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The American Dream in Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby Essay


Love. Money. Happiness. All three are characteristics which describe the typical American Dream. During the early 20th century immigrants swarmed to America, chasing a dream that was often out of reach. Even individuals already living in America strived to attain the unattainable. A myriad of individuals of different sex, creed and nationality all in search of the American Dream, were all too often confronted with an American nightmare. Shattered hopes and dreams have always been the result of unrealistic goals, and the myopic views of society. Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck is a novel which exposes the fallacious nature of the American Dream and shows readers how specific individuals of society are personally impacted. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald provides an in depth view of the lifestyle of the wealthy and how happiness evades their grasp. Both novels express the idea that the common misconception of the American Dream often pervades the human mind, and is potentially potent. Although the two novels share a common theme, the authorial purposes contrast in nature. Both Steinbeck and Fitzgerald depict the illusion of the American Dream; Steinbeck however conveys the belief that American society in the early 20th century severely retards individuals opportunity of attaining the American Dream. Fitzgerald focuses on expressing his disdain toward the wealthy, and uncovers the downside of the extravagant lifestyle the rich possess. Nonetheless, Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby encompass the fallacy of the American Dream and tell a story of desperate individuals struggling to capture a dream just out of reach.

Throughout The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald consistently uses characterization to provide an in depth view of the characters in the story. By extensively analyzing the characters of the novel, readers are able to understand not only the characters, but their personalities as well. Fitzgerald is able to achieve such brilliant characterization through the use of his language. The advanced diction throughout the novel represents the background of the individuals in the book. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that bad been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment [] (Fitzgerald 31). In this passage Myrtle Wilson is depicted as a woman who changes her personality depending on the individuals that are around. Also evident is the choppy sentence structure which is a common feature of the novel. Rather than a smooth sentence structure, a stop and go style of writing often makes readers uncomfortable with the text, which helps Fitzgerald express his antipathy for the wealthy and their seemingly flamboyant lifestyle. Although the life of the wealthy appears to be perfect from the outside, many of the wealthy characters are portrayed as unfaithful, liars, desperate and even troubled. From the beginning of the novel, even the Great Gatsby is observed [] trembling (21). Why is such a great individual caught standing alone at night, gazing out across the water? The green light which Gatsby is looking towards is symbolic of the one dream that consumes his mind; a desire for Daisy Buchanan, a former girlfriend, is the impetus for every one of Gatsbys actions during the novel. When readers are first introduced to Jay Gatsby, He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it [] (48), creating a faade of an established wealthy man. Throughout the novel however, Jay Gatsby is revealed as a man in love, a man with a single dream. Gatsbys attempts at attaining the love of Daisy prove to be otiose. When Gatsby dies, he leaves the world with a broken heart, and an unfulfilled dream.

In order to portray characters in search of a dream, Steinbeck chooses setting rather than characterization in Of Mice and Men. Unlike Fitzgerald, lengthy sentences are used as opposed to short, uncomfortable thoughts. The use of longer sentences however does not always provide readers with a sense of comfort; some sentences seem to wind on line after line, creating a feeling of discomfort. Steinbeck also uses vivid imagery to establish the setting of the novel rather than to describe the characters. Phrases such as [] the yellow sands [] (Steinbeck 1), and [] the golden foothill slopes [] (1) when depicting the setting. The book begins A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside banks and runs deep and green (1). The opening line of the novel establishes the setting in rural California; Soledad, when translated into English, literally means solitude. Such an opening gives readers a feeling of seclusion and isolation. The novel also takes place in the early 20th century, during the time of the Great Depression, a time where hopes and dreams were commonly shattered. Setting the novel during the Great Depression provides a realistic aspect to the story; at the time, the idea of owning property was a dream of many migrant workers such as George and Lennie. Someday-were gonna get the jack together and were gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an a cow and some pigs and-(14), the motif of George and Lennie getting their own farm is a consistent idea throughout the story, yet the dream never becomes reality. The dream is more associated with Lennie, the mentally handicapped individual in the story. Lennie is constantly obsessed with the idea of having his own animals to tend to, and often asks I can still tend the rabbits, George? (65). The idea that such a dream is not realistic never occurs to Lennie, and he constantly strives to attain the dream. Lennies handicap prohibits him from making his fantasy a reality; on the farm Lennie is mistreated because of his mental illness and is isolated from the other workers. Lennie dies before seeing his dreams come to life; the farm, the rabbits, and an escape from the myopic miscreants of society will forever remain an illusion.

