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The Decline Of The American Dream In

Great Gatsby And A Streetcar Named Desire Essay, Research Paper

Through the study of two of American literature’s classics, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, the decline of the American Dream is evident. Fitzgerald uses the East and West to compare the moral decline of each, while Williams uses the Old South and the New South to distinguish the differences in morality. The American Dream is just that, a dream. A long-lost hope based on the idea that anyone can succeed in America. The phrases, “from rags to riches” and “poor boy makes good” do not apply in either of the works. The characters in both of the titles are unsuccessful in the pursuit of their dreams. With respect to all of the characters, it is apparent that people can’t move up to higher social classes, hard work doesn’t pay off, there isn’t an equal opportunity to succeed, and foremost, money doesn’t mean happiness.

Primarily, it is evident in both works that the American Dream has declined by means of the social class structure. It is obvious in both pieces that moving to a higher class is no longer possible in the American society. In The Great Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan’s mistress, wanted so badly to become a part of the upper class, the “old”, inherited money. Her dream was to have a chance to mingle among the elite crowd, and to have gotten herself out of the “valley of ashes.” Myrtle lived in a garage with her husband, George Wilson. They represent the lower class, because they don’t live on Long Island, where the wealthy live. She attempted to realize her dream of fortune through her affair with Tom. She thought that if she loved Tom, he would eventually leave Daisy. Myrtle was oblivious to the fact that Tom had no intentions of ever marrying her. He lied to her by saying that Daisy was Catholic, and that prohibited he and Daisy from getting a divorce. This is a clear example of the lower class being rejected by the upper class. Tom just wanted to use her for his own pleasure; he didn’t want to save her from the lower class. Similarly in A Streetcar Named Desire, it is apparent that there is “nowhere to go but down” on the social scale. Blanche DuBois represents the Old South and the aristocracy. Her sister, Stella, left their plantation home to pursue a new life. Stella didn’t succeed economically, and by marrying Stanley, plummeted to the lower class. When Blanche visited Stella, Blanche didn’t approve of her sister’s living conditions. While living with her sister, Blanche asked Stella where their maid was. When Stella informed her that they didn’t have a maid, Blanche snobbishly disapproved of Stella’s lower class life. Another example of the impossible acceptance to a higher social class is Gatsby himself. He knew that Daisy wouldn’t marry him as a young man because “rich girls don’t marry poor boys.” Therefore, he made all of his money in an attempt to attain the status of being rich. When he got his fancy house and expensive car he was dubbed as “new” money. He resided on the West Egg, and wasn’t accepted by the aristocracy. Even though he had made his money, he wasn’t recognized by the upper class. Klipspringer, Gatsby’s boarder, played a song on the piano that recited the words: “the rich get richer and the poor get–children.” This is juxtaposed with Gatsby’s meeting with Daisy. It shows that the poor people can never become rich. They will spend their money on children, as the rich continue to roll in their money. It also foreshadows Gatsby’s decline, and is symbolic of Gatsby nonacceptance by the rich class. Similarly Mitch also represents a failure to become the upper class. Blanche may have loved him, but she didn’t love him enough to settle down with a man of a lower class. Her Old South traditions made her unable to marry a “poor boy.” Blanche wanted to use him for security and because she needed to “rest.” She never really loved him, which shows Mitch as being incapable of rising to the upper class. Myrtle’s husband, George, is another example of the hopeless struggle of climbing the social ladder. He is the ultimate representative of the lower, working class. He worked in his garage, fixing cars, and is toyed around by Tom. George was initially unaware that Tom was having an affair with his wife. Tom fooled George into thinking that he had intentions of selling George one of his cars. This is Fitzgerald’s way of showing the upper class tinkering with the mind of the lower class. It is an insult to the lower class because Tom wasn’t at the garage to get estimates on his car, he was there to see Myrtle. George foolishly kept on thinking that he was being accepted by the upper class. He thought that a rich person actually wanted to deal with him, rather than use him for gas. Therefore, no character is able to move to a higher social class in either piece. This shows the decline of the American Dream, since one of the characteristics of the dream is that a person of any class can become a part of the upper class.

