The American Dream and Kerouac, Wilder, Miller

Posted: June 24th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

The American Dream gives hope to humans to break free from the futility of life. Dreaming gives one a sense of purpose and identity which gives Americans something to work towards and against. Fulfillment of the American Dream can bring comfort, hardship, and enlightenment, all at the same time. The Dream evolves over time to keep up with human’s ever changing needs and desires; it is an adaptable dream and the dreamer must be adaptable as well. Our Town by Thornton Wilder, The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, all captivate, as well as reflect and shape, the American Dream. They represent three different points of the evolution of the American Dream. Our Town is an appreciation and critique of the good old days. Death of a Salesman shows of the commoditization of labor and the hardship Americans faced at that time trying to make ends meet. The Dharma Bums shows the American Dream as every human’s personal journey towards or away from happiness. The Dream has evolved to embody not just the stereotypical American Dream of security and a white picket fence but also the Dream can reflect those that are not Capitalistic or selfish but want to see the world with clear eyes and enjoy the beauty of living.
Wilder’s Our Town is both in appreciation for and abjection to American values. The simplicity and stability in Our Town, shown through the community, stem back to a conventional American Dream. In order for the United States to prosper the citizens needed a sense of community and identity that would unite them under one supreme force, “[They]…had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends- the United States of America” (87).People in Our Town and real day people from that time tended to be isolated to small communities. Families could stay in the same area and believe they were still progressing, “I guess new people aren’t any better than old ones. I’ll bet they almost never are….I don’t need to go and meet the people in other towns” (Wilder 70). Our Town does show the ignorance of people in earlier America but it also shows how beautifully simple life can be.
The American Dream is the security of this small town. Even after death, those in the graves, still place value on their friends and family above. They realize that they never really valued life and wish that those above them would learn to appreciate present time. The dead see how the living get caught up on the big moments in life and lose sight of the day to day significance. In trying to achieve the American Dream of peace and quiet at night, it is easy to get lost and not realize how much being alive means. In the quest for achieving the American Dream, it is easy for some to constantly struggle and worry instead of just being happy to be alive. This can be seen in Death of a Salesman and Dharma Bums. Whether Americans need to be freed from Samsara or a Capitalistic Nation, humans have always defined themselves and worked hard to make life better.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a story about a man driven to lunacy due to his constant struggle to achieve the American Dream. Willy worked his whole life in an industry where he was disposable. As a Salesman he had to travel away from his family therefore he could hardly enjoy his material home that he spent a lifetime buying. He worked so hard that he was not able to enjoy his life. The promise of happiness with hard work comes at a great cost when Willy can no longer meet the needs of his employers. Miller’s commentary on the American Dream stands as a warning not to waste life as does Wilder’s Our Town. Some Americans in this time were able to move up the corporate ladder or go into the jungle and come out rich. These archetypes, like Willy’s brother, serve to instill a sense of hope for the regular everyday struggling American to succeed in the Dream. This allows people to assume that the American Dream is something that can be achieved and therefore people will spend lifetimes slaving away trying to conform to an American ideal.
Willy and his family dream of being well liked and rich. Biff sees how this mind state has debilitated his father and family and he wants to break away from the lies. In the end he succumbs to the American Dream, stating that he will not let his father die in vain. This is how generations pass down a potentially hazardous way of living. This speaks of a society that does not have mercy on the individual or family. In order to make it in a new industrialized world, American Dreamers needed to evolve to adapt to the new social atmosphere. No longer could one depend on being well liked; an education was more important than ever for practical success. Competition and Capitalistic notions have had an extreme influence over how the American Dream has evolved.
The American Dream, as it both shapes and reflects its inhibitors, has evolved in many ways that include a subculture of dreamers. One consequence of a struggling economy and a merciless government is when the citizens stop believing in the dominate paradigm. Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums shows how the American Dream can adapt and change to meet the needs of a new rising culture. The main characters in The Dharma Bums, Japhry and Ray, consider themselves to be part of the entire universe, but they also desire to be separate from mainstream culture as well. They take time out of what it considered everyday normal life, to climb mountains, hop trains, and eat out of tin cans. The American Dream, with this text, now incorporates people and traditions that would not typically seem to be a part of the Dream. Japhry and Ray dream of a time where they know “that there’s nothing in the world but the mind itself, and therefore all’s possible including the suppression of suffering” (Kerouac 12). They do not want to live life devoted to the corporate regime critiqued in Death of a Salesman. This is in fact what they are trying to break free from, as well as Samsara. The life of a Dharma Bum is lived traveling around gaining understanding about the world and one’s self or privately studying in minimalist dwellings. What is thought of as mainstream in America changes and adapts to new forms of culture. With the American Dream now including quintessentially what could be thought of as the anti-American Dream, it can be said that American culture has room for the subversive.
The Dharma Bums tells of a society disillusioned with an industrialized nation and an “America where nobody has any fun or believes in anything, especially freedom” (31). Japhry and Ray struggle to deal with a contrived world which they know is not real. They only have their perception of it which cannot be considered real because our senses do not prove legitimacy of matter alone. People were no longer content to live in comfortable homes sleeping safely at night. For some, the dream no longer had anything to do with money or fame; like the characters in this novel, some wanted to get at the essence of life and appreciate the natural beauty of the world. Sean and his wife offer a middle way to the life of a Dharma bum. Through a revitalization and evolution of the American Dream, American’s can now enjoy the comfort of home as opposed to working so hard they never get to enjoy life. At the core of the American Dream there is still happiness but the means or modes for achieving any American Dream will continue to evolve and adjust to an ever-changing eager humanity.

