Is the American Dream Unattainable?

Monday, December 3, 2007


The American Dream: How can it be defined? America has been evolving for years, expanding into a world power from virtually nothing. Economic growth has fueled American development. Driven by freedom and self reliance, Americans have had the luxury of being able to pursue economic prosperity. Many believe that financial security and freedom defines the American Dream. In fact, 24% of Americans cited financial stability as a characteristic of the American Dream (Longley). To others, the American Dream is happiness (i.e. good health and freedom). 23% of 18-22 year olds as well as 24% of those over the age of 65 believe this to be the true dream. 

Without dreams, most people would lose their sense of goal or purpose in life. Gatsby, Walter, and Jake in The Great Gatsby believe happiness defines the American Dream. Dreams are what drive these men, as they seek what they believe will bring them true happiness. However common, they seek their dreams out differently. While Jake and Gatsby seek happiness through love, money is what brings happiness to Walter. These characters are driven by the belief that blissfulness is within their reach. However, the belief is flawed due to the fact that the perceived Dream is unattainable. The American Dream is a paradox (Myers). The Dream is impossible to obtain, yet without it, people lose their sense of life and purpose. Walter, Jake, and Gatsby represent this paradox.

When Gatsby met Dan Cody, a newfound desire for happiness and love that is the American Dream appeared. Gatsby seeks a new life after his time in college. He found a guarantee of finance and fame in Cody’s yacht. To Gatsby, "that yacht represented all the beauty and glamour in the world (Fitzgerald 106).” Gatsby transformed when he rented the yacht’s row boat. He garnered a naïve hope that would lead to his journey for Daisy. 

While Gatsby sees light at the end of the tunnel, a majority of Americans believe the Dream is out of reach. Fifty-three percent of blacks, 36% of Hispanics, and 32% of white people believe they are not living the American Dream. Almost twice as many single parents (52%) than married parents (27%) believe they are not living the Dream. This is also true of renters compared to home owners. There are factors that play into this belief of failure and impossibility, such as a lack of government aid or educational equality. As a result, approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that the American Dream is continuingly becoming harder to achieve (Longley).

The birth of the American Dream within Gatsby comes with a change of identity. He leaves his past behind which alters his perceptions. Gatsby gives into this new idea of himself. As a consequence, Gatsby lives in a dream world full of illusions. Money becomes of importance to Gatsby, as it does for many Americans. As a result, he pursues Daisy for the wrong reasons. The false hope of happiness or love that is the American Dream becomes true. Gatsby spends his life pursuing an impossible goal because of his belief that money will lead to happiness. “Wealth is like health: its utter absence can breed misery, but having it doesn’t guarantee happiness (Myers).”

Americans, similar to Gatsby, believe money will bring them what they desire most. Since 1957, a decreasing number of Americans say they are “very happy.” Divorces have doubled, suicides have tripled, crime has quadrupled, and more people are becoming depressed. America is becoming polarized. The more luxurious houses that are built, the more broken homes are produced. “We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger (Myers).”

Gatsby makes a decision after the death of Cody; he loves Daisy and will prove that he is worthy of her by becoming extremely successful financially. Yet as he becomes wealthier, Daisy slowly falls further and further out of Gatsby’s grasp. Gatsby says of repeating the past, “Why of course you can… I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before... She'll see (Fitzgerald 117).” Gatsby was successful in recreating the environment, however he was unsuccessful in recreating the feelings and bond the two previously shared. Gatsby didn’t belong in the East Egg society just as Daisy didn’t belong in West Egg society. Gatsby’s Dream became ruined by reality. As this occurred, his purpose in life diminished.

Society has become too materialistic. Gatsby believed wealth and luxury could get him anything, but what is the point of luxury? Why do people buy things they don’t need? Is it low self-esteem? It seems as if consumers have become controlled by the possessions they buy. They become the items they purchase. Gatsby became a slave to everything his wealth had given him, and as a result he was miserable. A new Dream needs to be established. A Dream that deviates away from materialism and individualism. A Dream that encourages unity, relationships, and feelings of emotion towards each other. "He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about..(Fitzgerald 162).” Gatsby is a perfect model of the American Dream. He failed to obtain his Dream.

