American Ideals In East Of Eden And The Great Gatsby

When presented with the notion of “American ideals,” one may think of goals and accomplishments most Americans strive for; prosperity, both socially and economically, and success for their family that could be achieved through hard work. East of Eden by John Steinbeck is a classic novel with a plot that explores the interwoven lives of two families in the mid twentieth century in California. The Great Gatsby is an American classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald that is based in a fictional town off Long Island, New York. Both of these books address several American ideals. In some ways the books are similar, but each of the books has different views and attitudes towards American ideals.

East of Eden optimistically represents American ideals and “the American dream.” The lives and stories of two different yet intertwining families (the Trask family and the Hamilton family) are told throughout the book. One major “ideal” presented was the longing for prosperity and wealth, along with characters wanting the best lives for their children. In fact, this is a main theme that drives the plot. At the time this book took place, in the Salinas Valley, a family had to find its own piece of land and learn to prosper from what they are given. Many people at this time had earned money from doing things such as farming. The better land one had, the more successful he could be, and from this wealth, he would not only be able to provide a better life for himself and his family but for future generations to come. This particular ideal was seen after Cyrus Trask died, and his money went to his two sons, Adam and Charles. With this money, Adam bought a large, prosperous piece of land and a nice house, which would allow him to eventually pass on his earned and inherited wealth to his sons, Aron and Cal. This same idea of working for success for future generations was also prevalent with Faye, the woman who runs a popular whorehouse in the town. Cathy wasn’t Faye’s biological daughter, but Faye still took her in as family and treated her as such when Cathy came to her whorehouse to work as a prostitute. However, Faye did not want her to continue being a prostitute because she thought her life would be better if she didn’t have to work. These are two primary examples of what ideals characters believed were important: prosperity and giving their children the best childhood and life as possible. They believed these could be made possible through putting in hard work, therefore giving a more optimistic view of the famously known “American dream” that so many strive for.

The plot of The Great Gatsby also revolved around American ideals, however there was a pessimistic view towards these ideals, rather than East of Eden’s optimistic outlook that hard work could bring success and wealth to the family and that was the most important thing in life. In The Great Gatsby, the wealth and success of a person and their social status, and therefore their contentedness, was a seemingly important aspect of the characters’ lives. Jay Gatsby, who was born into a family that did not have much money, experienced this struggle to attain wealth and status throughout his life, and that is what eventually led to his death. After serving in the war, he went away to school in Oxford where he found out the woman he loved, Daisy, had gotten married to a man (Tom Buchanan) who was very wealthy and had a high social status. At this point, Gatsby seemed to dedicate a lot of his life to becoming more like Tom as a way to win Daisy over. He bought a mansion in West Egg across the water from where Tom and Daisy had lived and tried to fit into the social scene of the riches by throwing extravagant parties. However, in the end, Daisy would not leave her husband for Gatsby, and ultimately he was killed. This demonstrated that people could have copious amounts of money and could have a “high social status” and still not be well liked or content with their life.

These two books have contrasting views on American ideals, but they are both similar in that they believe money is an important aspect of life. In East of Eden, it was made to seem that if anyone works hard they can become successful and therefore content, while in The Great Gatsby, it is argued that wealth and social status is highly regarded, but this is not always true or possible to achieve. However, the similarities seem to stop there, as these books had contrasting views about whether or not this wealth that comes along with the American ideals would lead to contentedness in life.

American ideals are something of importance that were thought of both in the twentieth century and in the present. In East of Eden, it was thought that hard work would lead to wealth and success which could be passed on to future generations to give them a great, content life. On the other hand, in The Great Gatsby, wealth and success were crucial, but so was social status and fitting in with the wealthy, “old money” crowd- and in the end, it was proved in Jay Gatsby’s case that these things would not lead to definite contentedness and achievement of the “American Dream”.

16 December 2021
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