What does "Winter Dreams" say about the American Dream?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author paints a bleak portrait of the American Dream through the two main characters, Dexter Green and Judy Jones.

Dexter begins as an ambitious young man. At the onset of the story, when he sees Judy Jones at eleven years old, he is totally captivated. She embodies everything he desires, and those desires mimic the American dream: the pursuit of wealth and success as the key to happiness. Judy is just that illusion when she smiles, and her smile is "--radiant, blatantly artificial--convincing" (Part I). From the beginning, Fitzgerald makes it clear that Judy Jones is just as artificial as the American Dream.

As the story progresses, Dexter's desire for "glittering things" and his need to distance himself from his mother's peasant-class background lead him into an intense quest for Judy's affection. Dexter believes that Judy Jones is the real key to his success and happiness even though he is wealthy in his own right. However, Judy's shallowness and inability to love, as elusive as the American dream that so many chase, become a destructive force in his life.

At the end of the day, Dexter misses out on a chance for enduring happiness with Irene Scheerer when Judy Jones briefly reappears in his life as "...a slender enameled doll in cloth of gold: gold in a band at her head, gold in two slipper points at her dress's hem" (Part IV). Judy is quite literally gold, representing the success and wealth that Dexter has desired, that of the American Dream. And, just as the Dream, she uses Dexter only long enough to leave him a hollow man, disconnected from reality and lost in the fantasy of the Dream.

By the end of the story, Dexter is told by Devlin that Judy is married to a man who abuses her; her beauty is lost at the age of twenty seven. Dexter realizes "the dream was gone" (Part VI). Just as Judy's beauty has faded, so has Dexter's illusions, as the American Dream is shattered.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Dexter, Judy is the personification of the "American Dream". Like the "American Dream" Judy is very fickle. Dexter is hooked because just as he thinks he is about to capture Judy's attention, she cancels a date with him to go out with someone else. Like the American Dream, her power over Dexter is based on her charm to make herself seem so desirable. However, at the end of the story, Dexter learns she has married unhappily and has lost her good looks. Like the American Dream, her allure becomes tarnished over time. Dexter is very disappointed but, if he really looks at his life, he accomplished a better life than his supposed "American Dream".