American Dream: Myth or Reality
“The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any cost, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream.” (Nafisi) According to “Paradox and Dream”, by John Steinbeck Americans function in paradoxes and never truly reach satisfaction. We do anything we can do to achieve the American Dream. Similarly, in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick otherwise known as the narrator witnesses firsthand the lengths that a man named Jay Gatsby will go to in the hopes of rekindling an old flame. Over time, Gatsby’s dream stays as pure as ever but his obstacles more corrupt then the last overpower him leading to his untimely demise. Gatsby dies believing in his cause and chase of the ever so extravagant Daisy. Fitzgerald’s and Steinbeck’s opinions about Americans never being satisfied or reaching the American Dream is correct. Satisfaction is an illusion to what people believe will be reached but never truly is.
Americans live their lives believing they are a part of something bigger. They believe they are a part of the American way of life that consists of determination and purity which will ultimately lead them to their highest point in life otherwise known as the completion of their cherished American Dream. Our purity is converted into corrupted ignorance. Steinbeck in “Paradox and Dream” describes this by saying, “We proudly insist that we base our political positions on the issues and we will vote against a man because of his religion, his name, or the shape of his nose.” (Steinbeck). This an example of the corruption of the American way of life.
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How can we pride ourselves and our dreams on purity when our way of life is quite the opposite? Another instance of the American way of life failing many of us, is illustrated by Steinbeck who explains how we continue to have faith in a system that has failed many of us. This is displayed when Steinbeck states,” A man hungry and unemployed through his own stupidity and that of others, a man beaten by a brutal policeman, a woman forced into prostitution by her own laziness, high prices, availability, and despair- all bow with reverence toward the American Way of Life.” (Steinbeck). Steinbeck is basically saying that all this people are living in horrible situations and yet they feel a sense of deep respect for the American way of life. This is essential to illustrating the ignorance when it comes to Americans not seeing what is wrong in the way that they are living or in the dream that they are chasing. Steinbeck’s opinion is backed up by the delusional following of the American way of life that has let millions of people to struggle and disillusion.
People are convinced that the American Dream can be achieved by anyone through hard work. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald likes to present the idea of a corrupted American Dream due to the lack of moralities. The American Dream itself changed in the 1920s from having a comfortable life to the quick accumulation of riches and power. Fitzgerald aims to demonstrate that an emphasis on the materialistic part of the American Dream leads to disillusionment. A direct example of this is displayed when Nick alludes: “It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night – and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over. Only gradually did I become aware that the automobiles which turned expectantly into his drive stayed for a minutes and then drove sulkily away.” (Fitzgerald, 113). Trimalchio is a fictional character created by the Roman Petronius. Apparently he rose from “rags to riches,” but eventually fails due to the ostentation of his success. Even with Gatsby’s failed career as the luxurious host, Gatsby remains focused on his goal of regaining his true love. This portrays Daisy, Tom, George, and Jordan as the true and undisputed Trimalchios of the novel because their American dreams are persistently devoted to the pursue of materialistic belongings. A less direct but equally as relevant example, is when Wilson is telling Michaelis about his confrontation with Myrtle.
Wilson claimed, “She might fool me but she couldn’t fool God.” (Fitzgerald, 159). This is Wilson’s way of telling Myrtle that no matter if she fooled him, God saw everything she has ever done in her hopes to enter the world of wealth which includes the affair with Tom. After Wilson said that Michaelis saw the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. To Michaelis the eyes on the billboard are just that eyes on a billboard, but to George Wilson they represent the eyes of God that watch over everyone. In this sense, Wilson believes that God is aware of the lengths that Americans are willing to cross in search or completion of the beloved American Dream. Americans are capable of crime and infidelity as shown by Gatsby, Tom, and Myrtle if that is what it means to achieve true satisfaction or happiness.
Satisfaction is fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs. Dissatisfaction is essential in understanding why Americans are the way they are. Dissatisfaction is also important in The Great Gatsby because it serves as an explanation to why everyone is willing to do anything in the ultimate hope of content. Nobody will ever be satisfied since there will always be an unfulfilled wish. In The Great Gatsby, Tom is extremely wealthy, married to Daisy, and has a daughter yet he is never satisfied nor ever will be. Tom used to be an extremely talented football player but his hope was cut short due to an injury. Tom’s dissatisfaction is illustrated by Nick stating, “I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.” (Fitzgerald, 6). This is Nick’s way of hinting to Tom’s dissatisfaction that could have only been prevented by a successful football career. Tom tries to satisfy himself by having an affair with a woman from the lower class. This is important to exposing Tom’s real reason to his behavior that portrays him as a detestable individual.
In addition, Steinbeck adds to the effects of dissatisfaction by claiming,” The result is that we seem to be in a state of turmoil all the time, both physically and mentally.” (Steinbeck). Steinbeck is simply trying to say that not being satisfied leads to both physical and mental disturbance because we never stop our search for comfort or attempt at achieving the American Dream. The inability to be satisfied leads to the deterioration of us which is inevitable.
Of course, there is an argument to the belief that the American Dream serves as a tool that leads to satisfaction when it is eventually accomplished or realized. Steinbeck in “Paradox and Dream” declares, “These dreams describe our vague yearnings toward what we wish were and hope we may be: wise, just, compassionate, and noble. The fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.” (Steinbeck). Steinbeck is trying to create the sense that there is a possibility that the American Dream is true and indeed reachable. This is important to the argument that us Americans may be different to those who generalize us as delusional for believing in the American Dream.
Comparably to Steinbeck, Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby gives us the sense that maybe the American Dream isn’t a product of our imaginations. This is done by Nick respectfully saying, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn.” (Fitzgerald, 180). This is Fitzgerald’s way of saying that even though Gatsby ultimately failed, he was brave enough to chase his dream and nobody can take away how close he was to realization of his American Dream. Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck give a sense of hope to the prospect of the American Dream.
All in all, it is safe to say that the American Dream is just an illusion that gives people the will to improve themselves and chase after their hopes and wishes. People who believe they are satisfied are plain and simply lying. There will always be a wish or desire deep down inside everyone. It is an unavoidable fact that satisfaction is just a hoax. Sometimes it isn’t about the end goal but about the journey.