The American Dream as Portrayed by Various Authors

The American Dream as Portrayed by Various Authors

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The American Dream can be traced to the Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed…with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson). These doctrines are the foundation of the rights of all citizens in the United States. For over a century these ideas have drawn people from foreign shores to America, the land of opportunity, a place where dreams can be achieved. The very concept of the American dream is built upon the idea that whatever you dream can be made to happen because there are few government barriers place upon the citizens. It is deceptive in its name the American Dream; for that implies that there is one dream for all. In fact, the American Dream is very personal. It means different things to different people, but it is always inspirational. It is the dream of its own citizens; some here for generations while some may be new citizens. The concept that this country offers opportunities that can be obtained by anyone provides people with the ability to dream their own dreams. The American Dream can be a motivational fire, but if ne wished to not be burned, one must focus on building a balanced life of family, honest work and love.

lf had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. (20.12)

Although there is a stereotypical American Dream, people personalize it to make it their own. The attainability of the stereotypical goal cannot be evaluated because of the variations of this dream. For instance, the most common version is the idea of rags to riches. When Arnold Schwarzenegger came “here with empty pockets, but full of dreams, full of determination, full of desire" (Schwarzenegger 27), he was fulfilling the dream of an immigrant. While making the Keynote Address at the Republican National Convention in 2004, he stated that he wanted and achieved, success, a career and a family, which he owes to America (27). The traditional concept of rags to riches is not always the foundation of some people's dreams. In the novel The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s dream is to relive his fantasy with his idealized former lover. He uses the rags to riches portion of the American Dream as a means to an end. He spends his life trying to gain Daisy’s love and subsequently a higher social status.

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To gain her affection he first had to show her that he was of the same social class as her. It was not her fault that she was not everything he wanted her to be, it was “because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion” (Fitzgerald 95). Gatsby dreams had gone “beyond everything” (95) because he spent his entire life and compromised his morals to make the money he needed to impress Daisy. It was impossible for him to gain her affection though because of the concept of old money and new money, though such distinctions are much less relevant in today’s society. He could not win her over regardless. After Tom uncovered the truth about Gatsby’s past and he denied it to Daisy, she drew “further and further away into herself, so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on” (Fitzgerald 134). On the other hand, Willy Loman values being well-liked, which he measured in the amount of items he sold. He admires David Singleman and thinks there is nothing more satisfying than being able to “be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people” (Miller 61). Willy is hyper-focused on the legacy that he leaves, and he believes this to be possible through the profession of a salesman. The people with whom he does business need to love him so that when he dies, he can have a grand funeral in his remembrance. He believes that this will be true even when contemplating suicide with Ben. Due to the infinite variations of the American Dream, though all stemmed from the hope of bettering oneself or one’s position, suggest there is no single clear-cut formula for the Dream low.

When a dream goes unfulfilled, the way that people react to it defines how they will end up. For example, Papa in the poem “David” comes to America because he wants to "uncover those buildings" (Fisher) from the stone. His inability to follow his dreams is a result of the job he is given, which leads to his being “sealed in” (Fisher). The dream that Papa had was not one that he could act upon, and he died completely unsatisfied. Another dream that was not achieved is Gatsby’s. His whole life revolves around Daisy, she is his everything. He needs her love to survive. Although he did not commit suicide, he became upset when Daisy did not enjoy his party, and when things became awkward and other similar things. When a person has put all of their faith into one dream, they are likely to be upset. Another example of a person whose life has been devoted to one thing is Willy. He had a high probability of being disappointed because he focused on his appearance and how he came across above everything else. His wealth was an indication of how popular he was because the more that he sold, the more friends he had. He did not allow his family to provide him happiness, instead he only reacted negatively things that were happening within his family. He pushed his family away, betraying them all by sleeping with “The Woman”. When Charley offered him a job, Willy pushed him away in an effort to maintain his dignity, which did not help him get any more money for his family. Although supporting his family was not the foundation of Willy's dream, as the breadwinner of the family, he needed to keep his family alive in some way or another. His decision to reject Charley's job offer indirectly compelled him to kill himself, because his family needed the twenty thousand dollar insurance money. Someone whose dream went unfulfilled for a while was Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God. She wanted to be loved and happy. She persisted; trying new relationships until she found Tea Cake who made her feel both loved and happy. Janie's tenacity caused her to finally get what she wanted. Attitude is one of the most important factors that contribute to the outcome of one's life, and it is no different when it comes to fulfilling one's dreams.

Another factor is the difficulty of the goals created by each individual, based on the obstacles they face. Although Americans are optimistic about class mobility, the New York Times’ studies show that over the last thirty years the chance of moving up from one class to another has not risen (Class 2). Therefore the goal of moving up in social class, which many people believe to be a part of the American dream, is more difficult than some people think. In the 1970s, 35% of families stayed in the same quintile of income earners in comparison to the 40% in the 1990s, which shows that income mobility has not become easier (Interactive Graphs). Willy Loman would agree that it is difficult to improve a person’s position because “the competition is maddening” (Miller 7). However it is not the competition that seems to have thwarted Willy, it is his occupation. Salesmen do not have a tangible goal; they are instead constantly selling and hoping that they are personable enough to provide for their families. In “Let America Be America Again”, Langston Hughes describes the disappointment in "finding the same old stupid plan / of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak" (Hughes). Hughes implies that he believes that the American Dream is difficult to achieve with all of the obstacles that arise, such as the competitive nature of mankind. The imagery of “dog eat dog” simulates a picture similar to a staircase full of people trying to escape from a fire. Although the competitiveness is not a life or death situation, the disregard for the well being of others is apparent in both situations. Both Willy and Hughes agree that there are aggressive people out there trying to fulfill their dreams, and it is difficult to compete with them. These are some of the obstacles that people face. However some people with difficult obstacles prevail, such as Mrs. Forbes.

