“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there once was conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”  -Bono

Americans like big things, and we like them to come easy and convenient. 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Pretty soon, they’ll come in keg-size. At the same time, we want all of our news wrapped up in 3 minute sound-bites; just enough to keep us informed, but not enough to force us to think. We want our sitcoms and dramas polished up in a half hour to an hour, just enough to tug the heart, but not enough to move us to change. And if it’s not on the internet, why read anything at all? If I can’t hold it in the palm of my hand; it simply isn’t worth my time. Why work for anything when it’s all handed to me? This culture of apathy and entitlement is the result of a corrupt form of the American Dream, and just as Americans have grown increasingly fat and lazy in caring for our minds and bodies, we have allowed this corruption to seep into our spiritual lives as well. While a few superstars with large followings existed in American Christianity the last half of the 20th Century, the new millennium brought on the advent of the mega-church. Churches with 1,000+ members have popped up all over the country while their leaders boast of the number of souls that are saved and contribute tithes to the ministry, but just as the super-mega-Big Gulp is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value, most of these churches produce little in the way of true converts because they are focused on numbers and membership rather than on crafting real discipleship for their members. In fact, many modern American churches preach little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effort to “tickle men’s ears” and become “more seeker friendly.” What does this say of the God we worship if we have to sugarcoat who he is just to get people interested?  Jesus himself said that we would be outcasts in the world, and we would have a cross to bear. How many hypocrites exist in the church because they haven’t really met Jesus yet? How many sincere people have fallen from their “faith” because they were promised a party, and when hard times hit, they had no guidance in how to use their faith to walk through? Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from trials in this world; in fact, he openly tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but he adds, “cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).

Make no mistake: If you align yourself with Christ; your faith will be challenged. From the beginning of this age God Almighty has had an enemy, a rebel angel, whose only real way of hurting Him is to hurt the ones He loves, mankind. Since Satan can’t fight God and win, he has set out to spread his seeds of lies, corruption and rebellion among us. Satan knew that God’s righteous justice would force him to condemn us in our sinful state. Just as he separated himself from God, his desire is to tempt every human being to rebel against God and so be separated with him in Hell. The Apostle Paul tells us, “We are not fighting humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV). We humans, however, do have a choice on whose side we will fight. Stepping out of the battle is not an option. If you choose not to fight, you will get run down and flattened by Satan. The worst part is, you probably won’t even recognize it, he is such a fine manipulator and perverter of the truth, that he can make many people think they are on the side of good when they are actually being selfish. Yet, little by little, the selfish nature increases, and eventually these people end up empty and unfulfilled. The Apostle James states, “We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (James 1-14-15, CEV). It seems like a losing battle, and if we stand alone, it is. Think of a tug of war. I once volunteered at a camp that had competitions between the different groups of kids. One was the tug of war. Each group would line up on the rope and struggle to pull it to their side. What if all the teen counselors competed against the campers? They might last a little while, but it won’t be long before they would be dragged away to their enemy’s side. It is like this with Satan’s temptations and our effort to pull away in our own strength. He knows our weaknesses and he plays against them.

So what’s the point? If it’s this hard to follow God, then why bother? Because he has promised and provided a way out, and that way is Jesus. We are born into sin, and that sin requires that God punish us in his righteous justice; however, Jesus took our punishment on the cross, and after dying for us, resurrected himself and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus says, “A thief comes only to rob, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10, CEV). However, Jesus did not promise to just pull us from our troubles. What he has done, is promise to walk alongside us in them. Think of the tug of war again. We are like a young child camper, Satan is like a rebellious bratty teenager; we are getting the tarp beat out of us, until Jesus, a world class body builder, shows up and grabs the rope with us. It is a paradox in that he doesn’t take us out of the fight, but he handles the fight for us. Without him, we are lost. With him, we can do anything he allows us and calls us to do. But he expects us to fight, first defensively, and when we have learned skill in battle with the enemy, he sends us on the offensive. Why doesn’t Jesus just take us out of our troubles? Because, we would never learn to grow otherwise; we would spend the rest of eternity ignorant and trapped in our sinful mindset. We would be virtually useless for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bringing others into a saving knowledge of Christ. Think about a child whose mother always gets him out of trouble; he never pays the consequences of his negative actions. What kind of adult will this young man become? A lazy drain on society at best, a criminal at worst, unless he comes to his senses when the bruises of life begin to beat him down. This is the mentality of American society, and the essence of our apathy and entitlement. We have had too many generations that have fed off the prosperity of the hard working Americans of the past, but not having experienced the opportunity to work for their own achievement, they become dependant on hand outs. The Apostle Paul teaches us, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, CEV), but Jesus also encourages us, “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, CEV). The work that Lord requires of us is simple. He expects us to begin a relationship with him, and to walk with him on a journey that will challenge us and develop our characters into strong and faithful servants and soldiers in the heavenly realms, so we can eventually go out into our call of adventure he has planned for us since the beginning of time. But we must make the choice to take that journey. We cannot save ourselves, our salvation is in faith in Christ alone, and our strength for the journey only comes from believing and trusting him. We must trust him in order to be able to follow him into battle. A Christianity that is only two hours a week just won’t cut it, but there are some practical things we can do to put our faith into action.  

