A Deferred American Dream Extended Essay
The American Dream has kept America running for many years, and it will continue to power the country for many years to come. The American Dream is a very special goal for everyone, even people who live outside of America. To have a dream is something special; to achieve the dream will take hard work. The United States was built on dreams as well as men who believed they could accomplish what they dreamed. The American Dream is usually a specific dream involving land, money and even the amount of freedom a citizen has. Unfortunately, these American Dreams are almost never achieved. Famous African-American poet, Langston Hughes wrote a poem called “A Dream Deferred” in 1951 that describes how the American Dream, overtime is either accomplished or becomes a nightmare. Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby, two books written around the same time depict this American dream and show how the dream can be a disaster if it is the only focus keeping men occupied in life.
“A Dream Deferred” is a great work of art, and it will help to show whether or not the two books about the American Dream are stories of success or failure. Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck in 1937 is the story of two brothers who dream of owning their own farm one day, but end up working at another farm as they are travelling. The book depicts some of the obstacles that stand in the way of the farm and also show how such a simple American dream as owning a farm can ruin two lives. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, which talks about a man named Gatsby, who works very hard to attain money and a house so he can impress a woman named Daisy, who he has loved his entire life. He never gets to be with her, but she is able to see what he has done for her. Langston Hughes’ poem shows both books as examples of how the American dream is almost impossible to achieve by narrating how dreams change over the years when they are put aside.
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The American Dream is a goal attempted by Lennie and George in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby by tracing how each main character searches for the American Dream, measures the success of the American Dream but how each ultimately ends in tragedy as measured by Langston Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred.” The poem “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes describes what can happen to people’s dreams throughout their lives. In 1951 Langston Hughes, an African-American wrote “A Dream Deferred” as part of the collection Montage of a Dream Deferred. While Hughes was going to college and beginning to write, Harlem was going through a renaissance. The people who lived in the city of Harlem were changing the way the city looked and felt. Harlem was a dream city for many African Americans because they were the main ethnic group in the city.
Hughes had lived in many different cities where he endured hard times because of his race, but his dream of contributing his talents to the artistic environment of Harlem prevented him from leaving Harlem for too long. “A Dream Deferred” begins with the question, “Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” (Hughes 1-2), which discusses a dream that has been put aside until it can be achieved. As a grape changes into a raisin, it increases its sweetness, as when a person eventually achieves his or her deferred dreams. The next question asked by Hughes is whether the dream will “fester like a sore-/and then run?” (Hughes 3-4) This simile shows how a person’s dreams can eat away at him or her until they slowly infect every part of a person’s life. When a sore, such as a cut or gash on the skin, festers, it decays. After the sore dries up and becomes a scab, it eventually falls off and leaves a scar.
In this case, any person who defers his or her dreams this long should be totally immersed in trying to accomplish those dreams. After the deferred dream becomes a part of people’s lives, it is almost like a scar to them because they dwell on that dream so much. “Does it stink like rotten meat?” (Hughes 5) is the next question that is asked by Hughes. This question suggests that when something dies, it begins to smell and leaves behind an unforgettable odor. If the deferred dream has gotten to this stage, it probably means that the person who is dreaming has had an effect on those around him or her. The rotting meat is a dream deferred so long that it has infected its surroundings. The last few lines in the first stanza are almost the total opposite of the preceding ones. They ask if the deferred dream will “crust and sugar over-/like a syrupy sweet?” (Hughes 6-7).
In his previous questions, Hughes asks the reader what happens to a dream with several very negative results. These last two lines question the dream in a positive way. These lines are examples of a dream deferred coming true. The previous lines were the hardships of waiting for that special dream to come to pass. When the dream finally does come true, it is like a syrupy, sweet feeling. The next two lines in the poem are not as positive because they begin to show the downside of the dream deferred. The lines read “Maybe it just sags/ like a heavy load” (Hughes 8-9), giving the reader a feeling of despair. This is another option of an outcome of the dream deferred. This is not as happy and joyful as the sugaring over of dreams, but it is a possible outcome. The dreams that sag at this stage seem like a burden, but the reality of their coming true is unrealistic. The last line in the poem “Does it explode?” (Hughes 10) is a question that is very symbolic of Hughes’ life in Harlem, a city that took on a new form after the renaissance.
