The American Dream holds several different meanings. The pessimists believe the American Dream is unattainable. The optimists believe that success is achievable through hard work. And then there are the realists, who believe the American Dream exists only for the privileged, and therefore, has failed society. Through the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald illustrates the early American Dream from the realist perspective, highlighting how wealth and social status are the necessary components behind fame and success. Similarly, the article, Is the American Dream Really Dead? by Carol Graham, emphasizes on the fact that the American Dream is luck based and only the wealthy can afford to make mistakes. Furthermore, Science Tests the American Dream, by Orion Jones links both pieces by explaining how regardless of hard work and intelligence, those who are wealthy are always more likely to succeed. Through the use of different techniques, the authors all argue that the pursuit of the American Dream is largely driven by social status, and the achievement of this dream ultimately ceases to exist for those who simply cannot afford it because integrity and diligence are not accounted for in the path to success.
The American Dream is not guaranteed, however, only those who have the luxury to pay for their mistakes are granted the comfort of stability and have sustainability to keep trying, unlike their poorer counterparts. Upon seeing Tom after several years, Nick finally got clarity as to who Tom really was as a person. Nick marvels to himself at the sight of Tom, I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made (Fitzgerald 129).
Nick explains how the Buchanans do not have to take responsibility for their actions. They are not admirable, but rather people who disrupt society and do not have to pay the consequences. Tom could easily buy whatever pleasures he seeked, such as Daisy’s love, George’s wife, and Daisy’s innocence, at the expense of Gatsby’s life. When Nick explains how Tom could retreat back into their money, he describes how Tom had his wealth to protect him from any and all shortcomings and provided a sense of security from the people he had ruined. To further prove this idea, Graham talks about how difficult it is for the poor to advance in the social hierarchy controlled by the very few at the top. She focuses on the idea of chance, and how the American Dream can be attained not by work ethic, but instead by favorable luck. She emphasizes, There are high costs to being poor in America, where winners win big but losers fall hard.
Indeed, the dream, with its focus on individual initiative in a meritocracy, has resulted in far less public support than there is in other countries for safety nets, vocational training, and community support for those with disadvantage or bad luck (Graham 2). Within her article, Graham explains how the poor often have to pay for the same opportunities the rich take for granted, such as education and connections. In the Great Gatsby, Tom could afford to have an affair, as well as have the confidence Daisy would not leave him because of his money. Gatsby spent his entire life working towards having the life Tom had, but even still, he could not reach the same level of prosperity. This goes to show how those who start at the bottom and try and work their way up still may never succeed because society forgives and rewards those who are wealthier because they can continue to pay for their mistakes.
Ethics and personality provide no leverage in the road to the American Dream, however, those who hold a greater social presence will always be prioritized, and therefore, one step closer to achieving the American Dream. Nick was born into a wealthy family with opportunities most people did not have. Nick remembers to himself when considering his place in society, I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth (Fitzgerald 2). His dad explains, among money, personality is also distributed randomly, and not everyone can be a good person. It is equally likely a good person can be inherently evil, and even the poorest can be the most generous. However, it is important to consider in terms of the American Dream, wealth is the major propelling factor, and character comes second. Although Nick considers himself a genuinely honest person, he is not very wealthy, as sincerities and wealth are not linked.
In contrast, Tom, with racist views and unloyal intentions, is at the top of the social ladder with nothing at stake. Orion Jones also agrees with this idea of wealth determining success and follows it with a study. He quotes, The study found that being born with wealth is the best indicator of socio-economic success because, whether by paying college tuition or having a more exclusive set of professional connections, wealth is great at leveraging qualities like personality and intelligence. In other words, the American ethos cannot quite compensate for the American class system. ( Jones 1). Jones reiterates what Nick argues, as connections are priceless compared to personality. It is also important to recognize those of of the same status tend to cluster. Therefore, the rich only continue to expand their list of resources, while the poor have to struggle and pay for the same advantages. The American class system is the driving force between living and surviving. The only thing the class system considers is wealth and has no room for social niceties.
The fact that the American Dream is nearly unattainable with the core principles of hard work and a strong sense of morals, but possible with wealth and social influence only goes to show how the American Dream is full of false promises. Fitzgerald embodies this idea through the Great Gatsby showing how those who are born with influence succeed, and everyone else dies trying. Likewise, Graham depicts how failure is simply not an option, but the poor cannot afford second chances, and therefore the American Dream is dedicated to those already well enough to support themselves. Lastly, Jones touches on personality, a trait not deterred by wealth, which plays no role in moving up the social ladder. The American Dream does not represent the idea that, through hard work anything is possible, but rather, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
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