The first thing you need to do is to pray. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless there is active communication between the two of you. God always hears us and answers us in his time; however, hearing him often takes time and practice. How do we learn to do what he wants? How do we learn to recognize his character and voice when he speaks to us in the quiet of our souls? Read the Bible. The Bible is called God’s Word; it is his message to humans to teach us how to live in peace and joy because he loves us. However, understanding some parts of the Bible can be very difficult for new believers. What do we do when we don’t understand it, or when we are having a hard time following it? Find a mentor. This is where true discipleship comes in. Every Christian needs someone stronger in the faith, or at least equal to them, someone to lean on when struggles hit them as they surely will. You need someone who can answer your questions, you need someone to hold you accountable when you are struggling with sin, you need someone to help you with practical things like moving, you need friends to hang out with that will build you up and encourage you instead of dragging you down. How can you find these people? You need to find a healthy church to fellowship in. Unfortunately, there are many churches that have watered down the gospel at best, and corrupted it into something false at worst, but you must find fellowship. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. You will eventually get shot down. You must trust that God is good and he will bring you to a good fellowship at some point on your journey. You job is simply to keep walking it out with him. Christianity is a religion based on relationship, first to God, then to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and finally to the lost: those to whom we are called to be witnesses of the love and peace that our God offers to those willing to submit and take up their crosses in the training grounds of life.  

 Peter L Richardson

Has Huck Got Religion?

November 13, 2010

The Spiritual Journey of Huckleberry Finn  

Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
– Mark Twain, Notebook, 1879

It is pretty clear that Mark Twain was not a big supporter of religion; it is also pretty clear that he was not very fond of humanity as a whole. Twain once said, “Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” Yet in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there can be found a spiritual theme deep within the character of Huckleberry Finn; this boy is not just a troubled kid making his way down the Mississippi River who happens to fall into chance adventure; I believe Huck represents a subconscious glimmer of hope that Mark Twain had for humanity. Huck’s journey down the river can even be viewed as an analogy of a spiritual baptism that Huck undergoes. In baptism, a person is submerged under water, symbolizing his death, and he rises up as new person possessing a life of hope and purpose. Huckleberry Finn is an abused child of an alcoholic father who is forced to fake his own death and escape his father by traveling down the Mississippi River. The river could symbolize Huck’s baptism and by the end of the book, after a series of circumstances that cause Huck to grow and mature, he emerges as a new man.

Twain states right off in his introduction that “persons attempting to find a moral in [this narrative] will be banished” (2). Perhaps the author wanted to downplay the spiritual analogy, or perhaps the author wasn’t even aware of it himself; his pen being guided by the hand of Providence just as Huck and Jim were being guided down the river. There is a certain amount of coincidence that is necessary in any work of fiction, yet in Huckleberry Finn there are greater forces at work that guide Huck and Jim to each adventure. Every time Huck finds himself on land he is exposed to negative circumstances, yet just as often an unusual coincidence helps Huck make his escape back to the river all the more wise and mature. Before Huck even thinks about his upcoming adventures, he is already able to distinguish between traditional religion and the principles of truth. Huck tells us: 

“Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body’s mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again. I judged I could see that there were two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow’s Providence, but if Miss Watson’s got him there waren’t no help for him any more. I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow’s if he wanted me…” (12).

