Reflective Essay: The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby

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Hannah Maness


4th hour

Reflective Essay: The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby

What is the American Dream mean to you? I believe it means always striving to improve your life and the lives of your family. For me the American Dream means challenging yourself in school and sports, always trying to advance your skills. In The Grapes of Wrath it probably meant having enough food to eat for the day or being able to bathe in the showers and use real toilets. In The Great Gatsby it meant being happy and trying to marry the person you truly love. I think the American Dream has many different meanings depending on the person and their economic status. Poor people are usually just wishing for the simple things in life that many people take for granted while rich people are always hoping for more or just to be happy in the extravagant life that they have.

“The last clear definite function of man—muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need—this is man.” (Steinbeck, pg. 150) Steinbeck shows that in The Grapes of Wrath they had to work extremely hard to just get the basic needs that many people already had. The Joad’s were so excited when one of the government camps had toilets that they didn’t even know how to use them because they had never had them before. It really was true that the little things made them happy. “Today at camp Pa bought Winfiel' an' me a lil' box of Cracker Jack. Then when I was eating some kids they see and want some. But I didn't give 'em none, I worked good for them lil' box.” (Steinbeck, pg. 376) Ruthie and Winfield were so excited to get those Cracker Jacks because they never get treats so they were full of joy. In my life today I definitely take advantage of everything that I have. When I see that these little children were so thrilled just to receive Cracker Jacks, I realize that the American Dream standards have increased greatly sense the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” (Fitzgerald, pg. 1) This quote shows you cannot judge people for what they do not have because they actually might have something that you want in return. The Great Gatsby definitely shows access to upward mobility because of all the money that the people in the novel have. They basically have everything they want besides one thing, happiness. No one in the story is happy in their marriages. They all wish they were married to different people. Their dream is to be with the person they truly love. This book proves that money is not everything. Having a lot of money does not always bring happiness.

In my life I believe the American Dream is all about making your future better. It is about making a good life for your children and providing them with everything they need. My siblings and I have always grown up with a major concentration on education and bettering yourself. My parents have always stressed the importance of taking challenging classes to prepare us for college. They would rather have us a take a difficult class, like AP Calculus and maybe not get as good of a grade, rather than take a blow off class where we could easily get an A, but not learn anything new to progress our knowledge. They want us to be the best we can be and to move upward in life rather than just sitting back and being average.

The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby are both completely different novels that view the American Dream differently. I think in order to increase upward mobility there needs to be a heavy concentration on education. Education is always something that can help you in any situation. Today, it is pretty hard to get a good job without some sort of education. If parents, teachers, and bosses all stressed the American Dream like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald do then maybe people would start trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children like the two novels do.

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