Jake sought out the unattainable American Dream through Brett as Gatsby did through Daisy. Brett represented the love and happiness of the Dream in Jake’s eyes. However, Brett was scared of love. She hurt people who loved her, and spent her time with people that meant little to her. Jake felt love, but couldn’t express that love. He became a victim, as he saw his love have affairs with other men.  However, Jake cannot resist his desire to stay with Brett. Jake’s Dream was hopeless because Brett was unable to be satisfied, while Jake’s impotence didn’t allow him to provide her with what she required. Jake did not give up this Dream as Gatsby did, because Brett constantly provided him with purpose, however false his purpose may be.

Walter is also guilty of chasing the unattainable Dream. Unlike Jake and Gatsby, Walter believed happiness lied solely in the obtainment of money. Walter perceived his unhappy life to be the result of poverty. Because of this, Walter possessed disillusioned dreams. He believed he could amplify his investment significantly, causing problems he might run into to become oversimplified. Walter never fathomed the idea that more wealth caused greater problems, and that the pureness of happiness could not be conjured solely with money. Walter is capable of reaching financial success, yet it is not possible in his current state of mind.

Despite this unachievable goal, his desire constantly gave him purpose. Walter realized his disillusioned dream that the others didn’t. As a result, his dream became altered. Walter matures because of this realization, refusing to sell Mr. Linder the house. This is a deviation from his prior goals. Deviation from an unachievable goal is what Gatsby and Jake failed to accomplish.

The impossibility of the desire for love and happiness that is the American Dream remains constant. It is commonplace for students to educate themselves by attending school in search of happiness of the American Dream. Students are bred to believe that taking high level classes, producing the best grades possible, getting into a well-recognized college, and obtaining a job with a respected company will lead to happiness. Children need to analyze what they are pursuing. Will these set guidelines for life truly make every American happy?

The Dream becomes more and more impossible due to the student’s simplified handed-down life goals. Life is not as simple as a well paying job after attending the top academic schools. This is not the formula for happiness. People need to realize that the American Dream has become an oversimplified, flawed dream that leads to a dead end. Family, relationships, and love are more important than money will ever be to Americans. These three characters in The Great Gatsby are perfect examples of the American Dream. They seek happiness and love, and never obtain it. People need a dream, it gives them purpose. This dream is a manifestation that gives Americans a reason to live. However impossible this dream is, it allows humans to continue with their lives. Lives full of false hope, outlined by our elders.

In Of Mice and Men, the main characters share a common goal of changing their lives in order to obtain their own place and be their own boss. However, this plan is flawed. Regardless of their hopes and desires, their dream is never fulfilled. Steinbeck offers an idea of the true American Dream; one of false hope.

George and Lennie possess desires similar to the majority of Americans. They want to take no orders, work for themselves, and own their own home. In addition, they portray an image of a somewhat common American; poor, migrant workers who work to survive. They are of the mindset that they are unique as opposed to other workers because they perceive a bright future. However, Crooks and the wife of Curley remind Lennie and George that they are not special. They simply want something to call their own, just like everyone living in America.

People want to change their lives in one way or another. People want what they can’t obtain, because of the fact that it is seemingly rare. Americans desire that which they cannot have. This is what makes the American Dream unique and special. It is unattainable; therefore it has become a common want among Americans.

All Americans possess dreams. However, these dreams differ from person to person. Ironically, so many people allow their dreams to pass them by as Curley’s wife did. Because she did so, her life is empty. Crooks’ represents the “typical” black American that is commonly ignored and struggles to become equal. All of the main characters in the book want to better themselves and change their lives except Slim. Slim is special. He doesn’t allow himself to be conquered by the Dream. He has not developed a plan for success, nor does he hope that his life will change. He has accepted the fact that the Dream leads to unhappiness and disappointment. 

