The ideology of the American Dream was a common goal shared by many individuals in the 20th century and is often the underlying theme in many pieces of American literature. Two popular pieces of literature that portray this notion are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Both novels are based around the time after the First World War. The Great Gatsby is set in the summer of 1922, during the Roaring Twenties, an era of economic prosperity where the American Dream feels easily achievable. The novel follows the life of Jay Gatsby, who tries to win over the woman he loves, Daisy Buchanan, by impressing her with his wealth. Whereas, Of Mice and Men is set during a time of hardships and poverty causing the American Dream to feel unachievable. The novel follows the lives of two ranch workers who share a dream of one day owning a farm together. One of the men, Lennie Small, has a mental disability and the other man, George Milton, is there to protect him. Despite being set within different eras of American society, both F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck illustrate the failure of the American Dream and the consequences of such in The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men.
Fitzgerald illustrates the outcome of allowing moral values to be affected by emotions and desires affiliated with the American Dream. Gatsby is too blinded by his love for Daisy that he exchanges his morality for wealth. His whole adult life revolves around immorality. Gatsby is plotting to take another man’s wife, and is willing to go to any extent to do it. He acquires the wealth needed to impress Daisy by becoming a bootlegger when he had the option to win her over morally. Furthermore, Daisy commits murder by running over Myrtle, the woman Tom was cheating on her with, yet Gatsby is willing to take all the responsibility for it. Despite being in a car that just killed Myrtle, his mind was still fixated on his relationship with Daisy rather than the woman she just killed. The fact that Daisy allows Gatsby to take the blame for her wrong doing exposes us to how immoral she is. Her and Gatsby’s actions lead Myrtle’s husband, George Wilson, to wrongly seek revenge for his wife’s death by shooting Gatsby, “The chauffeur-he was one of Wolfshiem’s protégés-heard the shots” (Fitzgerald,169). Despite George’s reason to kill Gatsby, murder still remains an immoral act. The actions of one immoral individual acts as a ripple effect and has caused more immorality to be done. For instance, if Gatsby didn’t allow Daisy to cloud his judgement in the first place then Mr. Wilson wouldn’t have acted immoral and committed the murder of Gatsby. The whole society has completely allowed their morals and ethics to be diminished by their American Dream.
Immorality is displayed through Of Mice and Men through George and Lennie’s relationship. During the Great Depression, most men walked alone in search of jobs and couldn’t care for anyone else. However, George makes Lennie’s welfare his responsibility. Lennie is constantly causing trouble due to his disability, which eventually leads him to accidentally kill Curley’s wife. George is Lennie’s closest companion and is aware of the fact that Lennie’s murder is not intentional. Despite George being aware of this, he takes it upon himself to shoot Lennie in the back of the head, “And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the mussel of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger’ (Steinbeck, 107). George is constantly complaining about the burden of Lennie, once it became too much for George to handle, he makes the choice to relieve himself of that burden. As previously mentioned, in no circumstance is it moral to murder someone. Prior to his death, Lennie has a debate with an imaginary rabbit where the rabbit discusses the reasons for George to beat up Lennie. Despite these reasons, Lennie defends George, “I’ve knew George since–I forget when–and he ain’t never raised his han’ to me with a stick. He’s nice to me. He ain’t gonna be mean’ (Steinbeck, 102). This comment portrays that it’s not in George’s nature to hurt Lennie, let alone murder him. Therefore, this act of murder is going against George’s morals. After this event plays out, George lies about the details of the murder to the ranch workers and acts as if Lennie’s passing didn’t phase him by getting a drink with Slim. Similar to the Great Gatsby, both novels display acts of murder due to immorality.
The result of the American dream leads to an isolated lifestyle. Fitzgerald uses the character of Gatsby as a primary representation of a figure that is completely isolated as a consequence of acquiring the American Dream. Gatsby’s isolation is due to his separation from society in hopes to win over Daisy’s love with his wealth. During the roaring twenties, it was very common for large groups of people to join together for extravagant parties. However, once the parties would come to an end, most people were forced back into their reality which consisted of loneliness and isolation. Despite Gatsby being the most well known man in West Egg for his elaborate parties, the parties were full of people who didn’t truly care for him. Gatsby initially used these parties as a way to flaunt what he made of himself, in hopes to attract Daisy’s attention. However, the death of Gatsby demonstrates how isolated he truly was in society. Despite the hundreds of people that would attend his parties, only a few people paid their respects at his funeral, “but it wasn’t any use, nobody came” (Fizgerald, 113). Even Daisy, the root of Gatsby’s dreams and aspirations, didn’t bother to show up but rather continued to enjoy her wealthy lifestyle.
