Symbols of the American Dream

Symbolsof the American Dream

Theterm American dream refers to a set of ideals that incorporatesopportunities for success. It defines an upward mobility for thesociety. It is nothing more than an illusion obtained by materialwhere one`s youth is maintained through their social status. In orderto achieve the dreams, hard work is essential in order to overcomebarriers. The thought dictates that life ought to be richer andbetter for everybody. Everyone should have an opportunity to makesignificant achievements regardless of the social class. AlbertEinstein once said that people should try to be men of value. Forevery individual wishing to achieve the American dream, theexperience proves to be very different. The term has been in use fora very long time. The term is present in the most Americanliterature. In this paper, I will compare the symbols of social classas well as the economic status in The Summer by John Cheever andDreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The stories complement one another ingaining a better understanding of the American dream, its pursuit,and the risks involved when obtaining it.

Symbols in “Winter Dream”

“WinterDreams” is an illustration of the American quest for wealth andeffects of this desire on individuals and relationships. The settingof the story is among the wealthy American class who can afford fancycars, expensive clothing and dinner parties. Evidently, the peoplewho are eagerly pursuing the American dream place much value on thematerial things and are in turn consumed by these. Fitzgerald wantsto show the readers that “all that glitters is not gold”.

Fitzgeralduses three symbols in his story. The symbols are Golf course, winterdreams, and East Coast versus Midwest. A golf course is usuallyassociated with the wealthy class of people. In the American society,being a member of a golf club is taken as a sign of privilege. Dexterdoes not go to the golf club to earn money. Rather, his mainobjective is to observe the routine of rich people. The golf courserepresents all the things that Dexter desires. As the storycontinues, the golf course becomes a space for transition. Dextermanages to join the club. He starts reflecting back on his youth. Heflashes back on the days that he used to caddy at the course. Sadly,he barely feels any change[ CITATION Fit07 l 1033 ].

Duringthe winter, Dexter is unable to mingle with the rich people since thegolf course is frozen. He starts having winter dreams. These dreamssymbolize his desires and ambitions. In one of his dreams, hevisualizes himself playing golf with one of the rich men and wins.The dreams intensify as the winter progresses. However, his dreamsprove false when he manages to join the wealthy class. He lacks thehappiness and contentment that he had imagined.

Inhis story, Fitzgerald implies that there is a possibility of makingmoney for any American but perfection should not be the main goal.The United States is not presented as a single block. The story hasregional differences. He uses the east coast to symbolize the highfinance while the Midwest is a symbol of ambition.

Symbols in “The Swimmer”

Cheever’sstory is also filled with symbols. The symbols are: the act ofswimming, the changing color of the water, and the shining stars inthe sky. Neddy’s exploration journey through the neighbors’ poolsis a symbol of events that change the course of life. The resultingchanges are hard to accept. According to Cheever, people blindthemselves to the true events get into other falsehoods[ CITATION Per67 l 1033 ].

Thestory introduces the reader to a happy image of a lovely day and agenerous supply of water. The image later changes to a depressingscene. Neddy finds an abandoned home where the furniture in the poolis in a bad condition. After swimming, Neddy’s hands become lame.The lame hands symbolize deterioration and old age. In order tocreate a barrier between him and the real world, Neddy immerseshimself in the water. The immersion is a symbol of ignorance. Thewater creates a distance between him and his kinsmen.

Thecolor of the water changes from green and fades. The fading showsthat he constantly grows away from his bright memories of hischildhood. He draws closer to the troubles and turmoil of adulthood.The apple trees symbolize his youth. Neddy refuses to give credenceto the changes that the trees are undergoing. He tends to think thatsome of the trees are sickly. The refusal is a symbol of his denial.He cannot accept the fact that he is growing older and weaker everyday. The only thing that makes him realize the truth is the starsthat fill the sky. The blowing storm is a symbol of Neddy’sproblems.

Theproblems are responsible for his downfall. Later in the journey,Neddy is humiliated while crossing the road. The humiliation that heis faced with is a representation of the humiliation that he feltafter losing all his wealth. The weather changes are a symbol of hisill fate. The changes that he faced on his journey were arepresentation of the calamities in his life. The story tries to showthe relationship between wealth and happiness. The bartendersaccorded Neddy much respect. They offered their services politely.However, after losing all his wealth, the same bartenders treated himbadly, and his mistress abandoned him [ CITATION Per67 l 1033 ].

Comparing the Symbols

Allthe symbols in the two books have one thing in common. They show thatthe American dream is not a reality. The swimming exploration showshow easy it can be for a person to lose his wealth. On the otherhand, the symbols used in Fitzgerald’s story show that those whowork hard to live the American dream are never satisfied. The symbolsshow the difference between the dreams created in the mind of a manand the reality at hand. Therefore, in both stories, the symbolssuggest that the American dream is short-lived and valueless.

Theauthors of the two books share the same attitude towards the Americandream. The title “winter dreams” shows Fitzgerald’s perceptionof the American dream. The dream is dull and isolated. In short, oneis not able to see the real life. The title “The swimmer”signifies perception of the American dream. Cheever likens theAmerican journey to a competition where the winner gets a big prize..The dream leads to a loss of identity. Neddy thought he was a legend,and Dexter thought that his dreams were incorruptible. However,Dexter’s dreams were shattered, and Neddy was brought to nothing.


Accordingto Fitzgerald, one will never be content if he/she bases his life onmaterialism. In pursuit of the American dream, Neddy loses touch withhis close family members. Life becomes worse when he loses all hiswealth. Unlike Neddy, Dexter admires living the American dream, andhe finally attains it. However, he too fails to find happiness in hisriches. Both books show the negative side of the American dream. Thesymbols used in the two books suggest that the American dream is notworth pursuing. They shed light on the negative side of the pursuit.Certainly, the American dream is just an illusion.


Cheever, John. The swimmer. New York: Severn house, 1967.

Fitzgerald, F Scott. Winter dreams. Whitefish: Kessinger publishing, 2007.