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Through the years, the inhabitants of America have been mobile people. The Native Americans moved according to the seasons and the migration of animals; the first Spanish settlers moved to find gold; the European colonists moved for land; and in the past weeks, Southerners have been moving to escape tragedy. Although these four major diasporas seem to have individual reasons, all four share one common root: the American Dream - an urge to improve a given lifestyle by making a drastic change. In their respective books, The Great Gatsby and Sula, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Toni Morrison display this phenomenon by creating characters that will do anything to better their personal lives; however, both writers incorporate great failure into the lives of their main characters, thus dismissing the idealistic thoughts of the American Dream.
From a young age, James Gatz has plans to change his social status; he plans his days hour by hour; forfeits his given name for a new one; deserts his home, family and friends; and most importantly picks up a job as a bootlegger to make his desired sum of money. The schedule taken from an old book of James' shows his plan for an entire day and includes a list of "GENERAL RESOLVES (Fitzgerald, 173)," both of which show a general urge for success. James' resolve to, save $3.00 per week (Fitzgerald, 173), displays an early understanding of the American dream and the necessity of money. His further understanding of the way life works is expressed through the action of changing his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, a name that seems to flow easier and deserve a greater deal of respect than his previous, harsh name of James Gatz. His new name, in essence, opens up a new life for Gatsby, and allows him to start over the way he wants to. Gatsby's next choice, to abandon his home, family, and friends in order to sail aboard a yacht for years with a near stranger, displays Gatsby's belief that living a fanciful life aboard a yacht will enable him to lead a fantastic lifestyle in all aspects of his living. Finally, it is at this point where Gatsby makes the biggest decision of his life, solely on the belief that a high income will bring him happiness, and ultimately the love of his life; Gatsby chooses to accept partnership with a man working as a bootlegger of grain alcohol.
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Sula, similar to James Gatz, has the same desire to reach for the cherished American Dream of betterment; thus she longs to leave her house of disarray (Morrison, 51-52) in the Bottom and create a new lifestyle for herself. Foremost, from a young age Sula shows the determination that is thought of as a necessity in order to achieve her goal; with pure determination she cuts off her own finger in order to prove to a group of bullies that she is tougher than they are (Morrison, 54). This is the same determination that most likely drives Sula to pick up and move out of the Bottom during Nel's wedding party (Morrison, 85). Furthermore, Sula's taking of her deceased younger brother's insurance money to pay for college shows her drive to better herself, in this case by earning a college degree. Unfortunately, the line, "Accompanied by a plague of robins (Morrison, 89)" opens an image of sickness and disease upon Sula's arrival back in the Bottom, and shows how unsuccessful she was; she left town in order to raise her social status, but it seems as though she did just the opposite. Sula's next attempt at raising her social status, sleeping with prominent men, ultimately brings her to an even lower nadir in class. Almost immediately after coming home she is found sleeping with Jude, Nel's husband. This action can only be explained by a near ruthless desire for betterment; Sula risked ruining her friendship with her life long best friend just in order to be looked at with higher regard in society because she slept with a well to do man. Finally, as in Gatsby, Sula's utter failure is shown at her deal bth; the exclamation, from the few that attended her burial, that "a brighter day was dawning (Morrison, 151)"clearly shows how much the community despised Sula, thus shows her definitive failure at achieving the Great American Dream.
Although there have been many attempts at betterment throughout American history, no two stories describe the drive and failure of Americans better than The Great Gatsby and Sula. In each book the hero/in does anything and everything possible to achieve his/her dream, and in each book s/he, in the end, fails. However, without the false notion that the American Dream is capable of achieving, the world would not be the same; Columbus' men may not have ventured further than the Bahamas; colonial Europeans may not have experienced the great land grab throughout the northeast; and finally, Americans may not have ever settled in Hawaii, a prime American vacation destination.