For centuries, men and women from all over the world have seen in America a place where they could realize their dreams. We each dream our own American Dream. For some it is a vision of material prosperity, for others it can be a feeling of secure and safe. It can be the dream of setting goals. It can be about social justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave the speech of ??I have a dream??, says ??In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ??We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.????
We believe in the American Dream because it does not fit with any temporary contentedness, rather it brings us the power for improvement and equality. However, why does the American Dream still fall? The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is considered as the representative of the decline of the American Dream, can give us some ideas of what it is about.
The Great Gatsby describes the failure of American Dream, from the point of view that American political ideas conflict with actual conditions that exist. For whereas American democracy is based on the idea of equality among people, the truth is that social discrimination still exists and divisions among the classes cannot be overcome. Myrtle Wilson??s attempt to break into the Buchanans fails at last. She struggles herself to fit into an upper social group, pretends to be rich and scorns people from her own class. She does all these because she wants to find a place for herself in Tom Buchanan??s class but she does not succeed in doing so.
Nearly all the characters in the story are materialistic and this included Fitzgerald himself. Fitzgerald mirrored his nation??s new attitude toward money: he was considerably more interested in making and spending it than in accumulating it. This is exactly what Tom and Daisy Buchanans are behaving. The roaring twenties is immortalized as a time of entertainment ?V a glamorous movie stars and singers, high fashion, leisure activities, numerous radio shows and parties. In ??Highlight of American Literature??, Dean Curry writes: ??The Great Gatsby reflects Fitzgerald??s deeper knowledge, his recognition that wanting to be happy does not insure one??s being so and that pursuit of entertainment may only cover a lot of pain.??(182) Popular culture thrived in this decade because of the need to escape. People wanted fun and absorbing kinds of things to take their minds off the bleak world they saw around them. Basically, this dream world for most people, is to get lost when problems are getting too big to handle. Fantasies serve a foundation for all those who do not want to face the pressures of living in a modern world.
Benjamin Franklin believed that the only way to true wealth was through hard work. He also believed very strongly, that all people were created equal and had the same opportunities available to them to achieve the American Dream. However, for our central character, Jay Gatsby, this is not quite true. Gatsby tries very hard to transform himself from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, ??an Oxford man??. He wants to erase his history but in the other side, he wants to ??repeat the past??. He attempts to delete his past record because he does not want to involve in poverty anymore. However, on the other hand he longs for the past because in the past, he had a love affair with Daisy. He knows that he could not marry her because they are of different social class. He leaves her and achieves his American Dream. Once he becomes rich, he moves to the opposite bay to Daisy??s house just want to be near to Daisy. He holds extravagant parties, hoping he could see her one day. He, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. Gatsby??s American Dream is not material possession. He only comes into riches so that he can fulfil his true American Dream, Daisy. However, he fails to make his dream to come true in the end.
The failure of the American Dream is unavoidable, for reality cannot keep up with ideals, but also because the ideals are in any case usually too fantastic to be realized. The American Dream also criticizes that it is also time for idealists to wake up to reality.
When the crash of October 1929 ended the biggest speculative binge in the nation??s history, it brought the roaring twenties to a close. The thirties, remembered as the decade of economic depression, poverty and unemployment, is also the time our story ??The Glass Menagerie?? by Tennessee Williams takes place. .
Williams presents us a story in The Glass Menagerie with four characters who seem to avoid reality more than facing it. The four Wingfields, including the father, who abandoned his family to join the merchant marine years before, are all mashed by poverty and personal problems. Amanda has had to bring up two children alone. Tom’s shoe-warehouse job supports the whole family. Laura has been so perplexed by a leg-brace throughout high school that she can neither endure secretarial school nor flirt with boys. And she is truly terrified by the world outside that she believes it can never include her.
The play deals with issues and emotions that practically everyone has had to face: Freedom towards the burden of responsibility; love to the family towards the need to live your own life. Tom longs to leave home and make his own adventures. He hates his job in the warehouse and spends most of his time working on poetry and escapes into movies. Tom and Laura have a close relationship. He cannot leave like his father without regrets because he is too devoted to Laura, who has been crippled both by physical disfigurement and her own extreme shyness.
Laura is very shy and does not want to be involved with the world outside of their apartment. She collects tiny glass animals, and she treasures them more than actually participating in daily contact with the public. She is like a wounded animal, mirrors her own fears of failure. Amanda, an erstwhile Southern belle, clings to the past, as she constantly reminds Tom and Laura of her ??seventeen gentlemen callers??. Though Amanda often retreats to memories of her past, she worries of the present situation. She insists Tom should find Laura a husband before he abandons them, fearing that Laura will wind up to be an ??old maid??. Although her own marriage brought her nothing but poverty, still she believes a husband can be salvable for Laura.
In the story, we can see that the American Dream does not exist – Jim tries but the Wingfields have almost given up on their lives. They avoid reality and are so involved in their illusory world that they have no time to work on their goals. In the end, it appears that Laura is finally overcoming her shyness, but as she knows Jim is engaged, she returns back to her Victrola which is also the symbol of her fantasy world. Tom determines to leave but he sticks too much to the past memory, especially his memories with Laura. Jim is the only one in the story that faces reality. He believes in himself. He knows that as he works hard, one day he will achieve great success. He said, “Being disappointed is one thing and being discouraged is another. I am disappointed but I’m not discouraged.” (116).
The Glass Menagerie is simple on its surface ?V it tells a single incident in the life of a small family. It has no heroic characters like what we see in The Great Gatsby. The poorly born characters in The Great Gatsby, such as James Gatz and Myrtle Wilson desire to change and to go away from the ??valley of ashes??. Gatsby??s dream comes from his past and he will sacrifice everything just for the accomplishment of his goals, while Amanda, Laura and Tom are just too obsessed to their past events.
Maybe we can conclude the decline of the American Dream by what Fitzgerald said in his late life, ??France was a land, England a people, but America, having about it still the quality of that idea, was harder to utter ?V it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered. It was a willingness of the heart.??