“The American Dream” is a phrase signifying the ideal of a nation. It is constructed around notions of hard work, determination, aspiration, equality, independence and freedom. It advocates an ethos whereby any man could make it if they worked hard enough. Fitzgerald, in ‘Tender is the Night’ explores the degraded aspects of the American dream though characters in the novel. For example the Divers, who seem to be successful in achieving the American dream at such a young age, however the deeper their characters and lives are explored, we see the darker elements concealed beneath the illusion of the American dream.
The Divers’ give the exterior impression that they have a perfect marriage, however it is evident that their marriage was based on the wrong reasons. Nicole’s mental status allowed her to b fully dependent on Dick, not only as a doctor but as a husband as well. She believed he was ‘someone she could rely on- indefinitely.’ Dick was highly impressed with not only Nicole’s beauty, but her high social status too. It could b argued that one of the main reasons that Dick married Nicole was because of her wealth. He ambitious nature saw her wealth as a business opportunity, which relates to the key ideas of achieving the American dream. He needed Nicole’s money in order to achieve the success that he had always desired.
However it could also be said that ironically, the need he had for this wealth and success could have been a reason for his downfall. This is reflected through his relationship with Nicole. In chapter 6, Fitzgerald portrays the gap and emptiness in their relationship. The megaphone that Dick uses to communicate with Nicole symbolises Dick’s need to prove his dominance.
“He lowered his megaphone and then raised it stubbornly”
H is trying to claim some control in his relationship, as he is resentful of the fact that in a way, Nicole holds greater power over him due to her wealth. As novel goes on, it is clear to the readers that Dick’s determination for success is gradually fading. Again, this could be due to the fact that he already has the wealth, and the strain on his marriage has stripped him of the confidence he had to achieve his dream of being ‘the best’. One of the main aspects if the American dream is working hard to achieve it, which Dick has failed to do. Instead he chose the easier way to gain fame and prosperity. However, this raises questions as to whether achieving the American dream really does bring happiness, or dos it simply lad to being dissatisfied with life.
In chapter 12 of book 1, Nicole is portrayed as someone who holds no value for money.
“Nicole was the product of much ingenuity and toil”
Nicole’s consumerism can be seen as a by-product of the American Dream as she inherited her wealth therefore never had to work hard to earn it. This shows that those who are born into wealth like Nicole get the benefits of the success of the American Dream without having to put in the hard wok themselves. Unlike Nicole, Rosemary is portrayed slightly different in that chapter. She is more cautious about how she spends her money as she herself worked hard for it and earned her wealth and status.
In book 2, Dick is seen as an extremely ambitious man who is determined to be ‘the best’. Clearly at this point he is a hopeful character who is willing to work hard enough to achieve the American dream. However he wants more than just ambition, “he wanted to be loved too, if he could fit it in’. This shows us that in his prime, he wanted more out of life than simply a career. Therefore along with pursuing his career, he pursued Nicole too. However, taking on the demanding task of marrying Nicole, considering her mental condition, Dick’s determination and ambition lost meaning. After marrying Nicole Dick could no longer differentiate between being a husband to Nicole and being her psychiatrist.
In my opinion, Dick’s character in book 1 has lost the incentive to reach his goal. In comparison to the Dick that is portrayed in book 2, he is a cynic, who constantly says that he will achieve his goal but knows that he wont. The same could be said about Abe North. Both him and Dick are portrayed as talented men whose dreams are not fulfilled.
‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, stated in the Declaration of Independence, is what the American Dream is based on. However I think the image of the image and definition of the American Dream has been distorted, and it no longer represents a life of hard work and opportunity, but it is more about material possessions and social status. The Jazz Age during the 20’s also plays an important role in the misconstrued perceptions of the American Dream, as that era was full of extravagance and waste. Dick is representative of that era as his failure and ultimate reliance on alcohol leads to him being unable to achieve happiness. Fitzgerald portrays the downfall of his life as a consequence of his decisions, mainly marrying Nicole as a way to gain wealth. I think what message Fitzgerald is tying to portray is that even though people may seem as though they have achieved the American Dream through materialistic possessions, thy are the furthest away from being truly happy; they are the ones that are dissatisfied with their life.