Works Cited

Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. The United States of America: Penguin Books, 1986.

Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2003.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman


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.


“Ceremony”

Posted: May 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

Ceremony exemplifies some of the issues Native Americans, “Indians”, have had to deal with. The indoctrination from the white people came in deep for all the natives of America. The schools that the young new generation Indians went to were teaching them to let go of their Indian heritage. Young Indians were taught to follow the stereotypical American agenda; white people for war and injustice for all. Native Americans fought in a war to support a government that oppressed them. Still, the Native Americans thought they were doing what they were supposed to do as Rocky so humbly comments, “Hey, I know you’re homesick. But, Tayo, we’re supposed to be here. This is what we’re supposed to do” (8). Rocky isn’t so much like Tayo who is angry with the force that made him go to way. Rocky tried to be the all American; he played football and tried to turn away from his Indian heritage. When his family tried to give him advice he would not listen to them and instead make his judgment based on the white people’s values. This is why he thinks that he was supposed to fight in this war when really the white people raped and pillaged the natives of America in a completely desecrated their culture. The war and the white people’s influence on the Native American culture is representative of all the horrible imperialistic actions the American government has taken on so many innocent people. Tayo is so affected from the war and the death of Rocky that he has hallucinations and confuses his present reality with his past, also known as post traumatic stress disorder. This is one of the many consequences of a government that does not hold all people of all races and gender equal. In order to fight this phenomenon of human oppression we must realize that all people should be treated equally.


