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Waking Up From The American Dream: What The Great Gatsby Got Wrong (And Right) About Our Country - NewViewNews
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Waking Up From The American Dream: What The Great Gatsby Got Wrong (And Right) About Our Country

IDW100890 · social issues · opinion · 12/04/2020

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In his 1920's novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the story of a self-made man, Jay Gatsby, who is meant to personify the American Dream in the 1920's. Describing the American tendency to continually strive for our goals, Gatsby asserts that "we beat on, beats against the current," and we will continue to no matter how much our hopes "elude us." The optimistic view of Americans as go-getters who never give up on their goals is true to an extent and is backed up by many historical examples. However, cases of the American people giving up on our hopes seems nearly as plentiful. Perhaps an acceptance of the fact that individual behaviors of tenacity vary from person to person would be a more accurate and fitting term. 

Evidence to support Fitzgerald's claim appear to be plentiful. Dating back to the founding of the nation, the struggle for achieving our goals, no matter the lofty obstacles that lie ahead, seems to be unwavering. For example, the strive for independence from Great Britain appears to fit well. After the many injustices the Americans felt the British imposed on them, Americans declared independence and war. Despite the British being the strongest empire in the world at the time, the Americans beat on. Even after years of losing the war, the Americans persisted and ended up winning the war. This pattern continued with time, as the Americans survived and persisted through war with the French, British, Confederates, and Spanish nations throughout the 19th century. Specifically, however, Fitzgerald was known for commenting on the early 1900's. In the time period immediately preceding the Roaring '20s, Americans were entangled in World War One. Despite the powerful militaries of the dictatorial German and Austrian-Hungarian regimes, the American people were able to achieve their goal of victory din the war and spreading democracy to Europe. This example is particularly strong as American society massively mobilized during WWI, as industry, agriculture, manufacturing, public services, and women and children were all integral in the war struggle, painting a large picture of America in general. Finally, as a more contemporary example, the United States came out on top of a bitter Cold War between the USSR and she. With dozens of satellite countries, a large arsenal, and devoted citizens, the USSR and communism were constant fears to many Americans. However, nearly 50 years after it began, the western ideals of America were not lost to the dictatorial ones of the USSR. In Fitzgerald's history, modern day, and future, there appears to be evidence that backs up his claims.

However, there also appears to be evidence from such time periods that show a lack of persistence in the American people. In the war of 1812, which started shortly after the nation began, the Americans wanted the British to stop some actions they considered unjust; namely, this included the hijacking of American ships and occupation of American land. After years of fighting, the fight proved too costly and America and Britain signed a peace treaty which changed nearly nothing. In this historical case, Americans had given up something they were striving for due to its cost and difficulty. Closer to Fitzgerald's era, Reconstruction had been attempted in the south after the Civil War; Reconstruction was the process of trying to enact reforms to make society more equal. It faced heavy resistance and the Republicans, the group that supported such racial-equality reforms, abandoned the cause. This led to the rise of Jim Crow laws in America that treated coloured people as "separate but equal," which often led to poor treatment . These laws still existed in Fitzgerald's time. Finally, later in the 20th century, the US attempted peace-keeping efforts in Kosovo which, according to the CIA, had a 68% approval rating. In just 4 years, however, the approval rating dropped to 17%, so the US left without completing its job. These examples could serve as a counterargument to Fitzgerald's claim that Americans will push through any obstacles to achieve their goals.

Painting the broad stroke that we will keep trying to attain ever-difficult goals is optimistic yet unrealistic. While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many may push themselves in the face of obstacles, sometimes the goal is no longer worth the means and a logical person ought to drop the matter and often does. Additionally, some with weaker wills often abandon hopes as the journey becomes taxing. It appears the reality is that while some pursue their goals, beating on no matter the obstacle, some do not either due to the situation or themselves.

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