What themes are common to Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes were Watching God?
The american Dream is one obviously--what other themes run through all three books?
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The three books were written by authors with different ideological stances: a white leftist (Steinbeck), a conservative African American woman (Hurston) and a wealthy and ostentatious man of Irish-American background (Fitzgerald). In spite of the obvious differences, all three novels are concerned with the clash between one's dreams and aspirations and the harsh realities which interfere with them. The characters of the three novels also find themselves involved in class and racial conflicts. In Of Mice and Men, George and Lennie's aspirations are limited by their marginal position in society and by their poverty. Rich characters like Curley are presented as intolerant and arrogant. In Their Eyes Hurston depicts different social classes through which her character Janie moves in her quest for identity. From her high-class status in Eatonville she becomes a simple worker on the muck. This is not experienced by Janie as a degradation but as a liberation from her previous husband's obsession with middle-class white standards. As for The Great Gatsby, the novel represents the wealthy as morally corrupt and sets up a contrast between this corruption and Nick's moral values.
In addition, the three novels also deal with the issue of race and racism. Their Eyes offers an interesting perspective of how African Americans internalize white racism by adopting white standards and by discriminating against darker-skinned fellow blacks. In Of Mice and Men the black character Crooks is shown as living in isolation and is depicted as a victim of racial stereotyping. In Gatsby the character of Tom Buchanan is clearly portrayed as a racist and a white supremacist. He is described in an unsympathetic light; yet, the Jewish character of Wolfshiem has been the focus of different critical pieces focussing on Fitzgerald supposed anti-Semitism.
Threading through all three of these novels is a motif of the search for one's self-identity. In the case of Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby, of course, his is an illusionary search as he desires the idyllic American Dream, idealizing the white-attired Daisy as the grail to be attained in his self-realization. For Janie of Their Eyes Were Watching God, her search for self is simply to attain autonomy and not be subservient to her two husbands, Logan Killicks and Joe Starks. The realization of her search is attained when she meets Teacake. After his death Janie returns home, having found her "peace" which is within herself. And, in Of Mice and Men, the dream of owning a ranch is much like Gatsby's illusionary American Dream--unattainable. But, George, with Lennie, and old Candy and even Crooks desire to own something, call something their own, in the hopes of having an identity of their own, and with it, true manhood.
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