Another reason which proves the decline of the American Dream is that hard work does not guarantee success in either piece. This is evident in the character of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. She was a professional golfer who cheated to win. She moved her ball, which enabled her to win the tournament. Her caddy had stated that she had moved her ball, but later withdrew his statement. This suggests that she paid him off in exchange for his secrecy, and shows that she didn’t even have to work hard to win the tournament. By cheating, she received the money that she wanted, and never got caught. The American Dream is based upon the idea that hard work pays off. This shows the decline of the dream because Jordan cheated and still succeeded. Also in A Streetcar Named Desire, it is obvious that hard work doesn’t pay off, through Mitch’s character. He had a low-paying job, to which he worked very hard while taking care of his dying mother. He never got what he wanted out of his life because he was always too busy working. His hardships didn’t bring him any great fortune, or allow him to purchase any land. These are elements of the American Dream that weren’t fulfilled to Mitch, even though he followed the “directions.”Another illustration of hard work not paying off is Meyer Wolfsheim. He was a gangster who had rigged the 1919 World Series, and was involved in illegal activities. He never worked hard, earning his money through intimidation rather than perseverance. Despite the fact that his wealth was not earned truthfully, he was still viewed highly through Gatsby’s eyes. Another example of hard work not paying off is in the character of Blanche. When she lost her relatives at Belle-Reve, she really lost everything. This left her with no one to turn to, despite her hard work of taking care of her sick family. Blanche meant everything to her family, and when they all died, she was left with nothing. She didn’t deserve to be treated so poorly by Stanley. She needed money and the only thing that she could do after she lost her teaching job was to be a prostitute. It is sad that Blanche lost a friend in Mitch, and her self-respect by selling her body. She worked so hard to save her family, and is alienated by Stella, the one relative that she had left. Stella couldn’t cope with Blanche’s mental decay, and put her into a mental institution. This shows that Blanche’s work to save her family was all for nothing because, when she needed help, the one person that should have been there for her, didn’t care. She deserved a better fate, because of her hard work, and thus represents the decline of the American Dream. In contrast, Tom Buchanan’s character shows that hard work doesn’t pay off in a different way. He was an accepted member of the rich class, but didn’t do anything to earn his money. He was rich in a way that would “take your breath away.” Tom’s fortune was all inherited, and he didn’t have to work a day in his life. He was a football player, but the money that he earned in sports was minuscule in comparison to his inheritance. He is the epitome of the suggestion that hard work doesn’t pay off. It is discouraging to see that the people who did nothing to receive their money end up further ahead than those who worked hard.

It is undeniable that the American Dream is in decline because of the lack of equal opportunity in both The Great Gatsby and A Streetcar Named Desire. The American Dream says that everyone in America has the same likelihood to succeed in life. Any American is capable of getting rich, no matter where they are from, as long as they work hard. This doesn’t apply to either of these works, and it will be proved that there isn’t an equal opportunity in the new American societies to succeed. This is because the people who already have the money are the ones who get the opportunities. This characteristic is apparent in the aristocratic characters of both pieces. Tom Buchanan and Blanche DuBois were both born into money, which definitely puts them ahead of every other American, with regards to the chance of succeeding. Since they were born wealthy, they are automatically ahead of everyone else economically. They simply have to work to secure their wealth, not to achieve it like everyone else. There is also an unequal opportunity because of talents. Certain people are born with a natural talent that can enable them to make more money faster than others. Tom also represents a talent, and because of his “cruel body” he was able to play football. Because of his wealth, he was able to pursue a football career in college. Other people may have been better players, but he had the talent and the money to make money. His football career didn’t make him nearly as much as his inheritance, but it put him ahead of others. A natural athletic talent allows one to be more successful than another with no talent. Whereas Tom and Blanche represent being ahead of others in terms of opportunity, George Wilson is a character that is behind the others with respect to opportunity. He worked hard, but because he is of the “lower class,” he had less of a chance of succeeding. The rich people were the ones who seem to get all sorts of chances to get more money, whereas George was left behind to fill their gas tanks. It is unfair that the people who don’t succeed are the ones who really deserve to. Stella Kowalski is also representative of an unequal opportunity to succeed. She was basically stuck living with Stanley. She didn’t disapprove of her life, because she had accepted that she’ll never have a chance of being successful. Being a mother was the only thing that she knew how to do. Lastly, Stanley also suffered because of his lack of opportunity. He was a hard-working man, but because of his bad temper, he couldn’t be successful. He didn’t have the drive to succeed in business, which left him with a labouring job, and his small apartment. Therefore, it is obvious that the American Dream has declined from its ideals, because there is no longer an equal opportunity to be successful in either works.

