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Universidade de So Paulo

Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Cincias Humanas


Departamento de Letras Modernas
Leituras do Cnon 3
Profa. Dra. Maria Elisa Cevasco

The American Dream in The Great


Gatsby, The Bluest Eye and The Book
of Daniel












Juliana Koch de Mendona
No USP: 7191636

Junho 2014

This paper aims to analyze the three following American novels The
Great Gatsby, The Bluest Eye and The Book of Daniel through the ideas that
encompass the concept of the American Dream and are presented in the
novels.
The concept of the American Dream appeared in the 30s, however this
does not mean that it was not around before that and that it does not exist
until nowadays. The American Dream is the concept of an ideal way of living
in the United States; it is based on the freedom of each and every man. It
means that it only depends on the peoples hard work to excel in life; people
thought that if they worked hard enough they would have their own house, a
proper education, a proper job, and that was the only way to a fully happy life.
The American Dream also related to the others economic systems of the
world, Liberalism, Nazism and Communism; the system in the United State
was/is Liberalism, and even though they preached for many kinds of freedom,
the government did not accept a different view of freedom from the
population. The American Dream of nowadays is still based on a consumer
society; people have to buy things to be happy.
The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the story of a
summer in Nick Carraways life in the early 20s. This novel is a the mark in
the American literature and the American Dream, it is consider to be a Great
American Novel along with other novels. Many readers consider that the main
theme of the novel is money, they are partly right; among various themes
there are two very important ones in the novel, money and fetishism over the
American Dream. Nick, the narrator, was at the same time fascinated and
intimidated by Jay Gatsby presence and way of living. The character of
Gatsby is the definition of the American Dream itself, he came from nothing
and built an empire, however, his dream of financial independence to finally
mesmerize Daisy was more likely accumulation of money and materialism
than economic freedom. And the most important point to analyze is that
Gatsby was never going to be in the higher level of society, people would
always know that he did not come from an Ivy League family, and all his hard
work, even if illegal, would be useless. Accordingly with the novel you are
whom you were born, and there is nothing that you can do to change this fact,
you can work hard, you can dream, but you will never change the real you.

Nick Carraway believed in the American Dream, he believed that Gatsby was
better than the Buchanans even coming from a simple past, and he said that
his own family was built from the Dream as he exposed in the follow
quotation:
The Carraways are something of a clan, and we
have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of
Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my
grandfather's brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a
substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware
business that my father carries on to-day.( FITZGERALD, 1994.
P.8.)

Nick believed that Gatsby, differently from the Buchanans, did not
really care about the fancy clothes and cars he only cared about Daisy. And
Daisy, on the other hand, as said by Gatsby, her voice is full of money1. She
was the real example of the American Liberalism and individualism; she only
cared about money and her own problems.
The Bluest Eye, novel written by Toni Morrison tells the story of many
characters that are part of the main characters life, Pecola, and her desire to
have the bluest eye possible. In this novel the American Dream is represented
by the consumerism, but it is not only about consumerism of things it was also
about consuming appearances. Throughout the novel the characters always
refer to the beauty of the white people and the ugliness of the black, Pecola
drank three quarters of milk just to use a Shirley Temple cup. She dreamed
about how she would fit in the world if she had blue eyes. During the time that
the novel covers, the 40s, and even until nowadays, people are influenced by
the media, also known as the mass culture, behave and to look like in a
specific way; and if you do not fit this look you are an outcast. Nowadays
magazines, movies, society influence people to lose weight and to be thin; in
the novel they influence people to be white. For the blacks characters in the
novel, the white were beautiful, they were pure, Pecola mother even treat


