In his 1931 book The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams coined the term “The American Dream. ” A term that is used frequently in the English language, the American dream is the dream of prosperity and wealth, and the idea that anyone can achieve it through hard work. The idea of the American dream is very common but many believe the dream is merely an illusion. Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Steinbeck’s The Leader of the People, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Winter Dreams all display the elusiveness of the great American dream.
James Truslow Adams wished to examine the future of America after World War 1, and the vision of the people. The American dream is essentially the vision of the post-war American people. In The Epic of America Adams defines the American dream as, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.
It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. ” As the war ended, the second industrial revolution ended as well. The United States experienced its most sufficient economic growth in history during the end of the revolution, which created newfound wealth in America.
This newfound wealth led to the materialistic lifestyle that the term “conspicuous consumption” was later based on. Conspicuous consumption, or according to the American Heritage Dictionary “the acquisition and display of expensive items to attract attention to one’s wealth or to suggest that one is wealthy,” is a prominent theme in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. In the story young Carrie Meeber moves to Chicago to live with her sister Minnie and enjoy the fancy lifestyle the city has to offer. Carrie had hopes of finding a high-paying job and living lavish lifestyle, in other words Carrie was chasing the American dream. “There were lights and sounds and a roar of things. People were rich. There were vast depots…The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective, to all moral intents and purposes, as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. ” It is clear from the beginning that Carrie is interested a materialistic lifestyle, but what happens next is not what Carrie had in mind. Instead of finding fame Carrie finds herself working in a factory but is unable to retain her employment.
She is unable to find another job and her sister cannot afford to take care of Carrie and she is forced to live with Charlie Drouet. James Truslow Adams’ definition of the American dream mentions, “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. ” Carrie has immense hope of living a life of wealth and materialistic things.
Although Carrie becomes a successful actress in New York at the end of the novel, Dreiser discredits the aforementioned line of Adams’ definition through Carries inability to live the life that she wants. Similar to Carrie, Dexter Green leaves his home in pursuit of a life of wealth in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Winter Dreams. Dexter quits his job as a caddy to reinvent through education in order to gain wealth and impress Judy Jones, the beautiful and wealthy girl Dexter wishes to be with. Dexter goes to a university and becomes wealthy by investing in the Laundry industry.
He soon realizes that he does not fit in with the other members of his newly earned social class. Dexter explains that he feels superior to the others because he worked hard to earn his money and the others simply have old (inherited) money, but he does not feel as though he fits in. Throughout the story Judy and Dexter have interactions however Judy never ends up with Dexter. At the end of the story a man from Detroit named Devlin explains that Judy has married and lost all of her beauty.
Dexter takes the news very hard, “The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him…her mouth damp to his kisses and her eyes plaintive…Why these things were longer in the world. They had existed and they existed no more…For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face. But they were for himself now. He wanted to care and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back anymore. ” Judy has lost the things that lured Dexter to her. Judy has lost the qualities that prompted Dexter to fight for her.
Judy represented the lifestyle, and dreams that Dexter wanted. He did not hope to be wealthy; he hoped to win the girl. He did everything he could yet he is unable to achieve his dream. “Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished. ” Dexter cannot return home because he knows that his life is not what he expected it to be and home is just a reminder of that. Much like Carrie, Dexter’s life did not turn out the way he expected it to.
Carrie is a successful actress in New York but she had to live off of a man to get there and now she is alone. Dexter has worked hard for his money and gained great wealth yet he failed to achieve the only thing he truly wanted. The idea of the idea of the American dream was the motivation of both characters in their pursuit of wealth. The idea of the American dream was the driving force that pushed the grandpa to lead the people to the west coast in Steinbeck’s The leader of the People. In The Leader of the People, the grandfather visits his daughter’s farm.
The grandfather once lead a group of travelers to the west coast in hopes of westward expansion. His daughter’s husband, Carl, hates the stories that the grandfather tells because they are about something that doesn’t matter anymore and wishes the grandfather would stop living in the past. One morning at breakfast the grandfather overhears Carl complaining about the grandfathers stories, which cause him to rethink his journey to the west. He begins to wonder if the journey was actually worth it.
The hope of the travelers was to expand the world and discover new places, however their dreams were ended abruptly when they reached the west coast. Jody, the grandson, says that he wishes to be like the grandfather and dreams of an adventure outside of the farm. The grandfather then explains that there is nothing left to explore, everything has been discovered. By saying this, the grandfather realizes that the dream of westward expansion is no more and that his heroic act of leading the people west doesn’t really mean much. At he time the American dream really was to move west and start a new life, however the dream never really lived up to the hype. The common theme throughout all three of theses stories is that life has not lived up to the dreams of the characters. For these characters the American dream is only an illusion. There is no defined end or fulfillment of the dream; the characters simply end up in a lifestyle that does not meet their expectations. The characters realize that what they wanted didn’t really exist and that all of their work has been for nothing.
Humans only have a limited amount of time on the Earth to accomplish their goals. A goal is simply a dream with a deadline and in the case of humans the ultimate deadline is death. The characters have realized that they have spent a significant portion of their lives chasing a “dream” that never turns into a reality, or at least a welcomed reality. The American dream is never ending therefore it can never be achieved. It simply pushes a person to keep pursuing their goals only to be let down when the destination can not live up to the expectations of the journey.