The American Dream

Posted: June 3rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

The American Nightmare
The American Dream is a myth, like religion, that has been used by the American Government to propagate certain ideals. Though the American Dream is centered on the family and individual prosperity, there is a dark undertone as humans are willing to do anything to achieve a set dream. Harry Morgan in Earnest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are characters that both adapt to and shape the American Dream. Women much like Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire are affected greatly by the myth and evolution of The American Dream. People have gone to all links to achieve this alleged American Dream. Harry and Gatsby sacrifice their entire lives with their devotion to assimilating with an American ideal. Blanch, believing that her only value, as a woman, was attained though marriage and motherhood was lost when the dream evolved. Women have sacrificed their sanity striving to maintain an ancient social standard where women perform in order to be accepted or adored by the surrounding society. The American Dream is a great myth that has affected numerous generations and is still in pursuit to this day. It is a construct that drives people and allows them to have a sense of control in a world that is controlled by those with money and power.
Many characters in To Have and Have Not exemplify the implementation of the American Dream. Love and money are two important themes in this novel. Love plays a part in some people’s American Dream such as Harry. Harry’s desire to take care of his family drives him to heinous criminal behavior. The American Dream is frequently about love and attaining the money to support it. At other times the American Dream can simply be about status and who has the most money. Harry Morgan, among other characters, such as Henry Carpenter, willingly gave up their active lives to their commitment to achieving their American Dream. Individualism is at the center of Carpenter’s Dream, “He had treated her [his wife] well until the money he made was double her original capital and then he could afford to take no notice of her” (Hemingway 235). The American Dream is different for everyone, for Harry is was the dream to secure a comfortable living for his family, not merely to become rich.
Children are a perfect example of private property and they must also be provided for. A man is thought to be successful by how much he can provide for his family. Luck is also important for the attainment of the American dream. Luck factors into the American dream with unforeseen violence representing the natural, anti-luck, we are all liable to encounter. This notion was set up as a means of justifying hard working people not succeeding. Perhaps they were just unlucky some might say. Murder and dismemberment gets in the way of Harry providing for his family, “I wonder what she’ll do. I wonder what Marie will do?”(174). Even though Harry had already lost an arm risking his life for his family, he still goes back to the crooked business to try his luck again. This time he ends up shot and still all he can think about his if his wife and daughters will be alright after his death. Citizens built to swindle their lives away striving after one goal or another are kept from actualizing their dream. There is not a final destination, only the effort it takes to get there. Domestic bliss is an ideal that is rarely achieved in this novel.
At times, the government perpetuates a paradigm that turns people into tools for the elite. When the people in control want breeders they propagate motherhood and marriage to the masses. When the American Government needs people for war they propagate patriotism and extreme loyalty. Americans, and perhaps all humans, need something to believe in to give agency and purpose to their lives. The American Dream, like the notion of god, acts as a way to validate any action the believer sees fit. One may murder to feed his children, after all, “I don’t know who made the laws but I know there ain’t no law that you got to go hungry” (96). With the alienation and disillusionment brought on by industrialization and war, many people had to readjust their notions of the American identity and how to best fulfill their lives. Individual identity become increasingly important as people lost faith in the collective and sought to find salvation elsewhere. It was a skeptical time and some turned their longing eyes to those profiting in an illegal manner as the answer. Anything could be done to make ends meet and support the capitalistic regime of America.
Americans have worshiped money and the people who have it. The government has shaped American society into consumers. A backlash of this is that the individualism of capitalism breeds civil disobedience, such as bootlegging, revolution, and murder. The myth of the American Dream is able to evolve right alongside of human beings. Gatsby in The Great Gatsby was also willing to go to all links to achieve his American Dream. He needed to build himself up with wealth and status in order to become the type of man that Daisy would find deserving of her hand in marriage. Gatsby’s American Dream was to be a man of position with the perfect lady by his side; Daisy was the key to his success. He spent a good portion of his life under the impression that if he could only make Daisy his, he would be finally happy.
Daisy has an American dream all her own, “She wanted her life shaped now, immediately- and the decision must be made by some force- of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality…” (Fitzgerald 159). She was the elite, the one everyone wanted, in her own right a symbol of success for those around her. Gatsby came from nothing but was determined to make Daisy his. He hoped too long for an unachievable goal and was destroyed in the end by the careless elite. Daisy and Gatsby represent the empty love society sought and the damaging dreams humans are capable of aspiring towards.
The role of women in the American dream is pivotal. There will always be a portion that has a dream which does not include a family, typically though, security for one’s family is an important factor in archetypical American Dreamers. Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire is lost without a male counterpart. She does not accept her first love because he was not a ‘real’ man; he kills himself in response. Blanche needed to validate herself through male approval. A woman was not a woman hardly if she did not marry and raise children. There were and still are propaganda commercials and documentaries on how to be a better woman, which can be found in any internet search engine. Blanche, in being unable to fulfill her role in society, is driven to insanity. Blanche, unable to cost off her traditional values, is also unable to evolve into a new woman. She was literally driven wild to show that a woman might as well not exist if she fails to conform to what society expects from her. Tennessee Williams’ critique of American ideals is haunting in its display of reality. Blanche is disillusioned when her values and performative nature no longer have meaning in a modern world.
Revolution is the evolution of the American Dream. Gatsby breaks the law and sales alcohol. Harry underhandedly transports illegal aliens and alcohol as well as murders those in his way. These actions show the alienation the American people felt from the U. S. Disillusioned with traditional values America has grown to fight for themselves at the disadvantage of anyone or anything that gets in the way. The American dream is a dangerous one that can cause people to willingly waste their lives on an unachievable myth of happiness and prosperity. With women no longer wanting to stay home and take care of a master husband’s children and with men no longer knowing how to be a man, Americans still hope for a better time. Blanche states in A Streetcar Named Desire, “No matter what happens we have to keep on going” (Williams). The evolution of the American Dream stops for no man and we must preserver and retain self-awareness.

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