It is this Providence that Huck commits to which guides him through the Mississippi and through each adventure he has. It is also this Providence that brings Huck to Jim; they were already tied together as it was Huck’s supposed death that caused Jim to run in the first place. It is when he teams up with Jim that Huck begins his spiritual growth into a new man. Jim becomes a father figure to Huck and teaches him about family and relationship. Huck reveals he is in the very beginning of his growth when, after offending Jim, he is able to “humble [himself] to a nigger” and apologize (84).

Huck and Jim miss their turn at the Ohio River and so miss the opportunity to free Jim and part ways. This again can be seen as the hand of Providence, if they were to part ways it surely would have ended the growth of character Huck was experiencing. Instead they are thrust down the Mississippi, deeper into the South and deeper into harm‘s way, where they end up in one adventure after another in which Huck observes the dark side of humanity and is tempted and challenged through many trials. After their raft is struck by a steamboat, Huck survives by submerging deep into the river and when he surfaces he cannot find Jim and believes him to be dead. He is taken in by the Grangerford’s, a good family who happen to be feuding with another family by the name of the Shepherdson’s. The feud was apparently started from offended pride, and the families can’t even remember who made the first offense but neither is willing to make peace. Eventually, Huck watches his new friend, Buck Grangerford, sacrifice himself for a completely pointless feud. The word, Grangerford, represents “farmer” and Shepherdson represents “sheep herder”, making the families analogous to Cain and Able. Their feud represents to Huck the foolishness of the feuding amongst all of mankind. Huck observes the fruit of unforgiveness and learns how ancient traditions keep men from living in peace.

After Huck flees the feuding, he and Jim reunite, but they end up with a couple of “rapscallions,” a “King” and a “Duke.” The King and the Duke are a couple of con-men who take over the raft that Jim and Huck have been traveling on. Huck learns all kinds of schemes from them, and other than the nuisance they are on the raft, Huck doesn’t seem too put off by their scandalous ways. That is until they take a scam too far and try to steal the inheritance from a group of orphaned sisters. Huck is quite taken by one of them, and seeing that they are good people, he decides to steal the money back for the girls. He does this at great risk to himself; if he’s caught, it will be assumed he is just trying to steal the money, and he also risks abuse from the King and the Duke. Huck learns to make sacrifices to protect those he cares for; he also learns that doing the right thing doesn’t always have a good result. Despite trying to help, Huck ends up being accused along with the King and the Duke when their scam is discovered. Though he escapes, so do they, and he and Jim are once again stuck with them on the raft. Huck knows by now that these two deserve justice for their crimes, yet he is still able to see the dignity that every human being deserves. When the King and Duke are finally captured they are tarred and feathered and led off to die. Even after they sell Jim away from Huck, he is able to have compassion for them, lamenting that “human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (222).

The culmination of Huck’s growth and maturity is summed up in his statement, “You can’t pray a lie.” After discovering Jim has been sold, Huck wonders whether or not he has done the right thing in helping him in the first place. Huck’s conscious is being challenged by the traditions and conventions of his time. Many Southern “Christians” at the time Twain was writing had perverted the gospel to justify the sin of American slavery. Huck had seen the hypocrisy of man, but he was taught that its falsehood was truth. While considering whether to write Miss Watson and turn Jim in, Huck feels the guilt of her False Providence condemning him: “…here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time…” (204). Huck tries to pray and ask to be “good” enough to betray Jim, but he can’t do it. He knows that in his heart he does not regret helping him. Not only can Huck not lie to himself, but he cannot lie to God either, yet it is not that Huck can’t hide his “sin” of helping Jim from God; it is, in fact, the Truth which has grown in Huck’s heart refusing to be hidden and emerging through Huck’s conscious. Huck tries to write a letter to Miss Watson, and then pray. At first he feels better, but his bond with Jim keeps him recalling moments of the love that had grown between them. Huck cannot hide from his heart, which tells him that helping Jim was truly the right thing to do, though he honestly believes that his actions are damnable. Huck’s conscious wins; Huck rejects all Southern tradition and convention. He is led by his compassion for Jim and sacrifices his eternal soul for his friend. Huck tears up the letter and declares, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (206). Jesus, referring to his sacrifice for mankind, declared that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (The Gospel of John 15:13). Though still a boy in years, Huck now emerges from the river a new man, fully mature in his spirit. Huck made the ultimate sacrifice for Jim; despite believing that he would be condemned to hell, Huck still refused to turn Jim in.

