The Great Gatsby And American Beauty, The American Dream

1001 words - 4 pages

Anyone can succeed through hard work and persistence. That was the original American Dream, and that notion has somewhat been at the heart of American culture through history. However, composers F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of 'The Great Gatsby' (1926), and Sam Mendes, director of the movie 'American Beauty' (1999), explain in their texts that the pursuit of the American Dream is futile. In addition, Fitzgerald shows that subscribing to it leads to irresponsibility and a lack of morals, and doesn't make you happy. Mendes shows that it brings about superficiality and an unrealistic expectation of self. They do this through characterisation, metaphors and various linguistic and (in Mendes' case) audio visual techniques. Both texts are set in their current times, and directly criticise their cultures by playing out a story where disastrous consequences occur to those subscribing to the ethos of the current culture.In the post WWI consumerism of the 1920's, success was associated with lavishness and extravagance, and attaining the reputation of upper class and 'old money'. Fitzgerald uses the characterisation of Gatsby to show the unattainability of this particular American Dream for those not born into money. His status as an enigma during the first part of the book makes us believe that Gatsby has achieved the Dream, but through the course of the book, we see Gatsby as more and more deluded. He creates and believes in a fake history, in the belief that his status as 'old money' (from his claims that he studied in Oxford among other things) will eventually win the heart of Daisy. One cannot fake their past so utterly, and through the subsequent unravelling of his vision of Daisy, Fitzgerald criticises the way materialism and individualism makes people yearn for unattainable goals.In the late 1990's however, the definition of success was perfection. Attaining the American Dream required a perfect house, perfect family, perfect career and a perfect life. Yet this is completely impossible for everyone, 'old money' or not, due to the imperfect nature of human beings and our lack of control of other people and our circumstances. In American Beauty, Sam Mendes looks at middle class society, and the consequences of pretending to have reached the unreachable American Dream. Mendes uses characters such as Carolyn to show the superficiality of this society. Carolyn is deliberately made a real-estate agent, a job she claims is to "sell an image". She presents herself as having attained the dream through the clothes she wears, but it's all a façade, she has to instruct Lester to "act happy", and throughout the movie most of her dialogue is forced. Mendes has Carolyn use lots of mantras such as "In order to succeed, one must present an image of success at all times" and "I refuse to be a victim", lines that serve to fool even herself into believing she's attained what she cannot.In The Great Gatsby, the West Eggers (old money) are not affected by the...

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