The American Dream is difficult to define exactly. It means different things to different people. However, certain ideas and concepts are commonly held within most people’s interpretations.
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The idea of self-sufficiency, of having a home and not having to answer to anyone is a classic part of the American Dream. The simple concept of being in control of one’s own employment and livelihood has always been an aspiration for Americans. In the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, the protagonists George and Lennie exemplify this; their dream is to buy their own little farm and live off of the “fatta the land” and be in control of their own affairs, never again having to bend to the will of a ranch owner in order to make just enough money to survive. They do not achieve their dream in the end, their status as ranch hands making it extremely difficult for them. Steinbeck is pointing out that the American Dream is difficult, if not impossible, for people to achieve unless they are already in a position of power. However, the hope that the dream is possible can give one the strength to keep going, until the futility of the dream is realized. The American Dream is usually only feasible for people who are already fortunate economically. George and Lennie’s financial situation is the reason they have not achieved their goal long ago. When Candy is intrigued by George and Lennie’s plan, he asks them how much they have saved up to buy the farm. “George spat on the floor disgustedly. We got ten bucks between us'” (59).
George and Lennie have had this dream for a long time. They have been saving up to buy the farm for a long time, and yet they have a fraction of what they need to buy the farm. They economically marginalized and completely at the mercy of their employers, forced to do work that offers little pay and security to keep from starving. They have no choice but to keep working as ranch hands; with their limited skills and education there is little else they could do for a living. When close to the end of the novel Candy describes the plan to buy land with George and Lennie to Crooks, Crooks does not think they will do it. “Crooks interrupted brutally. You guys is just kiddin’ yourself… you won’t get no land. You’ll be a swamper here till they take you out in a box… Seems like ever’ guy got land in his head'” (75).
Crooks has seen many ranch workers who dream of getting their own place with their own land and rules, and he has not ever seen anyone achieve this dream. Their inability to change their situation is an example of how, with unequal dispersion of wealth in America, for many people the American Dream is challenging, if not impossible. Despite the fact that the American Dream is close to unattainable for many people, simply having hope in it can give people the strength to keep going. Despite George and Lennie’s fairly poor quality of life, the simple hope that someday they might achieve their dream brings value to their lives. Near the beginning of the novel, Lennie asks George to describe the land they hope to have one day. “He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. Guys like us, that work on ranches… They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to… But not us… Someday we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and ‘ An live off the fatta the lan’,’ Lennie shouted” (13-14).
George and Lennie have nothing in life except each other. They move from ranch to ranch without any security, and the only thing that stays constant in their lives is each other’s company. It would be easy to give up and just accept their poor quality of life. However, they have not given up on their lives because of the hope they still have in the dream. George says his speech about the farm often, almost like an incantation, to remind himself and Lennie that there is hope for the future. Later in the novel Lennie asks George to describe their farm again at the bunkhouse, and George does so and is silent for a little while afterwards. “George sat entranced with his own picture” (58).
Even after describing the dream over and over constantly, George is still struck with hope and longing and possibility every time he talks about it. The possibility of the American Dream can allow people to find happiness in their lives and find the strength to keep going. For many people, they will eventually realize that they cannot achieve the American Dream, and this will result in giving up on the possibility of a better life. Once George is forced to conclude that he will never achieve his dream, he gives up on any hope or chance of happiness. Near the beginning of the novel when George and Lennie are on their way to the new ranch, Lennie asks George to tell about the farm they hope to have and about why there is hope for the two of them. “Lennie broke in. But not us! An’ why? Because… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why'” (14). George only has two real sources of happiness in his life: his dream, and Lennie’s companionship. At the end of the novel, after Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife, George decides there is nothing he can do to save Lennie, so he shoots Lennie himself. “And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face seat and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger” (107).
By giving up on the idea that he could save Lennie, he gave up any chance of happiness for his life. Once he accepted that he would never achieve his dream, he gave up on hoping and trying for a better life. When people realize that the American Dream is fruitless for them and they lose hope in it, it loses its power to help them through life and give them something to believe in. The point Steinbeck is trying to make about the American Dream is that it is nearly impossible for most people unless they are already economically stable and powerful enough. However, the mere possibility of achieving the dream can give people strength and the hope that they will someday have a better life, until they inevitably conclude that they will never achieve it. George and Lennie cannot achieve their dream because of their powerlessness in society and financial status.
However, the mere possibility that they will someday achieve it gives them strength and the hope that they will someday have a better life. Despite this, their dream proves futile. Once George knows that he has to give up on their dream, he gives up on Lennie entirely, and the hope that his life will improve. American society makes it impossible for many Americans to achieve the American Dream. There are countless people who wish a place to call home and cannot achieve this. Even many members of the middle class who have a stable living situation cannot achieve the self-sufficiency that they crave, working at relatively unstable or dismal jobs because they have nowhere else to go. Many people can never achieve the American Dream due to our own American society and economy.
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