The American Dream

What is the American Dream?
  • First, the expanse of the American continent, then the personal freedom protected by American democracy, and, finally, the wealth and sheer energy of the American economy offer the opportunity (not the guarantee) for anyone, regardless of race, color or creed the ability to achieve success.

How is success achieved?

  • Through commitment to the virtues of American citizenship: industriousness, frugality, and discipline you can gain a first rate education. Add good manners, skill talking with people, good speaking and communication skills, and you have the requisite skills you will need to find your way into the marketplace. But once there, you will need to have the imagination and decisiveness to commit to a business plan that will earn profit.

What do we mean by success?

  • Material possessions are essential to the American idea of success: a house, a family, property, the car, the girl, social prominence.

What intangible sources of esteem lay at the heart of our notion if success?

  • Success may be the belief that in America we have the opportunity to invent ourselves, to shape our own destiny through self-reliance, independence and individual autonomy. In this way we connect the American Dream to the central theme of tragedy: the hero seeks to achieve a goal that incarnates the deepest desires of his community, and his failure both moves and terrifies us.
  • Unspoken, as well, is the assumption that you need to be seen by others as a success in order to be a success. You have to be seen doing it in order for it to count. Material wealth that is visible becomes essential to the accomplishment of success: You have to be seen with the car and the woman in order for the dream to be accomplished. Money is a means to the end, but a virtual necessity in order to achieve

Fitzgerald and Tragedy:

  • The Great Gatsby explores tragic themes. Jay Gatsby's character embodies virtues which express the hopes and dreams of America in the 1920's: our optimism, our belief that perfect happiness is attainable. Gatsby's failed pursuit of Daisy Buchanan is not simply a critique of Jazz Age social corruption. The failure of his dream exposes flaws in the nature of the American Dream itself. Gatsby demands more from life than life can give and refuses to compromise his vision. This compulsion ultimately destroys him. Perhaps there is a sad wisdom in Daisy’s capitulation to the realities of her society despite their injustice. The only way we can gain traction in a world which will not conform to our dreams is to accept the conventions of a particular time and place and work within them. There is great wisdom in this approach to life although it is a bitter pill to swallow.