It became a very artistic city filled with African-Americans who showed off many of their God-given talents. To Hughes and the people living in Harlem, their dreams to be able to show their skills without being oppressed by whites exploded. The explosion did not come overnight though: there was plenty of violence and bloodshed for African-American rights, but in the end, Langston Hughes and many other influential blacks were successful in their fight for justice. In many ways, this poem is a very good explanation of the deferred American Dream. People all over the nation, even in other countries, have their ideas of the American dream. Some people pursue those dreams; others think about them, and yet still others achieve those dreams with a lot of hard work and dedication. This poem is a great way to measure the success of other people’s dreams.
Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a story that shows how the American Dream is never a reality for the characters within the story. The story takes place in Southern California where two men are on a journey to achieve their dream of one day owning their own land with “a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs…” (Steinbeck 14) The two men are named George and Lennie; both are enthusiastic about owning land of their own. George is described as “small and quick, dark of face with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.” (Steinbeck 2). George is very short-tempered, but he loves Lennie and makes sure Lennie is in good hands. Throughout the story, George’s goal is to keep Lennie safe from anything that is threatening. Lennie is almost the complete opposite of George. He is seen as “a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.
His arms did not swing at his sides but hung loosely” (Steinbeck Pg 2). Lennie has some mental problems, but he still has a big heart and loves George more than anything. George is always reminding Lennie about the farm, and what they are going to do on the farm. George also tells Lennie about how they are not like all of the other people with dreams of their own because “We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If the other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us” (Steinbeck 14). He believes that he and Lennie are going to achieve their dream and be able to own a farm one day. In order to make money for their farm, George and Lennie will work on a farm, and at the beginning of the story, that is where they are headed.
On this farm, they meet other people like themselves with dreams of their own, but those dreams never became a reality. One of the workers they meet is Candy, a man who is very nice to George and Lennie; Candy lets them stay at his house. Candy is a man with a missing hand who runs the sleeping quarters at the farm. Candy eventually overhears George talking to Lennie about the farm, and he wants to be a part of their plans. At first, George didn’t want to tell Candy about their plans until he hears that Candy has money. Candy said “I ain’t much good with only one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. That’s why they give me a job swampin’. An’ they give me two hundred and fifty dollars ’cause I los’ my hand. An’ I got fifty more saved upright in the bank, right now. Tha’s three hundred, and I got fifty more comin’ the end the month.” (Steinbeck 59). After Candy told George and Lennie this, they got really excited and decided to let him be a part of their dream.
At this point in the book, George and Lennie’s dream is beginning to stink like the rotting meat in Hughes’s poem. George and Lennie have planned their dream and they got a job to raise money for it. Now their dream is beginning to affect other people so much that those people want to be a part of it. Everything seems to be going in the right direction for George, Lennie and Candy to eventually be able to buy this piece of land. Later in the story, when George goes to town with all the men on the ranch, Lennie is left back at the ranch with Candy and Crooks, a crippled black stable hand. Crooks is also disabled just like Candy. Lennie goes into the barn to see if he can keep Crooks company while the men are gone. Lennie forgets about George telling him not to talk to anyone about the dream, and he tells Crooks all about the farm. When Crooks hears about George, Lennie and Candy’s dream, he tells Lennie that “[he had] seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads.
Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out there. Nobody gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s just in their head” (Steinbeck 74). Candy comes into the barn to see if he could keep Crooks and Lennie company. When Candy comes in and finds out what Crooks and Lennie are talking about he reassures Crooks that they are closer than he was thinking to get the piece of land. When Crooks hears this he starts to believe Candy, and he wants to be a part of the farm. Crooks said he will “come an’ lend a hand” (Steinbeck 76) to help the men on the farm once they purchase it. So George and Lennie’s dream is still rotting like the meat in Hughes’s poem and attracting more people to it from the ranch where all the characters work.
