The American dream
The corruption of the American dream is a recurring theme in American Literature. The dream that arose in the Colonial Period and developed in the following century was based on the belief that the individual could succeed in life, thanks to her or his ability, intelligence and effort.
In The Great Gatsby (1925) Francis Scott Fitzgerald investigates ho these old values, with their strict morality and integrity, are sometimes cast aside and instead another dream tends to prevail: the individual's crazy pursuit of power and wealth. John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) would seem to offer a possible antidote to such selfishness by stressing the necessity of community values over individual needs.
In the post-war period American fiction continued to explore the individual's sometimes difficult relationship to society. In J.D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951), the lead character, Holden Caullfield, is disenchanted with the hypocrisy, corruption and selfishness he sees everywhere. The vain search for love and understanding on the part of this sensitive young man touched a chord with many readers, and the novel proved a huge success in America and elsewhere. Instead the writers of the Beat Generation - Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady - believed in a very unconventional lifestyle. In Kerouac's On the Road (1951), Sal Paradise embarks on an adventurous trip across America, during which he keeps meeting friends who are likewise drifting around the country. These people share the same dream: a revolt against the strict rules of previous generations. In their search for something new, they invent a culture, including a different way of speaking, dressing and behaving. Instead Nicholas Ray's well-known film, Rebel without a Cause (1955), explores the dilemma of seventeen-year-old Jim Stark who is fed up with the way of life and values of his parents' generation, but does not have a clear idea of what he wants out of life.