Friday, May 26, 2017

Exploration of the American Dream: From The Great Gatsby to The Waiting Room

By Natalie Lifson

The American Dream. Democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, equality. The idea that anyone, with enough hard work, could succeed. The hope of the possibility of upward mobility. According to James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

Throughout history, many famous novels have been built on the overarching theme of the American Dream. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gatsby rises from nothing to become a filthy rich gentleman. Gatsby revolves around the differences between old money and new money. Those who come from old money resent those who come from new money and are unhappy at the increasingly frequent rise of common people like Gatsby to wealth. Even Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn centered around the idea that Huck could make a new life for himself if he was unhappy with his own, that anyone, even a boy from a broken home (though, of course, white, cis and heterosexual), could get a hold of large sums of money and embark on an adventure without any real life repercussions. Of course, Jim the slave, who travels with Huck, does not end up so lucky as Huck; as a black man, he is exempt from the American Dream and his feelings are disregarded by Huck and by the author. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” on the other hand, is more self aware. Willy, the protagonist, desperately wants the American dream but ultimately discovers that it is empty hope; no matter how hard he works, no matter how much he wants it, it is but a game of chance. Especially in the early 20th century, many other authors such as John Steinbeck and Langston Hughes, among others, wrote extensively about the American Dream. And why wouldn’t they? It gave them hope for the future of the American people. But while the American Dream sounds nice in theory, is it accurate in practice?

The American Dream is rooted in the idea of equal opportunity. Equal opportunity, however, is a myth. "Equal opportunity” conveniently ignores the privileges and power dynamics at play in every interaction. Imagine you’re in a race. If it were truly equal opportunity, everyone would start at the same starting line. However, if you’re wealthy, take a step forward. Same if you’re white. If you’re cis and heterosexual, there’s another advantage right there so take a step forward too. A white cis hetero wealthy man will be yards and yards ahead of a black queer poor woman. Sure, they’re both running in the same race, but is it really equal opportunity?

One of the biggest problems facing America right now is the ignorance of those in positions of privilege. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is a pervasive ideology often parroted by privileged people. But that’s about as helpful as someone starting yards ahead of someone else in a race shouting back “just run faster!” If they run at the same speed, the privileged person will still cross the finish line first. In fact, even if the less privileged person is the faster runner, chances are they’ll still lose.

In order to fix power dynamics in America, we first need to make privileged people understand that they are privileged. Often, people will not even realize the advantages they are afforded in life; more importantly, they will not realize that other people are disadvantaged. In The Waiting Room by Jack Pepper, which will be performed at the Strawberry One Act Theatre Festival on 7/13, 7/17, 7/22, and 7/25, the themes of privilege and ignorance are explored through a series of metaphors. The Waiting Room promotes understanding by dissecting the American Dream in a dystopian society. But if you look closely, is that dystopian society our own?


A woman working for the Company arrives at the waiting room and meets a man who thinks he recognizes her. Has this happened before? Is this the first time they have crossed paths? Here in the waiting room she is forced to confront more than she asked for.

Thursday, July 13th at 7pm
Monday, July 17th at 7pm
Saturday, July 22nd at 1pm

Tuesday, July 25th at 9pm

Tickets: $25 Online, $27 at the Box Office
Premium Seats (Rows A-F): $30 Online, $35 at the Box Office
At the Theatre at St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street, NYC
Between 9th & 10th Avenue
For tickets click here.

Natalie Lifson, Writer

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