The dream is almost a reality, but in the end, something happens to stop the dream from coming true. Lennie is in the barn stroking his puppy that he got from Candy. Lennie, stroking it too hard, killed the puppy and fearing that George would be mad at him, he tries to hide the puppy. As he is doing so, Curley’s wife, the only female character on the farm, comes into the barn where she finds Lennie. George has warned Lennie about her, and he told him that she is dangerous because she is very flirtatious towards all the men at the ranch. She comes in and starts talking to Lennie about how she once had a dream to become an actress and that Hollywood wanted to make her one. She sees that Lennie is holding the puppy and finds out that he killed it by stroking it too hard. Lennie tells her that he loves feeling soft textures but he admits that it gets him into trouble. She reassures him by asking, “Well, who doesn’t? … Everybody likes that. I like to feel silk an’ velvet.” (Steinbeck 90).
She allows him to stroke her hair but tells him “Don’t you muss it up” (Steinbeck 90). Lennie starts to stroke her hair and he likes the texture. He likes it so much that he doesn’t let go then Curley’s wife screams and Lennie gets scared. He shakes Curley’s wife until he breaks her neck. Then he realizes what he has done and remembers to go to the clearing where George tells Lennie to go if he ever gets into to trouble. Meanwhile, everyone else on the ranch is playing horseshoes. Candy and George come into the barn looking for Lennie and find the body. George knows immediately that Lennie killed Curley’s wife. After all of the other members on the ranch discover that Curley’s wife is dead they become enraged. Curley is the most enraged because it was his wife, and he knows that Lennie was responsible. Curley tells everybody that he wants to find Lennie and kill him.
This is when George and Candy realize that the dream is now impossible. George knows that if Lennie is found he will be killed and that the town won’t give him a fair trial in court. George also knows that Lennie is at the clearing because George told him to hide there if he was ever in any trouble. George goes by himself to the clearing ahead of the other men from the ranch and finds Lennie there. George then forces himself to kill Lennie, so that Lennie will not suffer any harsh treatment he may have received if he was found alive. The dream looked like it was going to be successful, but it exploded and somebody was killed hindering the dream from coming true. Also, the dream was shattered because one man had to kill his best friend in order to keep him protected from harm.
In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald the same tragedy happens to one man named Jay Gatsby, and he has a true American Dream and it is shattered at the end of the story. The main character named Nick Carraway, who happens to be Gatsby’s neighbour, narrates the story. Jay Gatsby is a character that is determined to achieve his American Dream, and he knows how it should be accomplished. Gatsby’s dream is to one day attain the love of his life Daisy Buchanan who is currently married. Daisy is Nick Carraway’s cousin. In this story, Gatsby is not introduced until the third chapter of the book. Many speculations are made in the first two chapters about who Gatsby really is. One person who believes they know is Tom Buchanan’s lover, Myrtle. Tom Buchanan is Daisy’s husband, and he has a lover besides Daisy named Myrtle.
In the second chapter, Tom takes Nick to Myrtle’s sister’s house where he and Myrtle always go when they are together. Catherine, who is Myrtle’s sister, tells Nick that she thinks that Gatsby is “a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from.” (Fitzgerald 32) No one really knows who Gatsby is or what he does. When he is first introduced at one of his elaborate house parties, he is a shocking man. No one really knew what he would be like if they met him. Nick admits, “I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Sometime before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care” (Fitzgerald 48). Nick is so surprised by Gatsby that he has no clue that it is he when they first meet.
