Sister Carrie and the American Dream

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The American Dream is surely based on the concept of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” but it is above all, a matter of ambition. James Truslow Adams, an American writer and historian, in 1931 states: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”, which not only points towards a better standard of living for Americans but also denounces a degree of greed in the US society. Ambition not only “killed the cat” but killed relationships as well in texts like Sister Carrie and Death of a Salesman. While the American Dream was supposed to be a collective success at its initial stage, ambition, along with a pinch of greed and materialism were perfect ingredients to the realization of an American nightmare rather. The two above mentioned texts not only expose their readers to a fictitious American tragedy but they also reflect the downfall of the real American Dream that emerged in 1776 in the US society.

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, has been acknowledged as “the greatest of all American urban novels”. Carrie Meeber, the female protagonist of the text, is a symbol of ambition. At the age of eighteen, she sets to Chicago to realize her American dream. She meets Drouet, a young man by whose fine clothing she is quite impressed in the train. Already, readers get to understand that Carrie lives in a vicious cycle of materialism where financial stability is essential. Later on, she is even more impressed by him thanks to his materialistic help after her financial downfall. Carrie is so elated by the way Drouet treats her that she allows him to rent an apartment for her which is followed by her departure from her sister Minnie’s house, leaving only a note behind. At this point, a rupture can be discovered in Carrie and Minnie’s sister relationship. It is materialism and ambition that in fact led to Carrie’s sudden departure.

Everything works out well between Carrie and Drouet until another better opportunity crops up in the woman’s life: Hurstwood. Even in a better financial position than Drouet, Hurstwood manages to woo Carrie. Though kidnapped by him later on, she accepts him because he has got money, ten thousand dollars that he stole from his employers. Drouet, disappointed by his beloved’s treachery, is in fact a victim of ambition; his love has been weighed with financial success. Carrie coupling with Hurstwood also creates a rift in the friendship of the latter and Drouet. Again, readers are exposed to an instance where ambition destroys relationships. While Carrie is fulfilling her American Dream by pursuing life, liberty and happiness, she is also breaking a family apart; Hurstwood was married and had a daughter. A husband-wife and a father-daughter relationship have been destroyed due to ambition and ardent desire of fulfilling an individual American Dream.

A better opportunity in the form of Carrie and the sight of all that money in the safe of his employers lured Hurstwood to pursue his American dream. His financial downfall was simply a result of high ambition. In the same way, Carrie, though having acquired stardom at the end of the text, is unhappy with her life. She presumed that fulfilling one’s American Dream meant acquiring wealth and fame, whatever be the cost. Eventually, readers realize that Carrie and Hurstwood, blinded by the desire to realise their American Dream respectively, mixed the concept of ambition with greed and materialism. Hence, this whole process of misconception and destruction of relationships are enough to categorise Carrie’s and Hurston’s American Dreams as American nightmares rather.

In Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller, Willy Loman’s determination to live up to the American Dream and to seek material happiness is what takes his life eventually. He can be categorised as a static character wanting to realize his American Dream by mere charisma. The character designed by...
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