In American literature personal interest is set above the needs of the community. Discuss how far you have found this to be the case.
From the first European settlers of America, who sought to profit from exporting tobacco and cotton from the New World, in the process oppressing the Native American tribes who populated the land, we see a continuous theme of American personal interest being put above the needs of the community. This is clearly seen in The Great Gatsby (1925) in which Fitzgerald has his protagonist Jay Gatsby relentlessly pursue Daisy out of his personal interest, ignoring her own familial community with Tom and their daughter. By contradt, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) sees Tom Joad transform from a staunch individualist to a man who is ‘Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people eat’.
We see in American literature that personal interest is set above the needs of the community by characters with strong desires. In The Grapes of Wrath, Muley Graves chooses his personal interest when his entire family moves to California in hopes to find a better life. Instead of helping his family on their voyage to the West, Muley chooses to stay behind. When Casy hears this, he tells Muley, ‘You should of went too. You shouldn’t of broke up the fambly’. In response, Muley simply states, ‘I couldn’. Somepin jus’ wouldn’ let me’. Muley has become isolated from society, because of the dire ecological effect of the 1930s Dust Bowl, in which between 30 to 50 percent of Oklahoma crops failed. Similarly, while Muley is preoccupied with his land, Daisy becomes a romantic obsession for Gatsby. He grips his memories of them together so tightly that they limit his opportunities to live a fulfilling life. However, Sutherland argues that ‘Gatsby’s dream is always an unattainable one’, and thus Gatsby’s pursuit of his personal interest in Daisy is put above any chance of developing his own community in West Egg. Indeed, once Gatsby achieves his reunion with Daisy, he ‘fired all his servants’ as he no longer needed the for his parties. Gatsby demonstrates Emersonian individualism, and thus like Muley ends up lonely because of his single-minded pursuit of his own self-interest. While Muley, is left alone in Oklahoma with the Joad’s dogs while he watches his friends and family drive off into the distance, Gatsby has his money, his mansion, his parties, and his fantasies, but he still feels isolated. He lacks a sense of community: his connection with his family is weak, and he has few friends. Nick sums up Gatsby’s lamentable fate with this observation from the funeral, ‘The minister glanced several times at his watch, so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came’. Thus, we see in Gatsby and Muley Graves how desire makes them put their personal interest above the needs of the community.
We also see in American literature the break-up of families, thus destroying the natural community of the family unit. In...