What is the American Dream?
There has always been a dream in the hearts of man that the American Dream is the one goal in life that all must pursue in order to achieve something in their lives. Although the American dream has always been present, the one time that the American dream had its time of reward to the American people was after the Great War, during the 1920’s. Known as the Jazz Age, this time period was a social, psychological, and material flourishing of the American people that has been classified as a time of immense opportunity. The Jazz Age was important to the American dream because it shows the different aspects of the exact rewards and consequences of following it. During this time of cultural prosperity, many novels had portrayed American society as a lost Eden, the land that has lost its identity from the degradation of human values. The myriad of works being published during that time period depicts the downfall of the American hero. In the novel, The Great Gatsby, a man, Jay Gatsby, attempts to pursue the dream for of a perfect life, but his goals eventually backfire upon himself. In the work, A Raisin in the Sun, a world of seemingly endless opportunity is seen from the perspective of an African American family. In Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a disillusioned man tries to escape the odds against him in war by running away but still loses everything. Although the American dream defines America as a “New Eden” of ever-expanding opportunity, the seemingly self-reliant individual will become disillusioned to the fallacies of America and come to the truth that its dream is neither true nor attainable despite the efforts of the individual.
While many believe that America is a land of purity, the wastelands that the uninhibited pursuit of material wealth elucidates that the effects of the American lifestyle are not boundless but only hidden. The affluent lifestyles of the Jazz Age initiated a decline in morals and the disruption of society. The lifestyles made the impression that a living could be made instantly and anyone with a vague want for success could fulfill all of their desires. Gatsby, an outcast exploited by society, follows such a dream, but falls from grace into a common quagmire, thus preventing him from achieving his American Dream. The society, in its hunger for success in the form of the American dream, took what Gatsby had to offer it in the form of numerous parties but gave nothing in return when he was in need and in fact condemned him as a scapegoat when a murder had been committed. In the novel, Gatsby’s personality and desire “turned out all right at the end… it is what preyed on Gatsby… [,]what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams” that killed off his dreams, passions, and goals (Fitzgerald 6). In the novel, an important symbol is the ash heap, which represents the sins of humanity and the façade of the American dream. The ash heap represents the unintended consequences of the unrestricted lifestyle of the American dream. The purity of the American native land was at first pristine and full of potential. However, the lifestyle of abusing the land for individual ends corrupted the opportunities that the “old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor’s eyes—a fresh, green beast of the new world [‘s] vanished trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house” was destroyed for the riches of the American Dream (189). The Dutch Sailor’s were people who had seen America as full of potential and became the aboriginal settlers that cultivated the vast opportunities that America had to offer. Jay Gatsby was a man that did not have the realization of his dream. He was so stuck in the past that he did not realize that the people around him were not going to comply with his rules. He wanted so much from everyone and thought that he controlled every aspect of his life. As he fought on for the attention of Daisy Buchanan, his lost fiancé’ and the last key to his American Dream, he never realized that he was going to die before he could reach his fullest potential. The sin of society prevented him from achieving what he truly had aspired to do. As Nick Carraway, the narrator, states, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”(Fitzgerald 189). Fitzgerald’s cynical view of the status of things shows that no matter how hard someone tries to achieve the American Dream, there will always be obstacles to the dream that will cause them to be pushed back to where they had begun. The idea of a perfect American Dream will undoubtedly cause one to end in disaster. Without the disillusionment of reality, one who pursues this dream of the perfect life will not progress in life because of the innumerous odds against one.
The American Dream is a solution to the individual’s problems as it is based on the actions of the individual, but even if the individual does all that he or she can to accomplish it. There are innumerable odds that go against the will of any specific person that there are absolutely no chances for someone to achieve the American Dream. In the novel, A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, a man named Frederic Henry attempts to receive the glory of the war, but is eventually disillusioned to the war and tries to run away and escape the perils of preordained death of a soldier. He gives up and tries to make a new life with a girl named Catharine Barkley. She was the connection and the anesthesia for him to forget the war. However, he does not make out of the war without a scratch. He ends up losing both his son and Catharine to a failed childbirth. This shows that the American dream is impossible to attain because the entire world is against the individual in any of his or her goals. Hemingway’s philosophy is that one must be of much bravado and strength in order to survive in this world. Although, he believes that there are no ways that someone can succeed because they will either die or die fighting. The hopelessness of Hemingway is characterized by the words of Ferguson who gives the advice that Henry would “never get married… [And that] You’ll die before you’ll marry… Fight or die. That’s what people do. They don’t marry”, which is a pessimistic view of a woman who does not approve of the relationship between Henry and Catherine (Hemingway 108). This foreshadowing is correct as they do not marry, but he does not fight as he tries to evade this prophecy. He runs away but Catherine has taken his place and left him alone anyway. Either way, he will lose everything that he had worked for. This shows that the American dream really is not attainable. There are so many odds that against someone that they will end up with the short end of the stick either way they choose. In the war, the soldiers become very pessimistic about the war. They start to doubt the world that they live in, and they become frustrated at why the war won’t ever end. One soldier, named Passini, muses that war “ doesn’t finish… There is no finish to war. . War is not won by victory… One side must stop fighting”, but there are always people fighting because if they stop, the other side would kill the survivors (Hemingway 50-51). This shows that society is always against the individual when he or she tries to commit to something. The war illustrates what people will become when they are exposed to a world in which the only goal is to stay alive. However, the true goal is to push everyone else down to stay alive. Therefore, a life with the American Dream is not possible because there will always be those that do not care for equality and make the dream impossible for anyone including those at the top. As we fight each other in a war, the entire purpose of life is nullified to becoming pointless. The entire American Dream is stated in the novel of Hemingway as a moral that people can try to escape but they will always be beaten down. The novel shows how the American dream is not only unattainable but is also unavoidable because there are no other choices besides fighting and dying.
