American Dream – American Beauty & Of Mice and Men
Although the roots of the American Dream are founded on opportunity for all, it has become an inaccessible illusion for most. John Steinbeck’s novella “Of mice and men” explores the fragility of this concept in a more modern context. Whereas Sam Mendez’s film “American Beauty” uses black comedy to highlight the allusive nature of the American dream that has become perverted by an affiant society.
Both of these texts expose a reality that reveals the isolation and loneliness experienced from pursuing American dream. George and Lenny both shared “The American Dream” of owning their own small farm house.
However they too were unable to grasp the reality when their dream became crushed by society’s expectations. ‘Some day – we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and –‘, George and Lenny constantly repeats this phrase continuously throughout the novella, as their personal ambition and aim. It was this specific phrase that allowed our two protagonists to differentiate from others, it gave our protagonists hope as they were unique from all other farm workers ‘Guys like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family.
They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch’. Knowing that they were different from all other farm workers they motivated themselves to believe that they were able to obtain what others could not, as they were different from everyone else ‘They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to’ … ‘But not us! ’ An’ why? Because … Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why’. Our two protagonists can closely compared with the mouse in Robert Burns Poem “To a Mouse”.
The mouse within Burns poems lived on a farm very similar to Lennie and George. Through hard work the mouse creates a home, which was ultimately destroyed by the farmer. The rodents that Lennie often carried around symbolises how fragile they really were, being crushed by Lennie’s petting. The American Dream was supposedly founded on the belief that it was a dream for all and that everyone had an equal chance. However Steinbeck’s choice of emphasizing both the fragility and the selective nature of the American Dream crushes Lenny and George indefinitely.
Steinbeck highlights the allusive nature of the American dream by using alienated and lonely characters who are shown to be unable to fulfil their dream. Crooks is a black man who was shunned from society merely because of his colour and race. Unable to belong with the rest of the other characters, he is often shown alone. When Lennie first confronts Crooks, Crook turned his vulnerability against Lennie and lied about George never returning, suggesting that George will never return. He plays a cruel game with Lennie, suggesting to him that George is gone for good.
Only when Lennie threatens him with physical violence does he relent. Crooks exhibits the corrosive effects that loneliness can have on a person; his character evokes sympathy as the origins of his cruel behavior are made evident. Perhaps what Crooks wants more than anything else is a sense of belonging—to enjoy simple pleasures such as the right to enter the bunkhouse or to play cards with the other men. This desire would explain why, even though he has reason to doubt George and Lennie’s talk about the farm that they want to own, Crooks cannot help but ask if there might be room for him to come along and hoe in the garden.
Similarly, Curly’s wife also had an ambition to be a movie star and famous. Near the start of the novella, Curly’s wife was shown to be a “tramp” or “tart”, however as the novella progresses, her lust for attention grows. This desire is shown by her confrontation with other men, even though Curly had told her not to. The lack of attention that the other characters and the story gave her is further emphasised by Steinbeck’s decision of disallowing her a name. Curly wife’s is also another character that demonstrated loneliness, however, unlike other characters, she had little significance.
Similarly Sam Mendez also produces unique individuals within “American Beauty”, each having their own dreams and ambitions, to demonstrate the allusion that the American dream is for everyone. The Burnham’s in particular were bitter and confined even though they were shown to have “Everything”: a house, a car, a family. Even though the Burnhams had the depicted everything, they did not appear to be content with their life. Lester Burnham, the protagonist, has been slowly deteriorating from the typical patriarchal household. Lester is often showed to be confined within himself shut of from other characters.
During the first office scene, Lester’s reflection upon the computer is shown behind green bars of text. Even Lester himself admits that he loser living the same boring life every day. At the beginning of the movie Lester starts of narrating, “In a way I’m dead already”. During the first dinner scene after Lester walks into the kitchen, Lester tells Jane “Sometimes Jane you don’t have to wait for me to come to you. You can come to me” however Jane’s response was different from the typical families creating a sunse of unrealistic expectation of what a family should be.
When Lester is in the shower, he is also confined within the small shower cubicle. It wasn’t until Lester reverted back to the consumption of pot that he starts challenging everyone, breaking away from the accumulating confinement. At this point Lester breaks away from the facade that he was unworthy, gaining independence. Caroline on the other hand is taken in by the desire for success. Even though Caroline had everything that the American dream states, she continues to long for more.
This shows how the American Dream is continuously filled with wants and desires. When Lester and Caroline were alone in the living room Caroline gets distracted by Lester nearly spilling beer on the coach. Lester tells her “This isn’t life. This is just stuff. And this stuff has become more important to you than living. ” Both Mendez and Steinbeck imply through their texts that The American Dream is merely a facade and an allusion that anyone can obtain. However, the selective nature of the dream restricts various people from pursuing this happiness.