American Dream in Literature
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The American Experience in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby and The Streetcar Named Desire
Throughout the history of the United States the concept of “Americanness” has been discussed and defined not once by authors and thinkers. It would be wrong to think that it remains unchanged for centuries because society and its values are flexible and have evolved since the first settlers first came to the land. Yet, the idea of the American Dream is still a key concept that forms American identity. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and The Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams all deal with the interpretation of the American Dream. Yet, if the nineteenth century vision of it is more optimistic, the twentieth century’s authors tend to speak about the crisis of the American Dream and the crash of hopes for those who cannot adjust to the world’s challenges.
Apparently, as the oldest among the three discussed works, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written in the epoch when the concept of the American dream was just being shaped. The illustration of the concept is quite controversial because on the one hand it is a story based on the main values of the American dream but on the other hand it reveals the flaws of society which created the concept. There are a few aspects about the term which should be discussed in relation to the novel. First of all, individuality and independence are key values, which are illustrated in the book and its protagonist. Huck is independent and courageous; he refuses to be part of crowd and prefers to achieve happiness in his own way. His journey down the Mississippi river with Jim can seem an escape from society but it is also a demonstration of perseverance to attain his goals on his own. As critics point out, “ Huck’s decision to separate from American society is an incident of the American dream of freedom…Twain’s novels transcends our traditional understanding of the American Dream” (Bloom 3).Individualism of Huck is contrasted with conformity of middle-class surroundings who try to “civilize” him.nbsp; Mark Twain questions the validity of values, which claim that there are equal opportunities for all to achieve success. So, the story of Huck, an orphan and outcast demonstrates that in fact these values are not so easy to implement. Besides, as racial and social inequality exists, the author reveals an idea that the values of the American dream cannot be fulfilled if they are only based on economic bargain and social ambition.
Speaking about the concept of success in the American Dream, Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is an example of how economic and social position can be misleading. If Huck is an outsider, Gatsby seems to be the fortune’s favorite. He has money, wit, charm, and is welcome and appreciated by society. Yet, as the story of the protagonist unveils, it is made clear that the path to success is not as glamorous as it might seem. In fact, the author reveals an idea that it takes sacrifice and lies to climb on a social ladder, and even this superficial glitz cannot save one from utter loneliness. It might be pleasant to be on top but is it worth it if one has to stay alone there? Thus, it can be claimed for sure that the author is pessimistic about dreamers to fulfill their plans because the American Dream gets twisted and transformed into pure greed of material wealth and fame. Besides, the clash between aristocratic families and new millionaires is revealed. On the surface, it seems that Gatsby is accepted by upper classes but in fact he is not because the whole communication in the circle of Gatsby and his so-called friends is a complete make-believe. His companions use him as a resource for making their lives even more luxurious and pleasant but in fact they despise him. In the end, it appears that Nick is the only friend of Gatsby, while his companions vanish as they cannot use his money any longer. The tragedy of Gatsby reveals the clash between the old values of the American Dream and its new version which to Fitzgerald’s mind is a sign of decay. In fact, Gatsby is a representative of the old type of dreamers who believe that individual hard work can help people become happy in the course of obtaining wealth and respect, while the new epoch makes money the ultimate goal. Evolution of the American dream can be conntroversial but some experts say that there is no contradiction between each of its versions: “there is no one American Dream. Instead, there are many American Dreams, their appeal simultaneously resting on their variety and specificity” (Cullen 7).
In its turn, Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire continues the discussion raised by Fitzgerald about the decline of the American dream. Instead of triumph of individuality, it appears to be a fierce battle where the fittest and the most aggressive survive. There is no place for romantic generation of dreamers represented by Blanche but they are changed by people like Stanly Kovalski who are cynical and realistic. It would be true to say that the author does not exactly blame the new America of the old America’s decay. He realizes perfectly that Romantics failed because their inability to see the truth as it is. Blanche cannot face the reality that the world is changing and that she is also aging, and prefers to stick to old ideals and illusions. She is arrogant as she thinks her sister’s husband is a brute while she is sure that she is sophisticated and aristocratic. Yet, it is obvious that the tragedy of Blanche is that she is out-of-date and cannot recognize it, and eventually turns into a wax doll from the past. The role of Stanly, in this respect, is to wake her up, and he does it brutally by demonstrating that he as a representative of the new successful class can dominate.
Thus, the concept of the American Dream unites the three analyzed works and represents the authors’ vision of their contemporary society. All of them criticize the flaws of social order and values, still Mark Twain remains more optimistic. Even though he shows that the ideals of equality are not realizable for all people regardless their background, he still demonstrates that Huck embodies individualism, freedom and determination, which are true American values. In their turn, Williams and Fitzgerald focus on the crisis that the American Dream undergoes in the twentieth century. They show that more pragmatic, cynical and wealth-oriented people appear on the social scene, while romantics just cannot survive because they do not fit into this new world.