The Achievement of the American Dream

The Achievement of the American Dream
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The protagonist Esperanza of “The House on Mango Street” and Jay Gatsby of “The Great Gatsby” are both specialpeople and are able to rise from their impoverished childhoods to positions of respectability and power. The reasons for their success may be the direct result of their ability to understand the motivations and feelings of others. But while Esperanza successfully uses this talent in a positive manner to harness friends for herself, Gatsby’s achievement of the American dream is a hollow one where his only genuine friends are Nick Carraway and his father.

According to Nick Carraway, the narrator of Fitzgerald’s novel, other friends are a “rotten crowd” but Gatsby is worth “the whole damn bunch put together”. Nick admires Gatsby because he sees him and realizes what he himself is not but could become. Gatsby’s smile according to Nick conveys “precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” (Fitzgerald, 48). This is a part of Gatsby’s charm, that indefinable something that draws people to him. In a similar manner, Esperanza also shows a depth of understanding of people that belies her years. For instance, she is able to understand Sally is by no means crazy, all she needs is love and she can hardly be blamed for that. The manner in which she sums up the character of Marin as someone who is just waiting for a car to stop and for someone who will change her life again demonstrates the way she is instinctively able to put her finger on what makes people tick and is able to empathize with them, which is part of the reason for her later success.

Gatsby’s dream is Daisy. Everything he has done and achieved has been for her benefit. What separates Gatsby from other men is the fact that he appears to have attained the American dream of success, he has a big house where he hosts lavish parties and appears to embody the reality of the fact that man can, in spite of his humble beginnings rise to a position of wealth and power. Gatsby has in fact risen from an impoverished childhood in North Dakota to a position of enormous wealth, although he may have acquired this wealth through illegal means. The house he lives in is the epitome of wealth and lavish splendor, calculated to impress and instill awe in its viewers, the talk of the town. Esperanza on the other hand, differs from Gatsby in that the house she lives in is not the symbol of what she has already become but the symbol of everything she wants to escape from. She defines all the lack in it when she says “A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it.” In this disparity between their respective homes, Gatsby and Esperanza represent opposite ends of the spectrum of the American dream, although both have originated from the same humble roots. In Gatsby’s case, the splendid house is a representation of the deterioration of the American dream – the massing of wealth at the expense of friendships and closeness, so that Gatsby is a lonely man whom no one mourns when he dies, except Nick and his father. Esperanza however represents the achievement of the American dream, the brave young girl who is able to liberate herself from the shackles of poverty and domesticity that her background could have thrown her into – she represents the successful achievement of the American dream.

Jay Gatsby is presented to a reader from the point of view of a third person – a narrator, while Esperanza connects directly with her readers. Although both the protagonists protect their feelings deep within themselves, perhaps this difference in the narrative voice telling their stories is only a reflection of the difference between them and the divergent paths that the American dream takes in their respective lives.

References:
Cisneros, Sandra The House on Mango Street
Fitzgerald, Scott F. The Great Gatsby