True Providence, the widow’s Providence, guided Huck and Jim down the river and caused Huck to grow and mature. Huck “died” from the dysfunctional heritage of his father; he learned a lifetime of truth on his raft, and he emerged from the water a changed person. It is evident in his relationship with Aunt Sally; what else but Providence could land Jim and Huck at the home of relatives of Huck’s good friend, Tom Sawyer? And, with Tom on his way to visit! Huck is able to receive her maternal care and even comes to respect and honor her out of love and not out of fear. Huck is concerned about her feelings, and deters himself from sneaking out one night so she would not worry. The Huck Finn at the beginning of the book would not have been so considerate. Huck’s comment to Aunt Sally about no one dieing on the steamboat accident, just a couple “niggers,” can easily be explained. Huck was in character. He was still pretending to be Tom Sawyer, and often on his journey with Jim, he spoke of him in such derogatory terms with strangers so as not to be found out. The only thing lacking in Huck at this point is self-confidence. Freeing Jim is just a game for Tom Sawyer, but for Huck it a matter of his conscious calling him to do the right thing, and his love for Jim. Even though Huck still trusts Tom’s ideas over his own, he only wants to see his friend get free and live with dignity.

The book ends with Huck almost independently wealthy since he is able to claim his reward money. His rejection of Aunt Sally’s adoption is not a rejection of all of humanity, rather he is simply rejecting man’s traditions and conventions that civilization has come to represent to him. Huck doesn’t try to escape civilization by returning to the safety and solitude of the river. Instead he is confident enough in himself to head out west, ahead of the settlers. He becomes a frontiersman, a leader to his fellow man, forging a new path for humanity to walk in. Huckleberry Finn represents the rejection of the traditions and conventions of “civilization” that cause us to be in separate factions and create fighting and general chaos. The ability to look at the heart of the matter and simply do the right thing; this is the legacy that Huckleberry Finn leaves behind; this is the faint glimmer of hope for humanity that flashed in the heart of Mark Twain.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. C.1981, Bantam Books.

Peter L Richardson
July, 2003

An Exploration of Gastby, Kane and Hackett

“Hollywood has become a scrap-heap for the broken values of disillusioned Seekers and thus localizes the coming apart of the American Dream.”  -Bruce L. Chipman

The Great American Dream has been a part of our culture before that culture had any real clear definition. It has, in fact, played a major role in defining what it means to be American. We consider this American dream part of our heritage and inheritance. It is our birth right as U.S. Citizens. But what is it? Its definition is as elusive as obtaining the Dream itself. Early on in the time of the Colonies, England was flooded with pamphlets calling everyone to America; a place of abundant lands, abundant wealth, and a chance to start a new life in a new world. Some came for fortune and glory, some for religious freedom, and some to cut off ties from the past. After Europeans populated the East Coast, these dreams of a new life had evolved into rights and we experienced the bloody birth of a new nation. Yet we still would look west, our dreams taking us ever further until there was no more land to possess. The stories of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Citizen Kane by Orson Wells, and The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West are all an exploration of achieving the American Dream and what happens when America doesn’t seem to make good on her promise. But what is that promise? Jay Gatsby and Charles Foster Kane both achieve great things, and Todd Hackett is surrounded by an industry that offers riches and fame, but is that what America has promised them; or did they miss it? Was there something deeper they were searching for, something that can still be achieved in America today?