After Nick meets Gatsby, he begins to learn more about who Gatsby really is. Nick learns that Gatsby “[is] the son of some wealthy people in the middle west- all dead now. [He] was brought up in America but educated at Oxford… [His] family all died and [he] came into a good deal of money… After that [he] lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe- Paris, Venice, Rome- collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for [himself] and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to [him] long ago” (Fitzgerald 65-66) From Gatsby’s explanation, it can be seen that he was brought up in a wealthy community. The tragedy that Gatsby talks about is his American Dream. He once had a burning love for Daisy Buchannan when he was young and in the military, and he still does. This is very similar to the festering of the sore in Hughes’s poem because Gatsby is willing to do anything to impress Daisy and win her love back from Tom.
According to Jordan Baker, Nick’s friend, when Gatsby first met Daisy she was ” just eighteen… and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville. She dressed in white and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night” (Fitzgerald 74). Gatsby and Daisy were madly in love when they were younger, and then Gatsby had to leave for military purposes. When Gatsby left, Daisy married another man Tom Buchannan who has a lot of money. Daisy never really wanted to marry Tom, but she could not wait for Gatsby to return from his duties. When Gatsby learns that Daisy is marrying another man he becomes upset, but he still believes he can achieve her love. He buys a “house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (Fitzgerald 78). Buying a house across the bay from Daisy is not the only move Gatsby makes in trying to win Daisy’s love back.
He also asks Nick if he could invite her for tea at his house so that he can wander over and visit her. Nick agrees to invite Daisy for tea and she accepts. She goes over the next day and goes into Nick’s house. It is a rainy day and Gatsby is scared it will be ruined, but seeing Daisy, Gatsby comes over to Nick’s house and knocks on the door. When he comes in he greets Daisy and they have an awkward reunion inside of Nick’s living room. After they share a few awkward sentences with each other they start to become more comfortable with each other. They continue to talk “While the rain continued… like the murmur of their voices, rising and swelling a little now and then with gusts of emotion. But in the new silence [Nick] felt that silence had fallen within the house too” (Fitzgerald 88). After this meeting with Daisy, Gatsby invites her and Tom to one of his parties, and they come but she does not have a good time.
After the party, Gatsby is disappointed that Daisy did not have a good time and admits to Nick that he just wants everything to be like it was back in Louisville. Nick tries to tell Gatsby that he cannot reform the past but Gatsby stubbornly says he can do it with his money. Nick thinks about how Gatsby’s dream will never come true. “Through all, he said, even though his appalling sentimentality, [Nick] was reminded of something- an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that [Nick] had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in [his] mouth and [his] lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what [Nick] had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever” (Fitzgerald 111) Gatsby is also invited by Tom to come over to his house to be with him and Daisy.
Gatsby joins them at their house and they decide to go to New York together because they are bored. Tom does not like the fact that Gatsby and Daisy are getting really close. Tom suggests that Daisy and Gatsby go in one car and that Nick, Jordan and he ride in another car. When they are in New York, Daisy confesses her true love for Tom and Gatsby is crushed. On the way back to Long Island, Daisy hits Myrtle who was running away from her house because she was unhappy with her life, and kills her. No one knew that Gatsby wasn’t driving the car, but everyone assumes that he was driving. This leads to Gatsby’s death ending his dream, as Myrtle’s husband murders Gatsby because he believes that Gatsby killed his wife. Gatsby’s dream explodes and does not come true. It sagged like a heavy load all throughout Gatsby’s life but he never was successful in achieving it.
Both Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby and George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men have their dreams crushed. According to Langston Hughes’s poem, both of the dreams exploded and resulted in death. In both of these books, the American Dream seems impossible because all of these men tried too hard to achieve their dreams. George and Lennie were very close to achieving their dream of one day owning a farm but ironically the farm where they worked ruined the dream. Jay Gatsby’s dream was crushed because he thought he could accomplish his dreams through money. At one point in both of the stories, each character believed that the American Dream was going to be successful. They all were forced to defer their dreams and they ended up being miserable and unhappy. From this poem and these two books, we can learn that the American Dream is very difficult to achieve.