luther King Jr. with his vision and “dream” for social equality for men, regardless of skin color, religion, or any other difference that would make them a target for inequality. However, experts see that one element of the Dream seems to be constant: the constant search for material wealth.

Both The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby depict about characters who work hard to achieve success and a better life. However, there is a distinct difference between Jay Gatsby and the Joads in their vision of the Dream. As said before, the Dream always seem to be related with money, and Gatsby supports this point- even though his vision of achievement was be with the woman who he loved. Gatsby is in love with Daisy, a woman of so much materialistic attachment that she would only accept the wealthy, powerful man to “love”. “ ‘Her voice was full of money,’ he said suddenly…That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money- that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it…High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl…” (P.120). Daisy and Gatsby had a previous love relationship until Gatsby was enlisted in the Army and had to fight in the First World War. While he was away, a wealthy, powerful man named Tom Buchanan married Daisy, who (though she promised Gatsby that she’d wait for him) was attracted to Tom’s extreme wealth. “ ‘She never loved you, do you hear?” he (Gatsby) cried. “She only married you (Tom) because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me.’” (P.130) Using some less-than-noble methods of getting money, Gatsby returns to Daisy’s life after the War, as a rich, powerful man who holds extravagant parties every Saturday night for everyone who wanted to come (even people who he didn’t know), just hoping that Daisy would come to one of his parties and they could rekindle their love for each other. Thus, Gatsby had attempted to achieve success though individual achievements. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads (along with the thousands of other wandering families during the Dust Bowl era), however, only Dreamed of somewhere to raise their kids properly, be treated as people, and to have “financial” security. “The moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families which had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and died on forty acres, had eaten or starved on the produce of forty acres, had now the whole West to rove in. And they scampered about…Behind them more were coming.” (P. 282) Being pushed off their farms by the government which had no regard for how much family history lay in the land, the Joads were forced to seek promised work elsewhere, migrating to California. The presence of the American Dream within this family was evident, a Dream that spurred many other families for the better.

However, the American Dream has an indispensable component: material wealth. Material wealth has one major flaw: it cannot satisfy a man’s ever so hungry heart for more. Gatsby was never happy with his material wealth, which was complete with a huge mansion near the ocean, a beach, pool, large garden, butlers, and other types of extravagant “stuff” that the rich tend to own. What he truly wanted was the love of a woman, which was his version of the American Dream. Also, the Joads seem to exhibit the same drive of achievements for more. They had envisioned to live somewhere with work and equality. The Joads got their wish in a government camp where there was hot running water, generous people, a fair “government” within the camp, entertainment, better jobs opportunities than before, and security from the ever menacing authorities that wanted to keep the traveling families from uniting to become a powerful force (“Tom demanded, ‘Why, for God’s sake? Those folks ain’t bothering nobody.’ ‘I’ll tell you why,’ Thomas said. ‘Those folks in the camp are getting used to being treated like humans. When they go back to the squatters’ camps they’ll be hard to handle.’” (P. 296)) However, of course, they wanted better, so they decide to set off for the Northern part of California in search of better jobs, where the cotton farms are located. Thus, these examples show that as noble as the traditional American Dream sounds, it isn’t the true path to happiness. Things that CAN keep a person content forever would be something that isn’t materialistic, something “free”; for Gatsby it was Love and for the Joads it was each other.

In conclusion, The American Dream is depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in numerous ways (both in good and in bad aspects) and two different perspectives (the rich and the poor). The novels show that though money plays a big part in the American Dream, people have their own wishes and desires, such as Gatsby with his desire for the attention of Daisy or the Joad’s hope for a good environment to bring up their children. As materialistic as the traditional American Dream sounds, one thing about it holds true, regardless of whose version it turns out to be. People who work hard, put forth time, accept self-sacrifices, and are frugal with their money would be rewarded for their efforts with financial success and social mobility.


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