Comparing the Great Gatsby and American Beauty

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Set in the summer of the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby follows the hedonistic and destructive lifestyles of the upper social classes of post-war America. This novel, written by F Scott Fitzgerald in the same time period, criticizes the shallowness of the actions of this outlandish generation and their eventual disillusionment with their society. American Beauty, the 1999 film directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan ball, uses the setting of contemporary middle-class suburban America to examine the differences between the inner and outer realities of a “typical” American Beauty are obvious in connection between Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Mendes’ American Beauty are obvious in the themes, plots and the actions of the characters. The values and beliefs evident in the texts- which are portrayed through the characters –critically reflect those of the author, Fitzgerald and Mendes’, as well as the period of time that each was created. The contrasts and connections between the Great Gatsby and American Beauty become most evident in their themes. These themes are used to accentuate particular aspects of each story and to communicate significant underlying values in the stories. The American Dream represents the promise of freedom, prosperity and success and is embedded into the national identity of all American people, including the characters in “The Great Gatsby” and “American Beauty”. The pursuit of equal opportunity for every man, unhampered by socially constructed barriers or his financial situation, is what the values of the American people were founded upon. The corruption of this dream is characterized by the pure ideals of Gatsby in The Great Gatsby and also, to some extent, Lester Burnham in American Beauty. Gatsby’s true romantic pursuits and his idealism – which epitomizes the true American Dream – are crushed by the irresponsibly low morals of his contemporaries; Lester Burnham is first shown to us leading the unfulfilling reality of the twenty-first century American Dream. Although Lester is living a version of the American Dream, his life has become centered on the materialistic preconceptions of his society and his wife. The American Dream incorporates freedom and happiness, both of which exist purely as myths in American Beauty. Each character in American Beauty builds up and appearance whether it is one of success (Carolyn), sexuality (Angela) or happiness (Lester). The pursuit of happiness is underscored as a major part of the American Dream through its inclusion in the Declaration of Independence and is incorporated into the texts by both authors. Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby to show that for upper classes of the “Roaring Twenties”, the pursuit of happiness centered solely on the possession of material goods. Daisy and Myrtle tells Tom to buy her a dog because “They’re nice to have- a dog” (pg. 29) and Daisy’s marriage is one of appearances that shows that she values material possessions (Tom) over passion (Gatsby). The same idea that happiness stems from material possession is exhibited by Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty. Carolyn represents the belief that happiness stems from her appearance and how she is perceived by others. These “successes” that Carolyn uses to create her image of happiness involve material accumulation –house, car, successful career and even a “perfect” family. The couch scene in which Carolyn sacrifices her relationship with Lester and yells “This is not just a couch!” epitomizes the emptiness of Carolyn’s perception of happiness and the American Dream. This empty promise of a happy and fulfilled life drives Lester to rebel from his caged existence and he begins to build himself a new reality in which he has freedom without responsibility. In ridding himself of his forced responsibilities, Lester is ultimately striving to recreate his youth –a time in which he believes he knew true happiness. In seeking his previous happiness, Lester ignores the norms of “respectable...
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