The American Dream: Harper Lee and John Steinbeck

Introduction The American Dream ultimately means many things to many people. In many ways it can be argued to have originated with the ideals and success of Benjamin Franklin. As one author notes, “Franklin believed that the only true way to wealth was through hard work. This noble idea became the soul of the "American Dream," the idea that all people are created equal and each person has the same opportunity to achieve success” (Benjamin Franklin). However, that ideal of the American Dream became more associated with wealth and material wealth than it did with hard work and noble goals. So, the American Dream means many things to many different people. With that in mind the following paper compares and contrasts the American Dream presented in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

The American Dream: Harper Lee and John Steinbeck In Harper Lee’s novel the story is about a young girl, her brother, and her father who is a lawyer. This girl, Scout, grows and learns about many things through the course of the novel and it is often considered to be a coming of age novel as Scout grows up in many ways, seeing truth wherein she used to be innocent. When speaking of the American Dream in this novel one must perhaps look at Scout’s father. He is a man who

is noble, honest, and humble. He fights for the rights of an African American accused of raping a white woman even though the small town despises his involvement. He fights for justice and equality in the world and one could well argue that this is his American Dream. In Steinbeck’s the American Dream is far more readily defined. The two main characters, George and Lennie are essentially wanderers during the Great Depression, seeking work and trying to survive as best they can. However, they are not necessarily happy with this reality for “George and Lennie dreamt of their ‘little house and a couple of acres’” (Of Mice and Men Factsheet: Background to Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck). Throughout the story, up until the demise of Lennie, Lennie constantly dreams of this American Dream and while George wants it he perhaps does not feel he will ever attain it. Lennie, for example, always seems to be asking George, “George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’-an’rabbits?’” (Steinbeck 53). As can be seen, both stories offer a very different look at the American Dream. However, at the same time both books present main characters who are not wealthy and as such seek a simple American Dream in terms of material realities. One author notes, “For many the goal was not extravagant wealth, but, rather, economic independence and the opportunity for social advancement through financial gain” (Who Wants to Be a

Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream). This could well be related to be stories although differently. For example, in Lee’s novel the father, Atticus, is happy in his economic success, though they are honestly relatively poor. He was economically independent, however, and is happy enough with that. He pushes his American Dream to involve all people, dreaming that people can truly see justice done no matter who they are, and perhaps dreaming that people were not so ignorant or fearful of what they did not understand. He is an honorable man fighting for honorable reasons, as evidenced when he tells Scout, “’ I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you

begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do’” (Lee 128).

In the case of George and Lennie all they want is simple economic independence so that they can live off the fat of the land and grow their own food and live their own life humbly and simply. They are not necessarily asking for social advancement save through existing and not having to struggle every day to find food and work. Like Atticus, they are, or would be, happy with simple stability in terms of economic gain and like Atticus they are not afraid to work for it, which is the ultimate foundation of the American Dream.

WORKS CITED “Benjamin Franklin.” Retrieved 1 June, 2007 from <>.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. “Of Mice and Men Factsheet: Background to Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.” Retrieved 1 June, 2007 from < ofmicemen/llshort/factsheet.html>. Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin; Steinbeck Centennial edition, 2002. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream.” Retrieved 1 June, 2007 from <>.