Lastly, both The Great Gatsby and A Streetcar Named Desire exhibit the American Dream in decline. This dream states that after hard work, one will become rich. The suggestion is that the dream is based upon the satisfaction of having money. This is not the case in the two works studied, where money is not the measure of happiness, and the ones with money are never satisfied with themselves. This statement is evident in the character of Stella Kowalski. When her sister told her that she could have saved her from her situation, Stella didn’t want to leave. She really didn’t mind her life, in fact, she may have enjoyed her life. They may have struggled to put money together, but she really loved Stanley. When Blanche told Stella that Stanley had raped her, Stella sided with her husband. She didn’t believe her sister. She is happy with her life, and doesn’t think that she could improve upon it. She said: “I’m not in anything I want to get out of.” This quote shows how she had never wanted to get away from her lower-class family. This is because she realized that money isn’t the most important thing in life. She would rather raise her child with the husband that she loved, than to leave and supposedly make a fortune with Shep Huntleigh. Stanley Kowalski also represents the idea that money not meaning happiness. He worked hard at his job, but never struck it rich. He made enough to support his family, but he wasn’t depressed that he wasn’t rich. He was happy with his lifestyle, and didn’t want Blanche ruining his life, by changing Stella. Whereas Stella and Stanley represent happy people without money, Tom, Blanche and Gatsby are unsatisfied with money. Tom’s money brought him love in Daisy, but she didn’t satisfy him. He needed something else to please him, and looked to Myrtle Wilson. She was his mistress, and their affair wasn’t based on love at all. Tom just uses her for sexual purposes only. This shows that Tom’s money doesn’t bring him happiness either. Blanche’s money never made her happy. She was rich with her inheritance from the family estate, but was sad. The money that she had didn’t fill the void left from the death of her young husband, Allan. She also was depressed that she had to take care of her dying family at Belle-Reve. These things made her dejected, and the money that she had didn’t allow her to forget her the losses that she had endured. Tom was a millionaire, but the all the money that he has didn’t satisfy or please him. Daisy married him solely because of his wealth. She did love him, but she was a Southern Belle who married into money. The ultimate example of money not bringing happiness is the Great Gatsby himself. He and Daisy were young loves, but he knew that she wouldn’t marry him because he wasn’t rich. He came from a poor farming family, and so he worked his whole life to get money in order to win Daisy’s heart. Once he finally made enough money to buy material items, Daisy didn’t want him. His house and his fancy car didn’t please him, because he wasn’t superficial, like the East Eggers. All the crown’s jewels wouldn’t please Gatsby, because he couldn’t have the one thing he couldn’t buy; true love. Consequently, the characters of both works show that money doesn’t mean happiness. The ones who didn’t have money were happy, and the ones with money were unhappy. This proves that the American Dream has deteriorated from its ideals, where it was based on the fact that money would bring happiness.

Thus, it has been proven that the American Dream is in decline, with reference to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Its old ideals, represented by the Old South and the West, were that everyone had an equal opportunity, and any American could succeed. Through hard work, the money they earned would make them happy. This contrasts sharply to the societies of the New South and the East, where none of these ideas apply. The American Dream presents the struggle to succeed and the search for happiness as a measure of material things. This doesn’t apply to the modern pursuit, where the one thing that brings happiness is not money, but love. A “Universal Dream” should recognize that hard work brings love, which would hold true in a society that isn’t based upon superficial items. That would be a dream that any person would be proud to pursue.