gatdream American Dream Alive and Well in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

gatdream American Dream Alive and Well in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

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The American Dream is Alive and Well in 2002


"...One Nation, under God, indivisible, with justice for all." Most Americans have heard and said this pledge to allegiance hundreds of times. The question is, do we really believe in the power of its meaning? It's a shame that America, land of the free, is also the land of capitalism, scandal and discrimination. Though we have the freedom to bear arms, freedom of speech, and freedom of religious and political affiliation, some Americans claim that they do not have the freedom to be themselves. Images from the media of aesthetic beauty and financial success bombard the majority of Americans on an everyday basis. It is only natural for one to attempt to 'improve' himself or herself by living up to the standards imposed by society. Unfortunately, America's brand of 'self-improvement' often comes with a price. I agree with the definition in Webster's College Dictionary of the American Dream: 'an American ideal of social equality and especially material success. Though the American Dream is very much alive for many, it is not necessarily well for most.

Ron Suskind, author of the national bestseller, A Hope in the Unseen, writes about the real-life story of Cedric Jennings. Jennings was a high school senior at a crime-infested school in Washington, D.C. Jennings beats the odds in Suskind's novel of the American struggle, and gains acceptance into Brown University (an Ivy League school). Jennings dealt with more than the average high school turmoil in his four years at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School. He couldn't even accept his award for a year of perfect grades in fear that his life would be threatened: "Pride and such accomplishment is acceptable behavior for sterling students at high schools across the land, but at Ballou and other urban schools like it, something else is at work" (Suskind 17). This is the crab in the bucket syndrome (a phrase coined by educators, Suskind explains) where one crab pulls the other crab down, and keeps them from climbing out of the bucket.

Though Cedric is aware of the jeers he receives from his classmates for his accomplishments, he continues to hold his head up high when he thinks of his "green light": to graduate from Ballou, and continue his education at an Ivy League school. As I read A Hope in the Unseen, I thought of the unfairness of the American ideal.

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Why do some people have to try so hard for so long to attain what others have at birth? Why are some areas so blighted and overlooked? Capitalism first came to mind, but then I realized it is more than that. People of America are not simply greedy, but lost. In lieu of this, Cedric had to hide his potential from most of his classmates while simultaneously breaking his back to impress the people at Brown. Cedric "had sprung from his Platonic conception of himself" (Fitzgerald 104), just as Jay Gatsby did. However, unlike Gatsby, Cedric was nearly forced to recreate himself. From the people in his neighborhood/school, he had to hide his books, fill out college applications in secret, and listen to the scoffs of his fellow classmates for having his name on Ballou's "Wall of Honor". Jennings struggled to fit in with the upper-middle class privileged, intellectuals at Brown. Jennings view of the American Dream is that with hard work and on undying passion one can elevate. Whether that elevation leads a person to the socioeconomic status that he or she hopes for or higher education, hope in the unseen can drive a person to success.

Jennings knew, with a child-like assurance, that he could beat the odds and make it out of his crime-infested environment into the school of his dreams. However, one could argue that idealism can be the downfall of a person, no matter how hard they work. In a society where the quick and the swift get the prize, not the diligent worker who endures, the "hope in the unseen" can be frustrating. Those who study instead of hustle, sometimes get left behind. Jennings realized these points, but he still pursued his goal, and kept education first. Though he took the hard route, he made it to his destination.

Consequently there are those, such as Orenthal James Simpson, aka "O.J." Simpson who decided to use "superb athletic ability" as his ticket out of the ghetto. Though it is not just to look down on Simpson for the choices he's made throughout his life, it is necessary to pay close attention to Simpson's life struggles. At a young age Simpson started out on the wrong side of the tracks. He was caught up in gang fighting, petty offences, and his grades were not to be admired. Then Willie Mays, one of baseball's greatest, encouraged Simpson to use his football skills as an alternative to hanging out on the streets. Not only did football keep Simpson off the streets, but it took him into a new world, a world where ladies flocked to him after a game, men admired his rugged athletic appeal and young boys aspired to be like him. O.J.'s American Dream was that of the fast life, parties, and his "trophy wife", Nicole Brown (Walton 3). O.J. really did believe that he was invisible; he was wrong.

Many people came to O.J.'s parties, just as they did to Gatsby's but few took heed of the rumors or offered any sincere concern for him and his family. Simpson's party attendees were not there for him. They were only there for the always smiling, handsomely rugged Brentwood millionaire. Some may not see the harm in that. He achieved the American Dream of fame, fortune, and status. However, he did it at the cost of losing his identity. Sadly, no one ever noticed. It wasn't apparent to most of America that this young, troubled teenager from San Francisco had anything more relevant to say than the lines from the Hertz Rent-a-Car commercials: "We were like the crowds of Gatsby's parties who ignored the rumors of bootlegging and murder: who cares, and pass the champagne" (Walton 2).

Jay Gatsby, ostentatious yet admirable, lived his life based on money-money that he thought would buy his happiness, his "green light", Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby's capacity for fantasy only left him in a nightmare filled with scandal and murder. Like Cedric Jennings, and O.J. Simpson, Jay Gatsby lived on the border between innocence and immaturity, dream and reality. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, Gatsby reinvents himself. He changes his name, and seemingly changes his past. On some levels, most Americans have attempted, at some time or another to change themselves, whether changing their name, hair, or aspects of their personality.

Many Americans today have the same mentality that everything can be bought. However, people fail to see (just as Gatsby did) that that price is not always money. It is oftentimes the intangible, such as self-esteem, self-respect, and life itself. It is hard to say what the American Dream is. Everyone has his or her own perspective of the American Dream, and everyone has the right to accept it or not. However, it is nearly undisputable that people of America are being pulled by some unattainable dream. We are each (in our own way) to O.J. Simpson, Jay Gatsby and Cedric Jennings: "High-bouncing, gold-hatted lovers" (D' Invilliers), jumping higher and higher for acknowledgement, acceptance, and love.
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