Dickinson and Frost

Posted: January 4th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

At this time in the world both Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost are world renowned poets. Dickinson, being a woman, was not able to be celebrated in the way she deserved in her lifetime. She was up against very traditional writers. Higginson, a man she entrusted her work to, was paraphrased as saying Dickinson’s writing is delicate and not strong enough to publish (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson vi). Frost, on the other hand, seemed to reach fame almost effortlessly. He was afforded the honor of receiving the Pulitzer Prize four times. I feel that Dickinson is a much more talented and skilled writer than Frost. In his own sexism, he can be quoted saying, “She’s a woman: she’s not interested in general ideas and principles” (The Masque of Reason). Robert Frost was “honored” with a U.S. Senate Resolution twice. This affirms his sexism and allures contemplation of Frost’s patriotism. Whereas Emily Dickinson can be said to be an original free thinker of her time, I am not comfortable making the same statement about Robert Frost. Frost’s beliefs about women derive, imaginatively, from being a male in a sexist time period; it would concede that along with his patriotism, would come sexism. We are all slaves to the construction of our minds based on our society. It is this sexism, I believe, that prevented Dickinson from being realized as the true genus she was in her lifetime.
Dickinson embodied a mastermind the world had never seen before at that time. Not only was she a woman in a man’s literary world, but she also had her own unique writing style that can be compared to Robert Frost’s poetry. Their poetry conveys much more meaning than the imagery in text; a reader must employ close reading skills in order to read between the lines and capture further clues. These writers’ poems should not be read with too much literal meaning; one must look further into the deeper symbolism of their words.
These artists have the gift of beautiful, dark, vivid expression and with the use of extended metaphor as a literary device, they were able to craft a world fit to feast on. Perhaps it is the isolated nature of these poets from social interactions that releases them into the constant thread of nature. They have befriended nature. Both Frost and Dickinson lived in a rural environment and were left to turn their curiosity and amusement onto the non-human world around them to explore their own minds. They made acquaintances with nature to aid in their literary journey on the path of understanding.
Dickinson and Frost both imploy nature metaphors to convey their perception of the world. They use nature imagery and personify nature in order to articulate human psychology. They also use the nature of nature to hypothesize the nature of humans. Comparisons between humans and patterns in nature frequent both Dickinson’s and Frost’s poetry. Though nature is not inanimate, they bring more life to the natural world by incarnating the thoughtless living matter we live amongst. Everything on this earth can be implemented for expression, from the silent mountain to the more thoughtful chirping robin. These poets use nature as a backdrop mediator to implicate their meaning. Nature is everywhere, it is us, and perhaps this is why these writers have made use of the thriving, living, breathing earth in order to speak to something inside humans that we can’t help but identify with. Perhaps writing using nature imagery is an attempt to write on a universal level; in this way the poet is connected to the rest of the world without ever leaving her or his house.
Poem 668 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson shows Dickinson’s perception of nature being the grand everything that we humans live by,
“Nature” is what we see-
The Hill- the Afternoon-
Squirrel- Eclipse- the Bumble bee-
Nay- Nature is Heaven-
Nature is what we hear-
The Bobolink- the Sea-
Thunder- the Cricket-
Nay- Nature is Harmony-
Nature is what we know-
Yet have no art to say-
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
Even the most skillful of tongues cannot convey the complicated simplicity of nature. In declaring that nature is what we see, Dickinson has said it all. “What we see” is a strong string of words because she is implying that nature is everything; for how could we even begin to fathom things we cannot see? She speaks about nature as if it is a force and everything that exists, exists within this force. Everything we see, hear, and know, is quintessentially nature. Nature is harmonizing our world and propelling our life. It is clear that Dickinson respects nature as if it were a superior power in comparison to our ability to understand it.
While Dickinson celebrates and appreciates nature itself, Frost does not speak about nature in regard to itself but manifests in his writing the psychological tendencies of humans. Dickinson relishes in nature itself while both Frost and Dickinson use nature to convey their feelings about the world. Frost shows how humans interact with nature and how human psychology can be expressed by, using nature as a metaphor,
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