1 FITZGERALD, F.S. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Popular Classics, London, 1994.
Page 126.

better a child that was not hers because she was white, while she would only
scold her own daughter.
Claudia, other character in the novel, thought and acted differently from
Pecola, she did not like Shirley Temple, she did not desire to consume life she
desired to experience life. Claudia was revolted that the only dolls that she
had were blond, how could she be the mother of a blond baby? She did not
accept the fact that Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers,
window signs all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pinkskinned doll was what every girl child treasured.2 And in the peak of her
revolt she destroyed white baby dolls3. According to Susan Willis in her
article I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in
commodity culture?4 Claudia did not accept any kind to accommodation from
the white culture, she was against the supposed white superiority and she did
not want to be like Shirley Temple.
Pecola and Claudia were victims of the standardization of the American
Dream. The difference was that Pecola succumbed as a young girl, and for
Claudia it took a little longer as she expressed in the following sentence I
learned much later to worship her (Shirley Temple), [] knowing, even as I
learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement.5. Both girls
succumbed to the commodity fetishism imposed by the American Dream of
being white; the freedom of choice does not really exists. Claudia chose to be
different from the mass, but she had to adjust to society in order to life in
society. Pecola tried so hard to achieve the her American Dream of having
blue eyes that she could not bear it and went insane. This crazy ideal pre
establish by the white mass culture does not exist, in the same way that
Gatsby would never be really part of the higher level of society Pecola would
never be white.

2

MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972. Page
20.
3
Ibid. Page 22.
4
WILLIS. S. I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in
commodity culture? New Formations, number 10, Spring, 1990. Page 77.
5

MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972. Page
22.

In The Book of Daniel, novel written by E. L. Doctorow, other aspect of


the American Dream can be analyzed is the political aspect. In the novel
Daniel investigated his parents execution by the US government on an
espionage charge. His parents were accused of being communists spies. The
Rosenberg couple inspired the novel; the Rosenberg were convicted and
executed by the American government accused of passing information about
the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. The Issacsons were communists but in
the end Daniel was uncertain about his parents innocence, and it does not
matter any way, because his parents were dead already, murdered by a
hypocrite government.
The novels plot is an example of conflict from the Cold War, United
States against Soviet Union, and Liberalism against Communism. The United
States was and still is a liberal country that promotes the inviolable rights of
the individual; some aspects of the liberalism is freedom of speech, freedom
of religion, equality under the law, and so on, all these ideals are parts of the
American Dream. It is interesting to analyze these ideals comparing with the
real action that goes on in the United States, because if a government preach
freedom of the individual its citizens are allowed to believe in whatever they
want, right? No, the US government accept only the ideas that they think is
acceptable, you are only acceptable if you act/think inside the freedom that
they determine. Take this metaphor as an example; people have the freedom
to choose between green and blue, but they are not allowed to choose red.
This is how the liberalism freedom works, Daniel parents were executed
because their thoughts were against the American ideology, and they did no
accept the different. And in the case of the Issacsons and the Rosenbergs,
the government went too far; they killed them as scapegoating, and all
because they were the pariahs of the mainstream America.
In the following passage from the novel Daniel speaks about the
relations between government and its citizens, All societies are armed
societies. All citizens are soldiers. All Governments stand ready to commit
their citizens to death in the interest of their government.6. This passage can
be related to the current situation here in Brazil, were the citizens are afraid to

6 DOCTOROW, E.L. The Book of Daniel. Random House, New York, 1971. Page
138.

speak up and be harm by our own government. This was Daniel thought, he
realized that our own government is the one that oppresses the citizens, and
in the case of the novel it was not the Communism.
As the idea of the American Dream was present before, it is possible to
say that it is an attempt of the US government and the mass culture to create
a society that is always trying to be something they are not. Such freedom as
the American Dream promotes does not exist, because if people were really
free they would be able to be whomever they decided to be, without being
judged by others. The three novels discuss this concept in different ways; in
The Great Gatsby, Gatsby enriches but he would never fit in the high society,
he would never be accepted as a member of this society, because he had a
simple background. In The Bluest Eye, Pecola is the unhappiest girl because
she did fit in the beauty ideal proposed by society, and all she wanted to be is
accepted but she never did. And in The Book of Daniel, Daniel parents were
the ones that did not fit in the ideal society imposed by the government. There
fore, it is conclusive that the American Dream is a concept that stimulates the
fears, prejudice and ignorance in the citizens, the idea of being the pariah is
scared and people will do the best to fit in this impossible ideal of perfection.

Bibliography:

DOCTOROW, E.L. The Book of Daniel. Random House, New York, 1971.
FITZGERALD, F.S. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Popular Classics, London, 1994.
MORRISON, T. The Bluest Eye. Washington Square Press, New York, 1972.
WILLIS. S. I want the black one: is there a place for Afro-American culture in
commodity culture? New Formations, number 10, Spring, 1990.