Since he is the inspiration of the other two works, we must first give our attention to Mr. Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is the ultimate dreamer, the epitome of the self-made man, rising from poverty to incredible riches. Unfortunately, he is so self-made that he is completely made up. He is not real, everything about him is only a character that Jimmy Gatz created. “Jimmy was bound to get ahead,” Gatsby’s father proclaims after he had presented a comic book to Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator, that contained a list of “resolves” and a daily to do list for self-improvement written in Gatsby’s handwriting (Fitzgerald 181). This list is reminiscent of Benjamin Franklin’s list of self-improvement written in his Autobiography (Heath 860). Ben Franklin is America’s first rags to riches hero and he defined the self-made man. The allusion to Franklin reveals Gatsby’s potential, but Franklin accomplished something more than riches. Gatsby’s dream becomes distorted when he meets Dan Cody, a smuggler who takes Gatsby under his wing and teaches him how to live among high society. Dan Cody represents the distorted American dream. Dan, at the first symbolizes Daniel Boone, America’s famed frontiersman and icon, but in the end he is only Cody, representing Buffalo Bill Cody’s Western freak-show, a pale, false, broken representation of the deceased American West. Gatsby’s fate is sealed when he falls in love with Daisy; she becomes a symbol of the society he could never penetrate. If he can obtain her, he has obtained success and he rushes to build his empire of wealth to woo her to him. Gatsby creates a false self, acquires false riches (in that they are illegal), and when he finally gets the girl, he realizes that she is only another empty prize to check off his list of accomplishments. In obtaining Daisy he has only lost a dream.

What do you do when you achieve your dreams and they turn out to be empty? It can be argued that Gatsby waited in his pool to die, but I don’t think so. I believe that Gatsby had enough character to grow, and in fact started to as soon as he realized Daisy’s complete lack of substance. He realized the falsehood of himself and all that Mr. Cody offered him. Had it not been for Nick he may have slipped into hopelessness, but Nick’s friendship kept him grounded to reality, probably for the first time since he stepped foot on Cody’s yacht. Although Nick confessed he never really liked Gatsby, he was the only person in the book who had any kind of character at all, and he was a true friend; Gatsby’s only friend. Gatsby was a humble mid-western boy trying to better himself. But by the time we are introduced to him he is a lonely man seeking relationship and acceptance in the wrong places. Nick’s friendship offered Gatsby what he had been looking for all along, and it came with substance. Had Gatsby been allowed to live he and Nick might have remained friends and Gatsby would have continued to grow and might have accomplished some of the great potential that Jimmy Gatz revealed in his “Hopalong Cassidy” comic book. But what kind of a boring ending would that be? That ending would be too polished and too Hollywood.

In Citizen Kane Orson Wells tells a new rags to riches story inspired by Gatsby, but Charles Foster Kane is allowed to grow up into a lonely, broken, old man. Wells explicitly reveals in the movie that Kane is really searching for people to love him; however, Kane was unable to love them back. This is because Kane had no example of what it is like to love and be loved, except, perhaps, something from a distant past. Kane inherited millions of dollars at a very young age and became the ward of an investment banker who completely lacked any emotion at all. Charles, living contently and happily with his parents, was forced by his mother to live with this man in order to grow up more refined. To a child, this would certainly seem like betrayal (in my opinion it is), his mother giving him up and sending him away. Kane grew up in a situation where he could have anything he wanted, but no one to show him what was of true value. His dreams, which fed his ambitions, were really very simple, he only wanted to be loved and accepted. Everything he did was for “the people,” so that they could admire him and love him. Like Gatsby, he built an empire that was meaningless to him; he only did it for show, to prove something to those whom he wanted attention from. Kane never emotionally matured from the child who left his mother.

When Kane said “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man,” he begins to understand that he is missing the mark somehow. All of his effort and energy did not accomplish what he had hoped for; however, he does not know what is missing, and tragically he never figures it out until his death. Kane’s only friend was Jedediah, and he kept him grounded for a time, but Kane’s ambitions became too much for Jedediah, so he let Kane go on his path of self destruction. Susan Alexander took Jedediah’s place and Kane finally had someone who loved him only for who he was. But Kane was never able to offer that back to her. He could only offer her “things” instead of his heart. Unable to live with this, she too leaves. In the end, we discover the mystery of “Rosebud.” It is not simply a sled he loved as a child; it is a return for Kane back to his youth, back to a time when the world was safe and secure in the love of his family, back to a time when he was able to dream about the hope and possibilities of life. In the midst of all of Kane’s wealth, it was only a cheap snow-globe Susan possessed that was able to move him. It represented his childhood home, his longing to go back to simplicity and safety. Just as Susan possessed the toy, it was she who possessed the ability to give the security and safety of her love to Kane, if only he was able to love her back. Kane realizes this only after she leaves, and in that revelation he also realizes all his accomplishments, all his great palaces, measure up to nothing without what his heart truly desired: love. Had he realized this earlier, he may have accomplished his dreams in a fulfilling way, but finding out so late, Kane’s heart finally broke and he died.

