Wednesday, June 5, 2013

American Dreams of Cheese Lead to Traps: Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby

Like a smoking hot cheese pizza, it is nearly impossible to evade the seduction of the American Dream. As tempting as it is, eating too much of the pie will only make you sick, or worse, in Gatsby's and Lennie's case, lead to a fatal end. It is a concept that without doubt will show up on the AP English Literature Exam, so make sure that you prepare your dough correctly.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a man who was conflicted by the trappings of the American Dream, which is perhaps made most apparent in Great Gatsby quotes. As Nick poignantly assesses at the close of the novel, Gatsby's yearning for the green light at the end of the Daisy's dock, aka Daisy, was really "the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us" (9.149-151). In other words, Gatsby's desire for Daisy will never be fulfilled, just as the wealth and prosperity that he has obtained will never enable him to escape the past. Although American capitalism is theoretically a system in which every citizen can pull him/herself up by his/her bootstraps, theory does not translate to reality: just like gambling, the small possibility of winning breeds insatiable want. Although Gatsby in theory obtains the American Dream, his bootstraps are weighed down by bootlegging. Who could blame him? In a world where old money ruled the East coast, he had to cheat to get there. Unfortunately new money did not guarantee acceptance in those days, and Gatsby's obsessive desire for love, wealth, and social standing resulted in his death.

On a larger scale, the lust for wealth during the Roaring Twenties resulted in the squeaking thirties: The Great Depression. Of Mice and Men looks at the American Dream from the flipside: that of the extreme poor trying to make ends meet in the biggest recession in history. Their dreams are so far away, that they are mere fantasies. Curly's wife is a wannabe Hollywood movie star, Lennie and George are aspiring ranch owners, and the rest are rogues hoping for a big break. Even before they get the pizza, they are dreaming of the toppings. In one sense, it is a way for them to get through their destitute, downtrodden lives, but in another, it is false consciousness dragging them down into despair.

In this day and age, the American Dream is as alive as ever. Reality shows like American Idol and America's Next Top Model drive it home. As the film Confessions of a Shopaholic proves, consumer culture stays alive even in a recession; Visa and Mastercard make sure of that. Yet, despite its shortcomings, the dream shines before us and lights our way in the dark like a full moon, that even if it is only an illusion of reflected light, drives us forward. As Fitzgerald writes, with a dose of cynicism, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." In other words, if you deny your past, chasing dreams, or even obtaining them, will never be fulfilling. Perfect your homemade crust before running down to the California Pizza Kitchen.

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