George discards the threat to his life by killing Lennie. George has now lost his friend that allowed him to be different from the other workers, in addition to eliminating his dream. He became lost and hopeless. When Slim offers comfort, he points out the truth: In order to survive, we must sacrifice our dreams. This is not something that is easily accomplished in a land that supposedly offers opportunity and the promise of happiness.

It seems more likely that an American will win the lottery rather than achieve the ultimate goal of the American Dream. George and Lennie possessed goals that were common of most Americans post-Great Depression. The majority of America didn’t possess a steady source of income and a home they could call their own. The idea of the American Dream produced a sense of pride. Americans came together as a family and aided each other in helping themselves and their society.

Now, the government advertises the American Dream like it is a commercial. The American Dream has become a stand of living rather than a way of bringing society closer together. It advocates materials rather than happiness and unity. Now, even Christmas has become recognized as the day you get presents rather than a celebration of life.

Perception has been altered to the belief that whoever is wealthiest is happiest. Americans continue to take out loans and put themselves in debt in order to obtain money to buy material possessions. As a result, an increasing number of people have become stressed out and pessimistic, creating a feeling of emptiness and uncertainty. Americans sacrifice their true happiness in order to be perceived as happy by others. Happiness has become artificial. The American Dream has transformed into one of greed rather than necessity. It no longer is a representation of America’s true ideology. America’s spirit is one based on creativity, risk and reward, values, family, trust, work ethic, and community.

The pursuit of materialism affects American lives negatively. Education has become more important yet less attainable. The government continues to go further into international debt. Divorced families leave kids growing up on their own. This is all in part caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. To do what is right has become more important than doing what is in the best interest of the community. An obsession with popularity and money has caused negative competition within the society. Love of power has replaced the importance of the power of love.

Politicians now use the concept of the American Dream to produce votes. Politicians have their own plan, and what drives them are their personal goals. Therefore, they offer ideas in order to please certain members of society. Democrats support unions because they provide increased wages, as wealth is a perceived part of the American Dream. Unions provide an equal opportunity of wealth for all workers. Meanwhile, Republicans are firm believers in free enterprise. They advocate an economic system that rewards members of society that excel in their area of work. Basically, the rich get richer.

Both political parties and other factions offer ways of politically achieving the American Dream at the expense of United States citizens. However, political parties recognize that the idea of all Americans achieving the Dream isn’t feasible. The majority of Americans are actually in debt in order to maintain a standard of living that is the idea of the American Dream. This unattainable dream keeps members of society working harder and longer every day.

Consumerism has caused people to spend more thus creating more debt. Ironically, people believe that spending more creates wealth. However, there is a limit on debt. This causes manufacturing and production jobs to diminish, leading to a plethora of jobs in the service industry, serving the consumers that society has become. In turn, this will result in financial failure within the economy (Geela).

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” must be readily available for all of society rather than a limited few. The “American Dream” is something that can only be achieved once opportunity is equal among citizens. The idea of privilege and rightfulness must be destroyed. When all Americans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, age, sex, or race possess equal opportunity will the American Dream become a fathomable dream? It was once an idea of love, a dream that society will become wholesome and caring, providing for one another. The Dream must transform back into its true form; one of possibility and attainment.


Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915.

Geela, The American Dream. U.S.A.: 2004.

Longley, Robert. "Two Thirds Feel American Dream Harder to Achieve." US Government Info 01 Oct 2004 1.

Myers, David G.. "Wealth, Well-Being, and the New American Dream." New American Dream (2000) 5-7.

Rubeo, Heather. "Growing Number See American Dream as Unattainable." ISES. Institute of SocioEconomic Studies.

Samuelson, Robert J.. "The (Impossible) American Dream." 28 Nov 2007 1-3. 

Schifferes, Steve. "The end of the American dream?." BBC News. 04 Sept 2006. BBC News.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. U.S.A.: Covici, Friede, Inc., 1937.

Monday, December 3, 2007
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