Although dreams are thought to be symbolic, both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck choose to use symbolism as a reference to the characters dreams. Symbolism is used in both The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men to indirectly display the hopes and aspirations of the characters in the novels. In The Great Gatsby [] a single green light, minute and far way [] (Fitzgerald 21), is consistently used as a symbol and a motif. The green light is symbolic of Jay Gatsbys love for Daisy Buchanan. Both Gatsby and Daisy live across from each other, separated by a body of water. A green light is often symbolic of the idea go but Gatsby fails to make the most of his opportunity. The gap that separates the two is symbolic of Gatsbys dream that is just out of reach. Daisy and Gatsby are not separated by hours of time, but rather by a mere waterway; Gatsbys dream of attaining the love of his past girlfriend is evident, yet sadly the fantasy remains a dream. Similarly, Lennie in Of Mice and Men also has a dream that fails to become reality. Lennie is constantly seen petting wild animals, but unfortunately often kills them. At the beginning of the story, George forces Lennie to get rid of the mouse that Lennie killed, That mouse aint fresh, Lennie; and besides, youve broke it pettin it (Steinbeck 9). Lennies constant unintentional killing of animals is symbolic of Lennie destroying his own dreams; Lennie dreams of tending to his own rabbits, yet every animal he tries to take care of is killed. The brute strength and mental handicap of Lennie restricts him from properly caring for animals. Finding animals to care for is not Lennies problem, but caring for the animals is simply not feasible, thus destroying his dream. Ironically, at the conclusion of both novels, Lennie and Gatsby die a similar death, accompanied by the death of their hopes and dreams.

When does a dream become an obsession? To some individuals, the American Dream evolved into an American obsession. Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck convey this philosophy throughout The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men. Although love, wealth and happiness are generally associated with the American Dream, both Gatsby and Lennie have shown that the definition of the American Dream varies by person. Rather then attaining wealth, love and happiness separately, Gatsby is under the impression that wealth will lead him to the love of his life, ultimately bringing happiness. The delusion which Gatsby has ultimately leads to his downfall. After Gatsby and Daisy separate in the younger years of life, Daisy becomes Gatsbys one and only target for the remainder of his life; Gatsby is willing to do anything to gain Daisys love, including spending vast amounts of money. This shows that Gatsby does not include wealth as part of his American Dream, but rather the foundation for attaining his dream. Under the pretense that wealth will lead to Daisys love, Gatsby partakes in illegal activities to become wealthy very fast. After becoming rich, Gatsby throws parties every week just to attract Daisy to his mansion. Readers are able to see that Gatsbys dream slowly turns into an overpowering obsession. After Daisy has been married for five years, Gatsby still tells Daisys husband Tom Buchanan [] both of us loved each other all that time, old sport, and you didnt know. (Fitzgerald 131), showing that Gatsby is living in the past, and cannot move on. Gatsbys infatuation of Daisy results in the belief that Daisys love is attainable, when in reality, such an idea is a mere fallacy. Gatsbys inability to relinquish his feelings of love for Daisy inevitably leads to his death.

Like Gatsby, Lennie has an obsession of his own; a desire to pet soft, furry animals plagues Lennies mind. The American Dream to Lennie is neither about love nor wealth; to Lennie happiness is the most important aspect of life. In order for Lennie to be happy, he needs to live on a farm where the only work that needs to be done is tending to rabbits. Although Lennie can use money to buy his own farm, immense wealth is not part of the dream he possesses. Lennie is not able to realize his dream will never come true which only further fuels his desire for the unattainable. Perhaps if Lennie did not posses a handicap his dream would be in reach, but the mental illness prevents the fantasy from becoming anything more than a comforting illusion. Even though Lennie may love the animals, true love is not part of Lennies dream. As in Gatsbys case, obsession proves to be fatal yet again. Lennie dies due to his capricious behavior, and leaves behind a decimated dream.

What is a dream? Are dreams meant to be realistic, or rather a fantasy that can never be reached? Many individuals felt that the American Dream was a dream within reach; the idea of wealth, love, and happiness consumed countless lives. Individuals were brought back to reality when the American Dream ceased to exist, creating a feeling of trepidation. Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck felt that the American Dream was simply a fallacy. Although the two authors felt such a dream was elusive in nature, the authorial purposes of The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men differ greatly. Fitzgerald is able to effectively convey his repugnant feelings for the wealthy and show the deceptiveness of the lavish lifestyle. Steinbeck on the other hand portrays how societys narrow minded views restrain the plethora of individuals struggling to claw their way towards a new beginning. The two novels entice readers and tell the tragic stories of individuals who have been deceived by the faade that the American Dream presents. Readers are able to see that even those who do not shilly-shally can still fall victim to the misconception of the American Dream.

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