In addition, evidence shows that sacrifices must be made so that an individual can reap the rewards of their dreams. My grandfather exemplifies this throughout his life. As a boy he always worked in his father’s restaurants, and after serving his time in the Korean War, he worked during the day to pay for law school at night. After marriage and kids, he sacrificed time spent with his children by flying to Miami from New York every Monday morning and returning every Friday night. Now he devotes his life to a charitable foundation, the continued pursuit of innovations in the pharmaceutical industry and the church. The majority of his life has been spent trying to better others’ lives, such as his family and now to charities, which he could have spent with his family. His hard work and persistence has paid off. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie sacrifices her life as a high-class citizen to find love and happiness with Tea Cake. A close friend, Wayne Forbes has a similar story, where many sacrifices were made by his mother to better his life. With eight children, she moved from Jamaica to New York in 1969 and worked by herself until she could pay for her family’s passage. She often had “thoughts of returning to her homeland. The cold weather was depressing and she yearned to see her family. But Mrs. Forbes remembered her dreams and continued working sometimes without a day off...[His] parents worked hard always sending nice clothing and monies to [his] grandmother for their children” (Wayne Forbes). Mrs. Forbes did not get to raise her own children because she wanted them to have a better future. Her dream was for "a better life for her family" (Forbes), and she made the necessary sacrifices so that her family’s life would be better than hers. In contrast, it is unclear as to the level of commitment that Willy Loman has made during his lifetime to his job. However, he encouraged his sons to steal, which could say something about the way he survived financially for all of these years. The stage directions state that Willy is “laughing with [Biff] at the theft” (Miller 18) of the football. Cheating would imply that he did not put in the effort to become financially stable. This is similar to Gatsby because he is associated with Meyer Wolfsheim, a gambler who cheats his way through life. Both Willy and Gatsby die during their respective novels. Although it is not explicit in either novel, the consequence of their lack of dedication to honest work shows that they should have spent time working honestly.

Another factor in the effectiveness of achieving the American Dream is the path taken toward achieving. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Keynote Address he dictates his belief that “if you work hard and if you play by the rules, this country is truly open to you Obama. You can achieve anything" (Schwarzenegger 27). An example of this is that Barack was able to speak at Democratic Convention because of the hard work and perseverance of his father who got a “scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before” (Obama 21). His father would not have been able to cheat to have gotten a scholarship while living in Kenya. Similarly, my grandfather worked hard his entire life to get where he did. He would not have been able to pass the Bar exam, and he would not have become as successful as he did. All the hours that he spent working for his father and working to pay for college helped shape his work ethic and values, which helped him throughout his entire life. All of his hard work paid off. In comparison, Willy Loman does not seem to work hard his entire life. A less admirable quality that Willy promotes in his children is cheating. Willy immediately assumes with great agitation that “[Bernard] will give [Biff] the answers” (Miller 26) to the math test if Biff chooses not to study for the exam. This reflects poorly on Willy, suggesting that he was not honest in the ways in which he made money. It also explains why Biff was in jail for stealing a suit, and why he stole Bill Oliver’s pen. All of these things are a result of a bad upbringing. The leadership that Willy provides is more detrimental than helpful; therefore it makes it difficult to believe that he has lived his life honestly. Willy did come to his demise during the course of the book, and that shows that Arthur Miller believes Willy was doing something wrong in his life. He portrays Biff as a character who, although not producing money during the course of the book, shows remorse for his past actions and would like to change them. Miller provides Biff as the alternative route to the rest of essentially Willy's life. Happy is following in his father's footsteps, he has become a womanizer and Similarly, Tom believes that Gatsby traffics items illegally because “a lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers, you know” (Fitzgerald 107). This is quite plausible because the book takes place during the time of the prohibition of alcohol and there was a lot of it at his parties. Tom mentions to Nick in the book/movie, that he'd done some checking into Jay Gatsby's past/present & discovered that Gatsby was into selling grain alcohol 'under the counter' & that was where Tom thought, a large proportion of Gatsby's money came from. So it was probably bootlegging.

There are many reasons why a person cannot make any overarching assumptions about the American Dream. Each dream has its own variations, its own interpretations, its own obstacles, its own effective options for execution, its own possibilities if is not fulfilled and its own sacrifices that need to be made. This opens the question, why is the American Dream such a popular concept if it is indefinable? The answer lies in the stories of immigrants from the seventeenth century to this exact moment in time. The concept that this country offers many opportunities that can be unveiled by any one provide people with the ability to dream their own dreams. For many people, financial stability makes them able to follow other dreams and hobbies. For others, finding love it what motivates them to explore other aspects of their life. But that is what is so fantastic about the American Dream, the magic it bestows in people that gives them the courage to reach for the stars.



Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1st ed. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.

Jefferson, Thomas et.al. "Declaration of Independence"
http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration.html

Miller, A. Death of a Salesman. A & C Black. 2010. Print.

Schwarzenegger, Arnold. Republican National Convention. 2004
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Schwarzenegger
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