Failures of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath

An effortless quote, just a few words put together in a sentence, can often perfectly explain the backbone of some stories. Oscar Wilde's simple, seven worded sentence, "Ambition is the last refuge of failure" perfectly articulates basic ideas of both The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (“Oscar wilde quotes”, 2010). The characters in both books are searching for the figurative Eden of the time, the American Dream. However, in both cases, the characters fall short at achieving the basic ideas of that dream; social development, wealth achievement, and endless opportunity. The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby imitate the same ideas in the way that all characters fail to obtain the American Dream, and in the process, they fail themselves.

Part of the American Dream is the hope of advancing, in some way, socially; both Gatsby and the Joads’ fail the dream by doing the opposite. Jay Gatsby spends his entire life fixated on winning back Daisy, but when the time comes, he actually pushes her away. His sudden courage to reach out to Daisy causes her to tell Gatsby the truth that "Even alone I can’t say I never loved Tom," she admitted in a pitiful voice. "It wouldn’t be true" (Choat, 2002, chapter 7). The verbalization of that decision is the final straw for their relationship, it is never exactly the same again, and he actually regresses in his relationships from that point on. The Joads have a parallel experience except it is death and absence that pushes them away from the American Dream. When Ma says it “Use' ta be the family was fust. It ain't so now. It's anybody," she means everyone has put themselves first, compared to before they left when they functioned as a family. The det...

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...y to take, especially when it concerns something as vast as the American Dream. Two stories, The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath mutually explore this topic. Both sets of characters miss the three main ideas of the Dream, social development, wealth achievement, and endless opportunity; therefore fall short of attaining the American Dream.

Works Cited

Choat, C. (2002). The great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Retrieved April

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Nace, D. (2009, December 28). A regime of resentment.

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Oscar wilde quotes. (2010). Retrieved April 14, 2011, from

Steinbeck, J. (2006). The grapes of wrath. New York, N.Y.:

the Penguin Group.
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