The Great Gatsby- The American Dream is a Flawed Ideal
The American Dream encompasses the idea that all people have the equal opportunity to achieve prosperity, liberty and happiness through hard work and determination. However, in reality this idea is flawed and unachievable due to lack of equal opportunity and excessive materialism. This is emphasised in both F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby and in Langston Hughes’s poem, ‘Let America be America Again’, which is about the social inequality and injustices that occur in America today. In The Great Gatsby, the American Dream is flawed through excessive materialism and consumerism.
Originally, the American Dream included a desire for both spiritual and material improvement, but this dream became corrupted. Fitzgerald shows this through Gatsby, the protagonist of the novel. Gatsby expresses his wealth through all the luxurious and exorbitant material possessions and extravagant parties. Gatsby’s material wealth and lavish parties serve the purpose of temporarily filling the empty void inside Gatsby’s soul. From this we can conclude that the overemphasis on the material aspect of the dream wiped out the original spiritual ideals of dream.
This is evident by the metaphor in “I became aware of the old island here that had once flowered for Dutch sailors’ eyes… Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house” which portrays that traditional values have been metaphorically cut down and replaced with excessive materialism. Correspondingly, in Hughes’ poem, ‘Let America be America Again’. The American Dream is also corrupted through man’s desire to gain material possessions. Hughes’ poem explores the great desire of The American Dream and the lengths that young men would go through to achieve it.
The metaphor in “tangled in that ancient, endless chain of profit, power, and gain” depicts the greedy nature of men, who have tangled both their minds and bodies in the pursuit of wealth. As a result, they, like Gatsby have also ignored the true values of the American Dream such as friendship and family. Finally, the negative connotation and repetition in “grab the land /grab the gold/of owning everything for one’s own greed,” highlights the corruption of the idea of prosperity being replaced by an insatiable hunger for material possessions, attesting the fact that the American Dream is flawed.
In the Great Gatsby the American dream is not plausible because of the social barriers that exist between classes. This is shown through the characterization of Myrtle and George Wilson. Myrtle wants to escape her own social class-she seeks to achieve this by having an affair with the very wealthy Tom Buchanan. This attempt fails because the social barriers between classes will never allow that to happen. This reflects on the corruption of values in society, this idea is also re-enforced through the way in which George Wilson is viewed, shown through the simile described in Myrtle’s actions in “She walked through him as if he were a ghost”.
Furthermore, the emotive language in “When you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all people in the world haven’t had all the advantages that you’ve had”, portrays the fact that not everyone is born equal and not everyone has the equal opportunity to achieve their dreams. Similarly, in Hughes Poem, the American Dream is signified as unachievable as not everyone is given equal opportunity. Hughes shows this using Anaphora to present the perspectives of various groups of Americans.“I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart/I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars/ I am the red man driven from the land” highlights the fact that the American Dream has eluded a large part of lower-class American society in a number of different ways, especially Negros who have been subject to social inequality and haven’t received equal opportunities in life as other races. Furthermore, the use of figurative language in “That any man be crushed by one above” depicts that there will always be someone or something that will stand in people’s way and prevent them from achieving their hopes and dreams, no matter how noble they are.
Through the consideration of themes such as excessive materialism and social inequality; we can appreciate that the American Dream is flawed in Hughes’ poem, “Let America be America Again” and in Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. It both the texts, it is an ideal that cannot be achieved by everyone. Furthermore, traditional moral values such as hard work are corrupted, as society becomes preoccupied with attaining material wealth.