The American Dream: A True Dream in Literature (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Book Review)



The American Dream is a belief that anyone, regardless of where they come from or what class they were born into, can have an equal opportunity to achieve success. The American a dream is achieved through rigorous hard work, risk-taking, and sacrifice. The theme of the American Dream is utilized by many pieces of literature, although, the two most prominent works that employ the theme of the American Dream is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The Great Gatsby is a novel that tells the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, and with this wealth he pursuits a wealthy young woman named Daisy Buchanan whom he loved in the past. While the story of A Raisin in the Sun is a play about an African American family aspiring to move beyond living in poverty and moving onto a better community through hard work, while also fighting prejudice and segregation to achieve wealth and success. Both fictional stories display that the main character believes that attaining the American Dream can solve all of their problems, however, the wide-ranging knowledge shared on the hurdles of racial discrimination establishes A Raisin in the Sun as the text which better portrays the American Dream and gives the audience a greater understanding of these obstacles. There are many similarities between the two texts, however, the most staggering similarity is that both of the main characters view the American Dream as a means of attaining success, happiness, and providing a solution to all their problems.

In The Great Gatsby, Jay  Gatsby’s initial belief was that by achieving wealth and success he would gain respect, admiration, and notoriety from those around him, but most importantly he would gain the affection of Daisy Buchanon. The following quote reveals how Gatsby believed his wealth would win over Daisy, “ 'I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night,' went on Jordan." (Fitzgerald 63). Previously Gatsby’s advances were rejected by Daisy due to his impoverished wealth and class. Now that Gatsby is in the upper-class he believes that throwing extravagant parties with his wealth will attract Daisy and that his lifelong desire for her affection would be met. Similarly, Walter Younger believes that achieving the American Dream would help him get a wealth of assets and materialistic items as he never had enough growing up and that it will help provide for his struggling family. This quote best encapsulates Walters opinion on gaining wealth, “WALTER – sometimes when I’m downtown and I pass them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ‘bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me.” (Hansberry 76). Walter utters this line to make Mama understand that being a black man in the nineteen fifties is mentally tormenting. This quote shows that Walter feels as though he is falling behind in the rat race. For Walter having money is the only plausible solution to gain freedom, respect, and a place in the world to support his family and his desires.

Comparatively, both Gatsby and Walter have delusions that becoming wealthy and achieving the American Dream can solve all of their problems. Towards the end of each story, both face the harsh reality that the wealth they have accumulated can not solve all of their problems. As Daisy leaves Gatsby for Tom, and Gatsby gets shot due to Daisy’s actions. Likewise, Walter comes to learn that dignity is not the product of wealth and class, but it is a product of self-respect.  However, there are many differences between both stories in the way they represent the American Dream. The most striking difference is facing the hurdle of racial discrimination to reach the American Dream. This is most evident in A Raisin in the Sun, as the book takes place in the nineteen-fifties, a time of abundant segregation laws coupled with high racial tension. The play exhibits the struggle of Walter and his family attempting to achieve wealth while simultaneously dealing with prejudice and discrimination due to their skin color. This line uttered by Mama shows the struggle and hardship faced by the Younger family, “ MAMA-Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could.” (Hansberry 95 ). This line demonstrates that segregation laws made it much harder for the Younger family to leave the slums, as all members of the Younger families have low-paying jobs. As high-paying jobs were reserved for white people, and African-Americans were limited to low-paying jobs. This results in the Younger family working monumentally harder than white citizens. In contrast, in The Great Gatsby, characters like Jordan, Nick, Daisy, and Tom have no such obstacles as they are white members of the upper-class society. Most of the characters in the book inherited their wealth, and have not faced the struggle of discrimination and the real world. This includes Gatsby who got wealthy relatively quickly, as his shady dealings would not be suspected by the judicial system and local authorities due to his skin color. The following line from Tom Buchannon establishes the benefit of being a white man in the twenties, “It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or those other races will have control of things.” (Fitzgerald 19). This quote implies that white people have a majority stranglehold over society and that they have more advantages. This is a result of the mindset in the twenties that white people were the “superior race”, which gave people of color fewer opportunities in comparison to white people. Thus characters like Daisy, Tom, and Nick are handed wealth on a silver platter because of their families’ race. The display of hardships and overcoming them to achieve successes and prosperity in A Raisin in the Sun better encapsulates the true meaning of the American Dream which is putting in rigorous hard work, sacrifice, and suffering hardships to achieve successes. 

In closing, it should be noted that while both stories have similarities such as the main characters carrying the belief that the American Dream has the potential to be a solution to their problems. There are also significant differences chiefly concerning the struggles of racial discrimination faced by the characters in A Raisin in the Sun, which better encapsulates the American Dream which is achieved through many hurdles and sacrifices. Despite their paramount differences in certain aspects, both the novel and play are impactful and unique in their own ways in regards to the American Dream. Both stories paint over the ethos surrounding the American Dream and adjust it as they seem fit for the modern world. There is no doubt that both works will go down in history as shining examples of their own unique take on the American Dream.