Person's Humanity Versus American Dream: Critical Analysis
“The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any case, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream” – Azar Nafisi
The American Dream is sucking the soul out of our society.
That’s just the truth of it.
As Azar Nafisi said, “The negative side of the American Dream comes when people pursue success at any case, which in turn destroys the vision and the dream”.
You hear it every day, the American Snake, hissing at you to come take a little nibble out of the forbidden fruit, willing you to worship it. Until one day, after you’ve eaten the fruit, you look around and realise that who you are is gone forever.
Or maybe you never realise that the more bites you take, the more of your humanity it’s eating off you. There are warning bells all around us, though. The Great Gatsby is truly based off this notion, and for those looking for a real-life example, Park Avenue exposes how the top 1% couldn’t care for anything but their high-class status.
It’s a toxic idea, set into people’s minds based on the foundations of capitalism (which in itself says a lot). The American Dream; the notion that anyone can reach a high level of wealth, glamour, and glory, so long as they work hard! The concept that everyone’s born equal, and everyone has the exact same barriers to overcome as others in order to reach the upper class they dream of.
The aspiration to reach the upper echelon steals away a person’s humanity, and it seems to be the current reality we face. As the wealth gap becomes the grand canyon, and the motive of new laws is to support the rich, this is clearer than ever. Those in the top 1% are selfishly blocking others from reaching where they sit on their plush thrones. While the lowest class still cherishes their humanity, the only way for them to climb to the top is through relinquishing it.
Lower to Upper: The Payment
Every class someone rises, more humanity they seem to lose. Let’s take, for example, Myrtle Wilson. You’re probably rolling your eyes already, I know, but she is an excellent example of putting aside morals to move up in the world. In order to have just the smallest taste of being in the upper class, Myrtle cheated on her husband without hesitation. She even tried to marry Tom himself, showing she would have left George completely, just to have a life of wealth. To Myrtle, using her humanity to escape the grey and dismal ash-filled Valley was a small price to pay for an extravagant life.
Then we have Gatsby, who first tried working hard by getting an education and following a strict schedule to gain success. In the end, though, he resorted to bootlegging in order to reach the wealth he desired, yet through all this the green light he longed for was never quite reached.
This corrupt mindset is mirrored in Park Avenue, where lobbyist Jack Abramoff is interviewed. He acquired millions of dollars and rose through the ranks through bribing and corruption. Stepping on the little people just for a small boost himself. In contrast to Myrtle and Gatsby, he paid the consequences for his actions through jailtime. However, it is eerily similar in the way immoral means were manipulated for ‘success’. Abramoff himself stated that it “required his demise” in order to realise what he was doing was wrong, but mentions that money is always used by those at the top to get results.
We must question this logic that has so clearly been engrained into our subconscious and ask: How far is too far?
Upper Class; The evilest of them all
If you start a mountain climb with a group of people, and you reach the summit first, you would expect yourself to help the others and provide a guide, right? Or, instead, would you cover your path and make it more likely for people to fall back down? We live in a world where the second outcome is the likely outcome.
Seeing people like the Koch brothers, or characters such as Tom and Daisy Buchanan set this in stone.
The Koch brothers and Steve Schwarzman, some of the richest people in the States, constantly fight for taxes to be lowered for the rich, and raised for the poor. This severely sets back the lower class from being able to work for money needed to provide a good education, health services, and general life necessities. Similar to this is the way Tom and Daisy are portrayed in The Great Gatsby. While, in those times, the focus for the upper class was not turning the legal system against the lower class, similar lapses of humanity are shown throughout the novel.
Firstly, there’s Daisy, who on the outside seems to be like name; a beautiful, innocent flower. However, her aspiration for wealth is put above all else. We see this especially when Gatsby says to Tom “she only married you because I was poor…” (p. 130). Her lust for money and class overpowered the love she had with Gatsby, who was utterly devoted to her. In a way, Daisy herself represents the American Dream, which on the surface is captivating, but underneath is a storm of corruption. Tied to this is the idea that as Daisy let Gatsby take the blame for Myrtle’s death, this led to Gatsby being murdered. This shows that aspiration for the dream will only end up killing a person.
The other side of this is Tom. He is the classic ‘old money’, rich arrogant white man. Tom has a complete disregard for others, seen by his blatant racism, sexism, and classism. He refers to white people as “the dominant race” and berates Jordan’s parents for letting her ‘run amok’. While the theme of discrimination if not explicitly explored in Park Avenue, the example is set by the Koch brothers completely disregarding their huge environmental impact. The empathy that is present in most people seems to be absent from their character. Again, most humans would see their terrible impact, along with the $30 million fine, and open their eyes to how severely their actions are impacting others. Unfortunately, this never happened with the Koch’s, and while they readily payed the $30 million, David Koch couldn’t tip his doorman more than 50 dollars for Christmas.
Fitzgerald truly shows how the humanity held by those at the bottom will prevail over the inhumane, throat-cutting aspiration possessing those at the top.
Lower Class: True Humanity
So, if you’re in despair and convinced humanity is crumbling, it’s okay. Take a look at those in the lower class, the people whose sole ambition isn’t wealth, and you’ll see true humanity. These people still hold the warmth of morality in their hearts in a way the upper class couldn’t fathom. Compared to David Koch, who wouldn’t give more than 50 dollars out of billions, the poor are constantly working to help others. In Park Avenue, the lower class have graciously organised rations, ways to feed the starving around them. They do not have the all-consuming ambition for wealth, but just the goal to ensure the wellbeing of others. They may not be at the top, but they are catching the people falling behind.
In a massive contrast to the real-life humanity of the upper class, The Great Gatsby shows this through George Wilson. In a dark and twisted way, he was the pinnacle of humanity in the novel. Being so consumed by love and despair after his wife’s death, he hunts down the man he believed killed her, and murders him. George, who throughout the novel was seen as meek and pitiful, becomes a rage-filled killer. Fitzgerald truly shows how the humanity held by those at the bottom will prevail over the inhumane, throat-cutting aspiration possessing those at the top.
The Great Gatsby and Park Avenue may use contrasting ideas of upper and lower class actions, but these still stem from the same concept; aspiration for the American Dream steals a person’s humanity.
It seems that the only way people will learn this is the hard way; experiencing downfall due to this lack of empathy. While being in the upper class may be seen as the ‘dream’, is it truly worth it when, in the process, you are disregarding human connection?