The American Dream in a Novel and Films
At the close of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, a new culture emerged in the United States. People, including the blacks, were seeking a better life, socially and economically (Locke and Wright chap 18). It was characterized by the pursuit of wealth, comfort, security, and pleasure. The culture was disconnected from the conventional family and communal living. It also opposed the traditional religious and social values, emphasizing luxury and extravagance. Another important development was the exchange of goods and circulation of money (Locke and Wright chap 23). Everyone sought happiness through acquisition and spending of material goods. The Americans had started to accept the perception that the country was a land of plenty. It was a place where desires were satisfied and needs fulfilled. It was the wake of new cultural consciousness in America, accompanied by a theatrical fantasy about life in America. Movies and novels emerged as important tools to shed light on the concealed narrative of the major cultural developments and events in the country.
American life in the theatrical arena is presented as a fantasy (a dream). It is cast as a place where there is no trouble and where the characters can get anything they desire. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a perfect example of living the American dream. The novel describes a world that is enchanting, joyful, and magical. The novel by Lyman Frank Baum appears to have affected the cultural consciousness of the Americans. The story begins with farmland in Kansas, nostalgic sepia-colored. Dorothy is a young girl who desires to live in a place of great comfort. A tornado sweeps her one day, and she wakes up in the Land of Oz. She wants to travel back home with the help of the great wizard of Oz. Her journey is a classic example of the American journey as reflected in the 20th century. It is a dream that many Americans desired to live in.
In the Land of Oz, Dorothy is pampered, and all their needs are addressed: “Make yourself perfectly at home… and if you wish for anything ring the bell” (Baum, 124). The story reflects America that is self-sufficient, where people do not suffer lack. It is an awakening and reimagining of the self within a world of plenty. The characters in the American dream ought to be treated as individuals with needs, interests and desires, and a life where these are achievable. The dream applies to children as well as adults. The happiness and welfare of the Americans is at the core of the American dream that the novel presents. However, the story is about the utopian possibilities that the American way of life characterizes. The people merit satisfaction and contentment, although there is no explanation of a clear way in which these needs can be met. The illustration, using the story of the orphan girl reveals that the dreams of all Americans are achievable.
Thelma and Louise (1991) is a movie that centers on the American dream. It is about two women, Thelma and Louise, and their journey to achieve the American dream. The viewer is introduced into the lives of these women, including their daily routines. Louise works in a café, while Thelma is a young housewife (Khouri). The story is about the pursuit of the American life for women in different spheres of life. The women might not be contented in their current life, especially Thelma who is in an oppressive marriage, but they have not given up on the American dream. They take the road for a weekend to escape from their lives, which they regard as unenjoyable. Evidently, the characters have not given up on the American dream. Though the two will be back to their current lives, they still take the journey in the pursuit of happiness and to fulfill their desires. They desired the basic rights promised in the constitution (Locke and Wright chap 29). However, it was uncertain whether they would achieve the goal.
Similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Thelma and Louise is about efforts to have the self-knowledge characteristic of the new culture in America. The characters are in pursuit of knowing the self in relation to their society. However, the two differ in the achievement of the American dream. In the novel, the life appears to come easily to the characters. It is a typical example of the life or the fantasy as the dream has come to be known. On the contrary, the American dream in the film is not easily achievable regardless of the fact that it exists. The two women believe in the potential to achieve the fantasy life, but this does not come easy for them. In fact, they lose everything when a murder occurs at the parking, and they have to run for their lives to Mexico. Therefore, the two fails to experience the dream which they believed in.
The Grapes of Wrath is another story about the American dream. According to the author, John Steinbeck, the American dream is a failed promise. The film takes a similar direction as Thelma and Louise about the failure to realize the dream. Unemployment and social inequality are the reasons many people in the 20th century America failed to achieve the dream. Like Thelma and Louise, the American dream exists, but it is unattainable (Steinbeck). The dream is about America, having the opportunity to gain freedom and equal opportunity to succeed. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the principles behind the American dream. These are the rights enshrined in the American constitution. The story introduces a pessimistic attitude towards the American dream. The decent life exists, but many Americans are not capable of achieving it because of economic and social realities in the 20th century. Not all Americans have the means to achieve the American way of life.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story about the achievability of the American dream. It holds the promise of the people in the country having the potential to enjoy their lives in comfort. There was a promise of a better life for Americans (Locke and Wright chap 22). The novel indicates that it is not hard for Americans to reach the place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. On the contrary, the two films reveal that the dream exists, but it is a failed promise. In Thelma and Louise, the two characters move out of their current lives to pursue the dream. However, their new life is not permanent because they face the probability of going back to their current lives. In fact, they fail to achieve the dream and cannot return to their lives after the murder. In The Grapes of Wrath, the author challenges the possibility of California as a “promised land.” People can only realize that the dream is real, but social and economic hindrances also exist. The two films reveal the challenges involved in Americans achieving the ideal way of life.