At the heart of the American Dream is the idea that prosperity is a reward for hard work. There has been a long history of ambivalence toward affluence in America, however---that it corrupts our values and makes us only concerned about material things. Pick three works from our different exam periods--say "Life in the Iron Mills," "Babylon Revisited," and "The Swimmer"--and discuss what these stories say about the effect of money on ideas of sympathy, community, fellow-feeling, spirituality, etc

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In John Cheever's The Swimmer, as in Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited and Rebecca Harding Davis' Life in the Iron Mills, it is suggested that money comes between people and promotes insularity and even delusion. The narrator of The Swimmer, Ned Merrill, is strong, athletic and wealthy; however, the reader learns these details from the narrator, and never meet's Ned's beautiful wife and four daughters. Merrill swims among neighbors' pools in an endeavor to swim across his county by traversing pools (a venture which presupposes wealth, and is a satire on the upper-middle class). He is greeted enthusiastically by the first several neighbors, but when he enters the territory of the public pool, he becomes anxious. Also, select neighbors intermittently tell them that he is "sorry for his loss." The reason for this message becomes clear when Ned arrives back at his own home and finds it boarded up. Despite Ned's material success and physical prowess, he has lost his home and (presumably) his family. His material success was fleeting.

In Babylon Revisited, the protagonist, Charlie, loses his daughter, Honoria, despite having met with unfathomable financial success before the stock market crash. In Life in the Iron Mills, Deborah and Hugh Wolfe end up in prison for stealing money from a group of condescending wealthy men.

All three protagonists are "have-nots" who have experienced windfall financial success that takes a heavy toll, psychologically, emotionally and physically on Ned, Charlie, and Deborah and Hugh, respectively.

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