Universidade de São Paulo
Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas Departamento de Letras Modernas
Leituras do Cânon 3 Profa. Dra. Maria Elisa Cevasco
The American Dream in The Great
Gatsby, The Bluest Eye and The Book
Juliana Koch de Mendonça No USP: 7191636
This paper aims to analyze the three following American novels The
Great Gatsby, The Bluest Eye and The Book of Daniel through the ideas that
encompass the concept of the American Dream and are presented in the novels.
The concept of the American Dream appeared in the 30’s, however this does not mean that it was not around before that and that it does not exist until nowadays. The American Dream is the concept of an ideal way of living in the United States; it is based on the freedom of each and every man. It means that it only depends on the people’s hard work to excel in life; people thought that if they worked hard enough they would have their own house, a proper education, a proper job, and that was the only way to a fully happy life. The American Dream also related to the others economic systems of the world, Liberalism, Nazism and Communism; the system in the United State was/is Liberalism, and even though they preached for many kinds of freedom, the government did not accept a different view of freedom from the population. The American Dream of nowadays is still based on a consumer society; people have to buy things to be happy.
The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the story of a
summer in Nick Carraway’s life in the early 20’s. This novel is a the mark in the American literature and the American Dream, it is consider to be a Great American Novel along with other novels. Many readers consider that the main theme of the novel is money, they are partly right; among various themes there are two very important ones in the novel, money and fetishism over the American Dream. Nick, the narrator, was at the same time fascinated and intimidated by Jay Gatsby presence and way of living. The character of Gatsby is the definition of the American Dream itself, he came from nothing and built an empire, however, his dream of financial independence to finally mesmerize Daisy was more likely accumulation of money and materialism than economic freedom. And the most important point to analyze is that Gatsby was never going to be in the higher level of society, people would always know that he did not come from an Ivy League family, and all his hard work, even if illegal, would be useless. Accordingly with the novel you are whom you were born, and there is nothing that you can do to change this fact, you can work hard, you can dream, but you will never change the real you.
Nick Carraway believed in the American Dream, he believed that Gatsby was better than the Buchanans even coming from a simple past, and he said that his own family was built from the Dream as he exposed in the follow quotation:
“The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day.”( FITZGERALD, 1994.
Nick believed that Gatsby, differently from the Buchanans, did not really care about the fancy clothes and cars he only cared about Daisy. And Daisy, on the other hand, as said by Gatsby, her “voice is full of money”1. She was the real example of the American Liberalism and individualism; she only cared about money and her own problems.
The Bluest Eye, novel written by Toni Morrison tells the story of many
characters that are part of the main character’s life, Pecola, and her desire to have the bluest eye possible. In this novel the American Dream is represented by the consumerism, but it is not only about consumerism of things it was also about consuming appearances. Throughout the novel the characters always refer to the beauty of the white people and the ugliness of the black, Pecola drank three quarters of milk just to use a Shirley Temple cup. She dreamed about how she would fit in the world if she had blue eyes. During the time that the novel covers, the 40’s, and even until nowadays, people are influenced by the media, also known as the mass culture, behave and to look like in a specific way; and if you do not fit this look you are an outcast. Nowadays magazines, movies, society influence people to lose weight and to be thin; in the novel they influence people to be “white”. For the blacks characters in the novel, the white were beautiful, they were pure, Pecola mother even treat
1 FITZGERALD, F.S. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Popular Classics, London, 1994. Page 126.
better a child that was not hers because she was white, while she would only scold her own daughter.
Claudia, other character in the novel, thought and acted differently from Pecola, she did not like Shirley Temple, she did not desire to consume life she desired to experience life. Claudia was revolted that the only dolls that she had were blond, how could she be the mother of a blond baby? She did not accept the fact that
“Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.2” And in the peak of her revolt she “destroyed white baby dolls”3. According to Susan Willis in her article I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in
commodity culture?4 Claudia did not accept any kind to accommodation from
the white culture, she was against the supposed white superiority and she did not want to be like Shirley Temple.
