Compare the portrayal of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby & A Streetcar Named Desire.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One concurrent strand that runs between both Williams and Fitzgerald is the hollow and sometimes fraudulent nature of the American Dream.  Both works show how the American Dream works for some and not for others.  Those who find themselves on the negative side of this ledger experience rather harsh and brutal realities.  The American Dream is preached to be reachable for all.  As a result, should anyone find themselves marginalized by it, the social expectation is to validate such periphery as opposed to raising objection to it.  The desire for success intrinsic to the American Dream ends up silencing all other voices of potential opposition, a reality seen in both works.

On many levels, Gatsby embraces the American Dream.  He absorbs the idea that one can reinvent and recreate themselves in accordance to external success.  He sheds his background, his upbringing, and even his name, in order to be someone else so easily associated with success.  The American Dream is shown to be a domain where externalization is what defines success. Gatsby has money, the trappings of wealth, and is not afraid to show it.  When he throws the silk shirts and clothes and almost "makes it rain" for Daisy, it is clear that Fitzgerald defines the American Dream as a realm where wealth and its externalization are critical in the definition of success.  It is shown as a reality that everyone in which everyone wants to be immersed.  People like George and Myrtle Wilson are judged negatively because they lack wealth.  People like Tom, Daisy and Jordan are praised and revered because they possess wealth.  Yet, Fitzgerald shows this as fleeting and far from permanent.  When describing Gatsby's pursuit of the American Dream, Fitzgerald writes that it was reflective of “a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.”  In the final analysis, this summarizes how weak the foundation of the American Dream when predicated upon external notions of the good.  Gatsby might very well be better than “whole rotten bunch put together."  Yet, this calculus is not taken into account in terms of the American Dream.  It makes perfect sense that the one time that Gatsby would like to indulge in the external notion of the American Dream, his own pool, he is shot and dies in it.  There is a particular hollowness that lies in such a vision of the American Dream.  It is not one of promise as much as it is of emptiness.  Gatsby capitulates to it and embraces it, only to be betrayed by it and crushed under the weight of expectation.  This is evident in how so very few come to Gatsby's funeral, the ultimate statement of silencing a voice of potential dissent to the vision of the American Dream.

Williams takes an equally harshly complex view towards the American Dream in A Streetcar Named Desire.  It is clear that Williams uses Blanche and Stanley as an example of the dynamic between success and failure in the American Dream, as well as how the presence of the former goes to great lengths to silence the experience of the latter.  Blanche and Stanley both embrace the "reinvention" intrinsic to the American Dream.  Stanley can shed his Polish sense of "otherness" and make a name for himself in the newly commercialized notion of America.  Blanche embraces the idea that a "new start" in New Orleans with Stella can help her remake herself apart from the failures of her own life.  She wishes to start "clean" and start new, something that Williams communicates with Blanche's constant bathing.  As with Gatsby, both Blanche and Stanley see the American Dream as a new start.  Over time, it becomes clear that both of them seek to "win" at this construction.  Both of them wish to "win" in terms of establishing a base of their life for happiness and self- contentment.  This type of contentment is seen as claiming Stella for their own.  Stanley sees his vision of happiness as fundamentally threatened by Blanche, who sees Stanley in much the same way.  The animalistic attraction between them underscores how each of them seeks to appropriate the world in accordance to their own subjectivity.  This extends into one another.  Williams, like Fitzgerald, depicts the American Dream as one where someone wins and someone has to lose.  In this case, Blanche loses.  The final scene where she is taken away and the community simply remains in silence is reminiscent of the absence at Gatsby's funeral.  There is a sense of abandonment that takes place in both.  Stanley has brutally won, his dream accomplished at the cost of another.  Blanche's voice has become relegated to the periphery, with only a faint sense of misgiving that Stella articulates is all that remains.  In both works, the American Dream crushes individuals with its affirmation of a false and unifying sense of hope.

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