The American Dream: 5 of the best novels

Kettlemag, Books, Lauren Wise, America, Great Gatsby, Novels
Written by Lauren Wise

For Kettle’s last week in US Season, I thought I’d share my top five American Dream themed novels. My dissertation was in fact on The American Dream in mid twentieth century travel literature, so I didn’t find it too difficult to pick my favourites! And although we’re meant to grow to hate our dissertation topics, I can’t help but love the novels I wrote on, and how they map the changing American Dream through history.

When you think of the American Dream, you might imagine white picket fences and a suburban family, however these books tell the story pretty differently… 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

[Image: Flickr/cdrummbks]

Many might now be more familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film, but the novel is not to be overlooked. The description of Gatsby’s monstrous car is possibly one of the most beautiful and haunting in literature, and is a key representation of the destructive qualities the American Dream has to those who yearn after it longingly.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

[Image: Flickr/alaina_marie]

Steinbeck’s most famous novel is a depiction of the desperation felt by thousands of migrants through the Great Depression. The reader follows the Joads’ struggle from Oklahoma to California, where they are hopeful to find a Promised Land. The journey shows that the American Dream is not what is promised, but the unity created with other migrants, in hopes of finding it.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

[Image: Flickr/johnrobertshepherd]

Moving into 50s America, On the Road portrays the restless youths of a materialistic society, who hope to find more satisfaction in life than the mundane living their parents’ generation settle for. Kerouac takes the Dream to a more spiritual place, where self-realisation becomes the new Dream. This is explored further by Kerouac in The Dharma Bums.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

[Image: Wikimedia Commons]

Thompson follows Duke and Dr Gonzo’s drug-fuelled trip to Las Vegas, in a semi-autobiographical novel, which is definitely a different take on the American Dream! The book parodies the search for the Dream, and also serves as an introduction to Gonzo Journalism; writing news with an insider perspective, from a first person point of view.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

[Image: Flickr/lissalou66]

A newer vision of the Dream, McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel encapsulates societal fears of today, which are of self-destruction through the environment. In this book, contemporary society is much more aware of human’s impact on the natural world than it ever has been before, and the alienated individual must search for the Dream in the chaos.

Have any of your favourites been missed out? Or are they all here? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below!

You can also check out Chloe’s favourite American poets

Kettle mag, America season