Pecola and Claudia were victims of the standardization of the American Dream. The difference was that Pecola succumbed as a young girl, and for Claudia it took a little longer as she expressed in the following sentence “I learned much later to worship her (Shirley Temple), […] knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement.”5. Both girls succumbed to the commodity fetishism imposed by the American Dream of being white; the freedom of choice does not really exists. Claudia chose to be different from the mass, but she had to adjust to society in order to life in society. Pecola tried so hard to achieve the her American Dream of having blue eyes that she could not bear it and went insane. This crazy ideal pre establish by the white mass culture does not exist, in the same way that Gatsby would never be really part of the higher level of society Pecola would never be white.
2 MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972. Page
3 Ibid. Page 22.
4 WILLIS. S. I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in commodity culture? New Formations, number 10, Spring, 1990. Page 77.
5 MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972. Page
In The Book of Daniel, novel written by E. L. Doctorow, other aspect of the American Dream can be analyzed is the political aspect. In the novel Daniel investigated his parents execution by the US government on an espionage charge. His parents were accused of being communists spies. The Rosenberg couple inspired the novel; the Rosenberg were convicted and executed by the American government accused of passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The Issacsons were communists but in the end Daniel was uncertain about his parents innocence, and it does not matter any way, because his parents were dead already, murdered by a hypocrite government.
The novel’s plot is an example of conflict from the Cold War, United States against Soviet Union, and Liberalism against Communism. The United States was and still is a liberal country that promotes the inviolable rights of the individual; some aspects of the liberalism is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality under the law, and so on, all these ideals are parts of the American Dream. It is interesting to analyze these ideals comparing with the real action that goes on in the United States, because if a government preach freedom of the individual its citizens are allowed to believe in whatever they want, right? No, the US government accept only the ideas that they think is acceptable, you are only acceptable if you act/think inside the freedom that they determine. Take this metaphor as an example; people have the freedom to choose between green and blue, but they are not allowed to choose red. This is how the liberalism freedom works, Daniel parents were executed because their thoughts were against the American ideology, and they did no accept the different. And in the case of the Issacsons and the Rosenbergs, the government went too far; they killed them as scapegoating, and all because they were the pariahs of the mainstream America.
In the following passage from the novel Daniel speaks about the relations between government and its citizens, “All societies are armed societies. All citizens are soldiers. All Governments stand ready to commit their citizens to death in the interest of their government.”6. This passage can be related to the current situation here in Brazil, were the citizens are afraid to
6 DOCTOROW, E.L. The Book of Daniel. Random House, New York, 1971. Page 138.
speak up and be harm by our own government. This was Daniel thought, he realized that our own government is the one that oppresses the citizens, and in the case of the novel it was not the Communism.
As the idea of the American Dream was present before, it is possible to say that it is an attempt of the US government and the mass culture to create a society that is always trying to be something they are not. Such freedom as the American Dream promotes does not exist, because if people were really free they would be able to be whomever they decided to be, without being judged by others. The three novels discuss this concept in different ways; in
The Great Gatsby, Gatsby enriches but he would never fit in the high society,
he would never be accepted as a member of this society, because he had a simple background. In The Bluest Eye, Pecola is the unhappiest girl because she did fit in the beauty ideal proposed by society, and all she wanted to be is accepted but she never did. And in The Book of Daniel, Daniel parents were the ones that did not fit in the ideal society imposed by the government. There fore, it is conclusive that the American Dream is a concept that stimulates the fears, prejudice and ignorance in the citizens, the idea of being the pariah is scared and people will do the best to fit in this impossible ideal of “perfection”.
DOCTOROW, E.L. The Book of Daniel. Random House, New York, 1971. FITZGERALD, F.S. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Popular Classics, London, 1994. MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972.
WILLIS. S. I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in