The United States – the American Dream
The United States has long been known to people around the world as the land where dreams come true. Many people – immigrants and native U.S. citizens alike – have a great American dream. The idea of an American dream was especially popular during the 1920’s, a period of lavish parties thrown by the best of the best, flappers and bootleggers, as well as a movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a rush of social and artistic advancements within the African American community of Harlem, New York. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, Langston Hughes’ poem, “I, Too”, and in Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, “Richard Cory”, the American dream is portrayed as having success and social equality.
For many, the American dream was to be successful, rich, and to not have to worry about whether or not one was able to pay the bills. This perspective of the dream is shown with Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. At the beginning of the novel, narrator Nick Carraway spots Gatsby and says, “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward – and distinguished nothing but a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” (Fitzgerald 21) Right from the start, the American dream is apparent in Jay Gatsby’s life, as the green light can symbolize money, success, and possibly a better future. Gatsby is also stretching his arms out towards the light, almost unable to reach it; this shows that the American dream always seemed to be just out of reach. Later in the novel, Nick and Gatsby are on their way to New York City and pass a limousine that carries three African Americans who seem to be well – off. Nick says, “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge, anything at all….” (Fitzgerald 69) Nick is saying that anything is achievable in New York City, even things that would seem impossible in other areas of the United States. Nick believes that New York is the only place one could reach success, seeing as it’s a place where anything can happen, even the American dream.
Just like in The Great Gatsby, the same dream of being successful in life is shown in Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, “Richard Cory”, which is about a successful man whom everyone looks up to. The idea of being successful is shown in lines five through eight, where the narrator says, “And he was always quietly arrayed, And he was always human when he talked; But still he fluttered pulses when he said, ‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.” (Robinson lines 5-8) This stanza shows that people looked up to and admired him for his success in life; it was obvious to those around him that he had achieved the American dream. Lines eight through twelve state, “And he was rich – yes, richer than a king – And admirably schooled in every grace: In fine, we thought that he was everything To make us wish that we were in his place.” (Robinson lines 8-12) This stanza displays the dream as everyone wanting to be him because of his success. Onlookers clearly thought the dream was to be rich and successful and to have others look on in admiration.
For many, the American dream was about riches and success, however for others, it was completely different; it was about being treated equally within society. This aspect of the dream is seen in the poem, “I, Too”, by Langston Hughes. This poem was published during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which was an advancement in Harlem’s African American community. The poem’s eighth and ninth lines read, “Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table.” (Hughes lines 8-9) The American dream was not achieved in just days, it was achieved by keeping sight of what one wanted and having the motivation to achieve it. The speaker is talking about the future, and how he will be successful in achieving the dream of equality and being at the table as well. In the eleventh through fourteenth lines, the speaker says, “Nobody’ll dare Say to me, ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ then.” (Hughes lines 11-14) Again, the idea of equality being the American dream is shown with these lines. The speaker is stating that once he has achieved his dream, nobody will discriminate against him because he will finally be their equal.
The American dream has long been about success in life and equality within society. This belief is portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with success and the idea that the American dream is particularly achievable in New York. In “Richard Cory”, by Edwin Arlington Robinson, the dream is shown as being rich and the person everyone else wanted to be. Finally, in Langston Hughes’ poem, “I, Too”, it is shown as being treated equally with everyone else in society. While each individual may have their own American dream, the greater part of history depicts it as being successful and equal.
- Applebee, Arthur N. The Language of Literature: American Literature. Illinois: McDougal Littell, 2006. Pages 831, 925.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.”