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Exploring The American Dream in Great Gatsby and Grapes of Wrath

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The 1920s and 1930s represent two decades in our country's history that were very much connected to one another but extremely different in terms of economy. The Great Gatsby takes place during the roaring 20s, a time of extravagant parties and attempts at finding happiness after World War I. On the other hand, The Grapes of Wrath takes place during the 30s while America is suffering from the Great Depression and people are leaving their homes and lives to find success and work in California. Although the times were very different economically, both were dominated by people striving for the American Dream of wealth and social status in an attempt of obtaining happiness, success, and a better life. During the 20s, people wanted to escape the terrors of the war and during the 30s they were attempting to survive during the devastation of the Great Depression. Both The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath do an amazing job of representing people's desires for the American Dream and more specifically the prevalence of failure rather than success that came as a result of their efforts.

The Great Gatsby portrays a time in American history where much of the nation wants nothing more than to find happiness through money and forget the horrors of the war. The people that come to Gatsby's parties rarely know him. They are searching for a fun night to help them forget about the war or their pointless lives, even if for only a few hours. Gatsby has no problem with this because he is only throwing parties as a means of meeting with his long lost love, Daisy. Daisy's dependence on men with wealth and status, and Gatsby's underhanded attempts at gaining it illustrate America's belief that money and extravagance are the easiest means of finding success and happiness. The following statement from page 149 strongly illustrates Gatsby's belief that his only means of captivating Daisy would be through deception. "He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her in under false pretenses. I don't mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe he was a person from much the same stratum as herself—that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities—he had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to blown anywhere about the world (p. 149, paragraph 2)." Gatsby eventually gains his fortune and ultimately proves that wealth cannot bring happiness, especially when earned in a disreputable fashion. Daisy turns away from him when she hears about his scandals. Gatsby is at last murdered in an attempt at protecting the woman he loves who is too obsessed with security and consumed by the fear of leaving what she feels is the ideal lifestyle to accept her own love for him.

The American Dream depicted by The Grapes of Wrath is very different from the dream of the 20s and The Great Gatsby. For one, money and wealth is much scarcer and extravagant parties are far from people's minds. In The Grapes of Wrath there is a very distinct line between the rich and the poor and this separation increases as those who are rich go to all lengths to ensure that they remain in the upper class. Many of the upper class seem to live in California where there is land and opportunity, while much of the lower class consists of "dust-bowl" farmers who have been forced to leave their land and travel to California in search of work. The land owners in California are afraid that these dust-bowl farmers will eventually take over their property and make it their own, so they are doing everything in their power to ensure that the poor farmers are not successful. Even still, they hire them for their dirty work and treat them poorly as there are many more to take their place. Many of the poor farmers begin turning their backs on their families and friends in an attempt at succeeding as individuals. This selfish attitude is the same attitude held by the California land owners who are unwilling to share their fortune with anyone else due to fear and lack of trust. Inevitably, The Grapes of Wrath builds up several different dreams for the American depending on their background. The California land owners' dreams consist of eagerness for wealth and greed to remain in a position of power over the dust bowl farmers that are working their land. On the other hand, many of the poor farmers have simple dreams of just keeping their dignity and not allowing themselves to give up on their families. In the end, it is the Joad family's ability to keep their dignity and hold together as a family that helps them to rise above all of the tragedies they encounter. The Grapes of Wrath concludes with a much more hopeful tone than The Great Gatsby and passes on to the reader the importance of men joining together and doing what is right for all of mankind as opposed to what is most beneficial to the individual. Jim Casy's death in Chapter 26 is a perfect example of how the California land owners are threatened by the idea of the poor farmers joining together and revolting. His death is also an example of how a man or woman can make an unselfish decision and risk what is best for them individually to do what is best for all of mankind. Tom is very struck by Casy's bravery and finds the power within himself to follow in Casy's footsteps and help unite people to fight the injustices of their current situation. His own dream becomes an attempt to do all he can to better life for the common American man.

The American Dream was not only different in the 20s than it was in the 30s, but it has continued to evolve and change up through today. Despite the differences in these dreams, there is a central core to all of them: the pursuit of happiness. In both of these books and much of the world today, people seek and dream of attaining utter happiness. For centuries, lots of people have been trying to obtain money, careers, success, and more. Although these dreams are separate from one another, they are all just a means by which people feel they may hopefully obtain their guttural dream of happiness. The question is when will people begin to realize that it is not these materialistic goals that will provide them with happiness, but rather things like humility, love, family, and religion? These are true sources of happiness and real answers to the American Dream.

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