Dark Side of the American Dream in the Stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’

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The American Dream is depicted as an ideal, almost perfect lifestyle mostly centered around money and materialistic possessions. However, it can also be seen as a very flawed and selfish idea. This flawed image is wonderfully portrayed in the stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’. Both stories use different plot elements and hidden meanings to convey this flawed image of the American Dream.

The American Dream is an idea that opportunity is equal for everyone in America, making it possible for anyone to climb the ladder of capitalism and power. As Barone states, “The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance”. The American Dream was named by an author named James Truslow Adams in a book named ‘Epic of America’ back in 1931. This book describes America as a sort of promised land, allowing for anyone to have the power and riches assuming they make the proper effort. He believes that America is a land where life is just simply better. Some common aspects or examples of completing the American Dream is owning personal land and property, specifically a personal home. As Barone explains, “Today, home ownership is frequently cited as an example of attaining the American Dream. It is a symbol of financial success and independence, and it means the ability to control one’s own dwelling place instead of being subject to the whims of a landlord”. Owning expensive properties and items is a symbol representing that you have obtained money. This goes further to represent the American Dream as, theoretically, all Americans should have the ability to purchase these things. For example, another example of this is owning a boat. A boat is something that is rather situational and not very practical, and often requires care and money to maintain. So, although it is not practical and particularly useful, it requires a large amount of income to have. This is one of the finest examples of how in the American Dream, one of the most important things is materialistic value and capital. The story ‘Winter Dreams’ does a wonderful job at describing and mocking the value of things other than money in America and how money is the most valuable thing someone can have.

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‘Winter Dreams’ was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story tells of a boy named Dexter Green. Dexter is a young teen who works at a golf course as a caddy every summer. He looks up at those who have wealth, having dreams and passion for money. His dreams start to change, however, when he sees Judy Jones. He views her as a lovely and exquisite woman whom he wishes to be with, and has to prove his worth. His dreams of becoming rich become ever stronger until he was almost obsessed with becoming financially successful. He quits his job soon after to start on his path to become rich. He heads off to college in order to earn an education before going back to Minnesota to start up a business in laundry. His dreams are already starting to become realized, but he then finds Judy Jones once more. His financial dreams have been and are becoming realized, although his romantic ambition for the girl has yet to be obtained. He soon after met a girl named Irene Scheerer and gets into a relationship with her, although it will most likely fail. As the Shmoop Editorial Team explains, “We know that the introduction of Irene Scheerer into Dexter’s life probably isn’t going to alter Dexter’s feelings for Judy. After all, the adjectives that Fitzgerald uses to describe Irene – ‘sturdily popular’ and ‘solid’ - are not the stuff of romance… And indeed, before we know it, Judy reappears and Dexter’s on-again-off-again affair with her starts up once more” (Shmoop Editorial Team). The relationship between the two is guaranteed to fail in the end, as Judy simply doesn’t like Dexter. As was expected, the relationship does indeed fail, and Dexter is left distraught. Afterwards, he finally gives up on women, his passion for his dreams already fading. He had his dreams of financial success to focus on, after all. In due time, he finally becomes as rich as humanly possible, so much so that nothing could financially stop him. However, he runs into a problem when a business partner comes to him and mention Judy Jones, or rather Judy Simms. She was unhappily married, and Dexter had started thinking about what happened to him. After all of his dreams had been realized and he had given up on women, he had lost all of his passion. He had thrown away all of his dreams and ambitions once his biggest ones were fully realized or failed. This is a great example of the American Dream and how it is not this perfect, amazing life. Dexter pushes everything away in order to obtain riches beyond riches, and nothing else besides financial success. While it is true that in America, there is a chance for anyone to become rich, but all it is monetary value. No matter the opportunity for wealth and financial success there is, it never guarantees that there will be success in love and ambitions. The story goes off of this statement and uses it to heavily critique the American Dream, bringing its darkest parts to light.

The story ‘The Swimmer’ is yet another story that can be interpreted as another review and criticization of the American Dream. The story tells of a man named Neddy Merrill. He is a man who is in his youthful middle-age who is energetic and athletic. Neddy savors the summer day, basking in the pleasures of physical exertion, water, and the sun’s warmth. Ned starts at the beginning of the story by sitting next to the side of his neighbors’ pool, looking out in the direction of his house as he thinks. In his mind, he mentally takes note that it was around the time that his four daughters will have finished lunch, so he decides to take the separate pools to go home. He sees them as one long stream that goes all the way to his house, and decides that he will adventure along them. In his mind, he sees everything as a kind of territory, and he is an adventurer discovering it all. He first goes to Mrs. Graham’s pool, to which he is met with a somewhat rude welcome. He makes his way into their pool as he starts his swim home, seeing everyone around him as simple elements in his adventure. He makes his soon gets out and heads through a few more pools before getting to the Bunders’ residence, to which he is in another party hosted by Mrs. Bunker. He is met with another rude welcome as he quickly makes his swim and leaves with haste, moving onto the next property. He arrives at Levys’ backyard and sees that the residents are not home, which makes him happy. He quickly swims through their pool before hiding under the gazebo nearby to hide out of the storm. He continues going through different properties and pools until he eventually reaches the Hallorans’ house, to which he is in search of a drink. Whenever they are not able to give him one, they point him over to the Biswanger’s. He quickly heads over, and is scolded and insulted by Mrs. Biswanger. He continues into the party anyways, and is continuously insulted as he served coldly. He heads home after a small talk with Shirley Adams, dispirited and in despair. The place that is a callout to the American Dream is whenever he visits the Biswanger’s house. One time before, he had shown up to the house, drunk and asking for money. In the partygoers’ eyes, he was seen as a poor and crazy old man, and someone who is not seen as equal to them. They tell him that his failure was due to his finances, which ties back into how money is the deciding factor in America. He’s seen as a man who is not of the same caliber, almost solely based on his financial status. Even though he supposedly has an equal opportunity to become rich like them, he is looked down upon by the upper class, even by the bartender.

These two stories were both made to show the dark side of the ever-popular American Dream. The American Dream, although portrayed as a place of happiness, great quality of life, and financial success, is also a place where society and mindsets are twisted to knowing that money is the single most valuable thing a person can have, as it can both make life beautiful, but also destroy lives when it’s lost. America is built off of hard work and money, making it equally opportunistic for finances and education, but that means nothing in terms of other ambitions, such as romance or fame. America itself is almost a living example of how money can be truly considered the root of all evil.

Works Cited

  1. Barone, Adam. ‘What Is the American Dream?’. Investopedia, Investopedia, 4 Dec. 2019, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-dream.asp
  2. Shmoop Editorial Team. 'Winter Dreams Plot Analysis'. Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 5 Dec. 2019. https://www.shmoop.com/winter-dreams/plot-analysis.html
  3. LitCharts. “The Swimmer Themes”. LitCharts, https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-swimmer/themes
  4. Levine, Robert S. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter Eight Edition ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton, 2017.
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Dark Side of the American Dream in the Stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/dark-side-of-the-american-dream-in-the-stories-winter-dreams-and-the-swimmer/
“Dark Side of the American Dream in the Stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/dark-side-of-the-american-dream-in-the-stories-winter-dreams-and-the-swimmer/
Dark Side of the American Dream in the Stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/dark-side-of-the-american-dream-in-the-stories-winter-dreams-and-the-swimmer/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
Dark Side of the American Dream in the Stories ‘Winter Dreams’ and ‘The Swimmer’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/dark-side-of-the-american-dream-in-the-stories-winter-dreams-and-the-swimmer/
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