In Frost’s above poem entitled “Dust of Snow,” he is showing a relationship between man and nature. Man creates his own strife and nature aids in relinquishing man’s created torment. A simple act of nature, having nothing to do with human kind, can penetrate a human mind and relieve it of tension. Frost’s poetry is less difficult to decode than Dickinson’s whose wit is challenging to even the most skilled mind. Frost also has a simpler rhyme scheme consisting of mostly hard or strict rhymes. Dickinson thrives in intelligent slant rhyme; she employs assonance and consonance in a more complicated fashion than Frost; yet they both share a lyrical nature. Dickinson often speaks in a questioning tone as if she were extricating thought from the reader and pulling the reader into provoking contemplation. Frost has a more matter of fact tone as if he is simply observing and documenting his experiences with the world.
These poets use the outer world to express their internal world which helps the reader relate to intangible thought. Even as the subject matter between Frost and Dickinson remains similar, how they relate to the subjects differ. They share in theme while not in perspective at times. Both poets stake an interest in death but write about it in dissimilar ways. They both use symbolism in relation to mortality. Frost, in his poem “Come In,” uses the call of birds to represent death calling him into the woods; woods being representative of death. Frost was not ready to join death and this could be seen as a poem encouraging subjects to live to the fullest and play a more active role in life before death decides to stop giving one the choice of life.
Dickinson has a tendency to make death seem more natural and she seems to convey death as an inescapable ease. Death is just as much a part of nature as life is to her. Dickinson seems more comfortable with death than Frost who seems reluctant to die. She perceives nature to be wise and seems to trust in its decisions regarding life and death. All nature has innate wisdom to her, from Bumble Bees to summer flowers. Dickinson uses calculating form that parallels her meaning in her poetry such as poem 712 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. A poem may speed up or slow down to be representative of the metaphors she uses; this is pervasive in her poetry on death. Her view on life after death is somewhat ambiguous due to the fact that her opinions seem to vary throughout her work. Her writing is able to encompass contradictory opinions for the sake of exploration. In Dickinson’s poetry, death seems to want the ones who fear dying and not want those who wish for it, such as in poem 759, “But He- was left alive Because/ Of Greediness to die-”.
With life there is death and with death there is the question of an after life. Both Dickinson and Frost touch on this theme. It only seems right that they would, considering their fascination with life and death. Both poets had a Puritan background with the “fear of god” seeming to be more wholly instilled into Frost. Frost said in his poem “Once by the Pacific,” “It looked as if a night of dark intent/Was coming, and not only a night, an age./Someone had better be prepared for rage./There would be more than ocean-water broken/Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.” Frost, in his later years seems to separate from his beliefs about god as Dickinson trails off with age. Frost was also influenced by Thoreau which may have made him more in touch with nature as well.
Dickinson had a mixture of god and transcendentalism streaming through her writing; nature also plays a crucial role in transcendentalism. This may explain why she was more in touch with herself as an individual rather than with Frost and his allegiance to his country; transcendentalists identify with the self more as an individual. While both Frost and Dickinson were captivated by nature, it was Dickinson that immersed herself in isolation in order to discover the depths of her mind. The lifetime experiences of Dickinson and Frost set them apart in the literary realm even though they are considered to be in the same genre. Both these poets have the ability to display old themes in a new captivating way; is that not the calling of a poet? With their writing, readers obtain a sketch of the writer’s life and a projection of inward contemplation. Dickinson’s poetry displays the paradox of religion inside her. At times there is a god and at other times there seems not to be. In 377 the struggle is shown in her poetry, “To lose one’s faith- surpass/ The loss of an Estate-/ Because Estates can be/ Replenished- faith cannot-// Inherited with Life-/ Belief- but once- can be-/ Annihilate a single clause-/ And Being’s- Beggary-.” Why would Dickinson have thought faith could not be replenished if one loses it if she had not done that herself? Dickinson and Frost have so much in common; gender not being one of those things. This goes to show that a mind is a mind regardless of sex. We all think, grow, and learn from the same pool of collective past consciousness. We all must overcome the social traditions in order to find our own meaning, as these poets so beautifully have done.


Naylor and Woolf

Posted: January 4th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Reviews | No Comments »

I absolutely love the multiple perspectives shown Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. . It is interesting to see how one character is thinking about a specific happening or idea and then to see how another is thinking about the same situation. For example, the dreams Cocoa has about George in the water (when Cocoa gets poisoned with a sort of conjuring concoction), compared to George’s dreams also involving water. The audience is able to see warnings in both character’s minds that the characters themselves cannot see. Everything that happens to Cocoa while she is under the “spell” was interesting to see from multiple perspectives. Naylor did an excellent job describing what it may be like to be conjured on. While at the same time, Naylor can show what it looks like from someone outside of Cocoa’s mind. The part where Abigail is stroking away the crawling, slivering, creatures inside Cocoa’s mind, and possibly body, is a wonderful example of where Naylor implemented the multiple perspectives writing style. I believe Abigail knew what she was doing.
George, being the outsider to this little island, is shown to be completely baffled by these “strange” people. As a reader I truly felt sorry for him and longed for him to understand the ways of the people in Willow Springs. If he could have just understood Miranda he may have been able to save his life.
I found the multiple perspectives in this novel compared to in Woolf’s, To the Lighthouse, to be much more easily understood. There were moments were I was confused but I was able to figure it out rather quickly by either reading back or ahead. Naylor seemed to be tracking the character’s minds in a patterned understood way. There are only so many perspectives to take on and once I got into the rhythm and feel of the novel it seemed so natural to switch between minds. This actually happens to be one of my favorite books I have read and am happy to have read it a second time over. I picked up on a lot more layered ideas within the text having been already infatuated with the story line.
What I liked and like most about the novel is how Naylor can show the love between all of these characters, “But before I’d let you mess with mine, I’d wrap you up in tissue paper and send you straight to hell” (173). Naylor even shows evidence of love back generations with mentions of Miranda and Abigail’s father. I became almost emotionally attached to the characters and wanted them to be happy. I loved the way I could watch the love between Cocoa and George develop and grow. “I could truthfully say, I’ve been with her all my life and I’ll be with her for the rest of my life” (158). I also enjoyed watching the story slowly unfold as more and more information was revealed through the multiple perspectives. I find this to be a fabulous piece of literature.