In West’s Day of the Locust there is no Jay Gatsby or Charles Foster Kane for Todd Hackett to befriend and keep grounded. In fact Todd is unable to even keep himself grounded. There is only the distorted and false dream itself, personified in the character of Faye Greener. Faye represents Hollywood and every male character in the novel lusts after a chance to be with her, if only just once. It is consistently mentioned in the novel that Faye is playing roles, unable to be real to anyone, yet she has an inviting way about her that seems to offer intimacy but never delivers. She, as Hollywood, is the failure of the American Dream, unable to deliver what she promises and only offering false hope. Americans move westward, hoping for a chance to be a part of the dream factory, to get a piece glory, but when they get to Hollywood, there is no action, there is no glory. Our dreams have been reduced to Faye Greener, cheap and slutty, yet never delivering.

Just as Europeans continued to pour into the new world in colonial times, Todd predicts early in the novel that Americans would continue to pour into California; they are the victims who make up Todd’s  apocalyptic painting, “The Burning of Los Angeles.” Todd believed that the people coming out to Hollywood and finding their dreams unfulfilled would revolt and end it all in a cataclysmic riot. He also believed that these people were only the beginning, they represented the whole of American Culture; “He changed ‘pick of America’s madmen’ to ‘cream’ and felt almost certain that the milk from which it had been skimmed was just as rich in violence” (West 118). Todd is able to be an observer for a while, but he too falls under Faye’s spell and becomes a victim. He has included himself in the painting and indeed he ends up in the riot he predicted. The book ends with Todd’s madness and with Los Angeles in absolute chaos resulted from the unquenched passion of unrequited dreams. There is nothing in the end that offers us any hope. Nathanael West has declared the death of the American Dream.

But is it dead? Sixty years later, we have not yet felt the Apocalypse. Hollywood, and indeed the mid-west and east coast, are all still here. And we are all still dreaming; some dreams being fulfilled and some dreams ending in tragedy, as all three of these stories have ended. West offers us no hope at all, yet Wells and Fitzgerald exhort us to look back to simpler time, when we were innocent. At the end of Gatsby Nick harkens us back to the time of the Dutch settlers, back to the “fresh green breast of the new world” (Fitzgerald 189). During the American Revolution a French colonist named Crevecoeur wrote for the first time what it meant to be an American in his fictional Letters from an American Farmer. He places into the mouth of the farmer these words, “When I contemplate my wife, by my fireside…our child, I cannot describe the various emotions of love, of gratitude, of conscious pride…I feel the necessity, the sweet pleasure, of acting my part…of an husband and father, with an attention and propriety which may entitle me to my good fortune” (Heath 903), and later, “We are all animated with a spirit of industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself” (Heath 906). These are the foundations of what the American Dream rest upon. For the first time in history common man had the opportunity to make something of himself, to rise up through the social order and provide for himself and his family to come, to own himself and his destiny, to dream and to work for that dream.  The American Dream is indefinable because it is as varied as the individuals who make up the American People. It is an accident, it roots reaching into hypocrisy as well as purity; ask any Native American and African American about their ancestor’s dreams, and it would have something to do with freedom from the white man. Yet this accident has the ability to be realized and rather than dieing, this Dream has finally matured four centuries later into something close to what it offers. The American Dream is a birth-right but it is not a promise, it is only an opportunity. Gatsby’s dream of a better life became distorted by the seduction of Daisy’s high society. Kane’s dreams were never well defined and never accomplished being lost in the unlimited wealth he possessed. Those who came to California to die found themselves empty handed with a dream that ends in the hour and a half it takes to play them. But they all had choices, they all had the opportunity to seek for something greater than wealth and fame. The only thing the American Dream promises is the freedom to dream with the opportunity to risk for and to work for those dreams. What a person dreams of, what he’s willing to risk and how hard he is willing to work depends upon the character of that person.

Peter L Richardson
7/29/2003

Citizen Kane By Orson Wells. Dir. Orson Wells. 1941.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 4. Vol. 1. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

West, Nathanael. The Day of the Locust. Signet Classic, 1983.