The theme of isolation is presented in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Curley’s wife is a dominant example of the oppression against women during the Great Depression. Curley had great control over his wife, which was very common during the 1930s. Her husband had forbidden anyone in the ranch from communicating with her. She is a female in an all-male world where women are not to be trusted. Despite Steinbeck’s initial portrayal of Curley’s wife being a mean temptress, readers come to pity her loneliness. Her desperation for companionship becomes so severe to the extent that she comes to question her worth, “what’s the matter with me? Ain’t I got a right to talk to nobody?” (Steinbeck, 87). Her hopes to find a companion in an all-male world led her to Lennie, but in doing so this communication resulted in the loss of her life. Similar to Gatsby, Curley’s wife is also a victim of isolation due to the prejudice caused by the American Dream. She had an American Dream of achieving wealth and success through becoming a famous Hollywood actor, “I coulda made somethin’ of myself… I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet” (Steinbeck, 89). But her dream couldn’t be fulfilled while stuck with her prejudiced husband. Whereas Gatsby felt the need to achieve the American dream to impress Daisy because she was prejudiced against lower social classes than hers, and only wanted men of her social ranking.
An individual may take extreme measures to achieve the American Dream which may lead them to a loss of innocence. In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is highly determined to achieve the American dream in order to impress his previous lover, Daisy Buchanan. Despite their previous affairs, Daisy continues to pursue an interest in men of her own social class which drives Gatsby to reach a similar status as her. Since Daisy is the focus of all of Gatsby’s dreams, he is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the wealth and status associated with the American Dream and impressing Daisy, even if it means going against the law. The Prohibition Act of 1919 banned the production, importation, and distribution of alcohol in the United States up until 1933. The prohibition era didn’t stop Americans from drinking, but rather lead many of them to illegally purchase their alcohol from bootleggers. It is through Tom Buchanan that we come to learn that Gatsby is a wealthy bootlegger, ‘He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter” (Fitzgerald, 284). Gatsby hides the fact that he is a wealthy bootlegger in order to preserve his innocence and the reputation of his success in achieving his wealth.
Steinbeck portrays the loss of innocence in the novel Of Mice and Men through the death of his characters. For instance, the death of Curley’s wife displays a loss of innocence. Despite how she is initially displayed in a negative light, Steinbeck preserves her innocence through her death. When Lennie accidentally kills her, she is described in a light of innocence, “She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted” (Steinbeck, 93). Furthermore, the death of Lennie also displays a loss of innocence. Due to Lennie’s mental disability, he is portrayed with a child-like innocence. The 1930s consisted of a very violent society that was obsessed with wealth as a result of the American Dream, hence the fact that Lennie’s disability gives him this innocence that causes everyone around him to talk down on him. This leads Curley to constantly belittle Lennie because he feels as if he isn’t of the same violent nature as everyone else in the ranch. Every bad situation Lennie creates is an accident. Therefore, it’s not logical to hold Lennie responsible for his actions when he doesn’t have control over his power. His death illustrates a loss of his innocence and George’s innocence because as previously stated, it’s not in George’s nature nor innocence to hurt Lennie. In comparison to The Great Gatsby, both novels display a loss of innocence as a result of a society obsessed with financial success as a consequence of the American Dream.
Both The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men illustrate the failure of the American Dream and the consequences that it leads to. The goal of the American Dream felt achievable during the Roaring Twenties in comparison to the Great Depression where times were much more difficult. Despite being set in different eras, both novels display themes such as loss of innocence, immorality, and isolation as a result of the American Dream. It is through both of these novels that the authors demonstrate the importance that a dream can have in someone’s life.
The American Dream demonstrates the hopes of financial success leading to happiness, despite how achievable it may be.