When people believe that America is a land of opportunity to start anew and begin a life that will automatically bear fruit from simple schemes and tricks, rather than work hard and try go stay alive, their pursuance of their fictitious dreams usually end up in disaster and the only remedy to alleviate these circumstances is to stop following the American dream and start without any remnants from the past life. While Henry brought along his love to start anew, he lost that because it was from the war. In A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, an African American family tries to make a living despite the constant pressures and concerns over money. After the money is lost in a gamble, the family makes a downward spiral into the collapse of moral values. The greatest change comes from the man, Walter Lee, the father of the African American family, as he finally embarks on a journey from being a self-hated man who did not have a good job to the full acceptance of his role as the father and leader of the family. The greatest moment of truth that occurs in the movie is the time that Walter Lee rejects the offer of money to ruin his family. Earlier, he would have accepted the offer; however, at this time Walter Lee became a man and did not care for money as much as he did before. He believes in the instant wealth dream. He desires to invest in a liquor store, which is reminiscent of the 20’s in which men had bootlegged for extremely large sums of money. The help that he receives that makes him change his ways as the scolding of his mother who states “freedom used to be life” after he ignorantly replies “it was always money… We just didn’t know it” but as he says this, he learns that he is at a crossroads between his morals and the things that he has learned about the modern world (Hansberry I.i.73). However, when he loses the money to a thief who he entrusted his savings to, he learns that acceptance of one’s position is more important than receiving monetary compensation. He stops his ways and changes into a better man. The man here changes from avoiding the American Dream. He only escaped the continued wrath of the American dream because he had given it up for a simpler life with his family. However, when he stopped trying to take for himself the limited resources of the family and becomes obsessed with material wealth and money, he lets go of the personal values of respect to his family that he was taught by his mother. The belief that there is an unlimited amount of opportunity in this world will lead someone to give up anything to get at the prize because the rewards would hypothetically save him or her from losing everything. The fear of not attaining the American dream causes him to make rash judgments. By however, as insidious as the world is, people will get swindled for their belief in the perfect life and will end up by losing their hard earned savings rather than working hard to make a living for those around them. However, he is wrong when the dreams are already dead. Walter does not consider the hope of Beneatha to save the family when he uses the money in a selfish way. Beneatha cries out after a Walter’s mistake “we are all dead now…dreams and sunlight [is] all dead now” (Hansberry I.i.143). This shows that there were dreams already. However, the American dream of Walter changed those of the entire family. The hopeful dreams of Beneatha show that there is still hope for the family. The greed of the American Dream causes Walter to stray from the path; potentially ruining the family and setting the family back a generation of savings. The family changed back to the original dream before there could be much more damage done from the pursuit of the fake American Dream. As Gatsby did, Walter was trying to go into the liquor business. As a bootlegger, Gatsby achieved much wealth in a short amount of time. However, as quickly as he had attained the money, he had lost it. . However, the society that he rose out of made him go back to where he had started in the first place. In order to make any progress at all, Walter and Gatsby should have ignored the American Dream in order to save their money rather than make schemes to make it fast. When someone becomes disillusioned to the materialistic desire of the American Dream, he or she will be able to accept his or her own place in this society more. Thus, there is still hope in the fact that there are other dreams that do not pertain to the preconceived notions that create the American dream. Without the thinking that America is perfect and that there are no risks and consequences to the unrestricted life of desire and going against a world that will crush all those that try to go against accepted morals and societal values.
The American Dream is a dream that many people believed in and still do. However, when they become disillusioned, they realize what kind of mistake they have been making. The mistakes are to believe that the three false factors that constitute the American Dream: The belief that America is a “New Eden” that is pure and has unlimited resources, that progress is important and the opportunities available in America are endless, and that individual self-reliant individual can achieve success without considering the truth of a corrupt and failing society. Thus, the reality of a bold new future will awaken to those who understand the workings of America. They wish to take on the power of heroes, but in reality they are nothing to the immeasurable forces, which act against them. The belief that America is a land of heroes is false. There are no perfect dreams. Just as people try to achieve the most and become the greatest success they can possibly be, the American Dream is impossible to achieve. Just as Gatsby had tried to accomplish, people will attempt to force their way to the top but as they do, people already at the top would push them back down for fear of losing the money they had already gained. The immeasurable odds are against the individual and the pursuit of the American dream is pointless and will only end up either in death or destruction from fighting it. The only way to live a prosperous life is to accept the life that one has and not risk themselves for a fake dream that applies to none whom pursue it.