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American Dream in Cather’s “Paul’s Case” and Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” Essay

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Updated: Jan 31st, 2022

“We are living in a material world”, says the famous line from Madonna’s song “Material Girl”. Materialistic pursuits as the basis of the western way of living and the American Dream seem to be discussed everywhere throughout the whole course of art and culture. In this vein, the theme of pursuing the American Dream and materialism which is so important in western culture is often addressed in the works of American literature. The two stories “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather and “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner can be acclaimed as a thought-provoking address to the theme of the American Dream pursued. Generally, the two pieces of literature discuss the American Dream-related matters from a rather similar angle of negative overtone and harmful effects on the lives of those who strive to acquire money by all means possible.

First of all, speaking about the ways the main characters pursue the American Dream in the two short stories under consideration, it should be stated that there exist many differences between their approaches. The two young men belong to families of different social backgrounds. Paul, from Cather’s short story, is a representative of the middle class with more opportunities and chances in his life, whereas Sarty, from Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, belongs to the lowest class of very few opportunities and the destiny to work, work and work until some power to do so is still left (Bert Hitchcock and Virginia Kouidis 330).

The two young men have different life situations differently affecting their plans for the future. Paul is offered a chance to pursue the American Dream and gain huge material riches as a result of hard work in the area of business, for example. His family is secure economically which offers the young man a wonderful opportunity to acquire brilliant education enabling him to become a business shark, for example, to become rich. Unfortunately, for Sarty there are no such smiles of a destiny. Since his childhood, the boy has to work hard to survive and not to die of hunger. Both his father and his mother are working people of very little means. What is more upsetting, their little means are becoming even more modest with the duration of time (Hitchcock and Kouidis 337, 339, 342).

Evaluating the two ways of pursuing the American Dream by the two young people, it should be stated that they are both unsuccessful, and more than this, in Paul’s case, are not even acceptable. Firstly, both concepts are unsuccessful as none of them will lead to the final point of gaining riches. They will not even bring their bearers to the middle of this road. Paul’s concept with his stolen money as the beginning of his road is disastrous. The young man spends his money, and being in the corner, he must kill himself as there is no way back for him (Hitchcock and Kouidis 275). Reproach and shame make their terrible contribution to his decision to kill himself. Thus, this concept is a failure, breakdown, and collapse from the very beginning of the corroding practice of stealing. In Sarty’s case, his original situation and lack of any other opportunities but for hard physical labor is the very reason for the breakdown. Only commercial and business pathways bring people to the ultimate point of gaining riches, but Sarty has no commercial beginning in his character. Secondly, Paul’s concept is even unacceptable because it lies on the criminal and dishonest foundation. Such a dirty foundation is a curse. No one can have long-lasting success on the other person’s grief. Paul had to pay for his great mistake by his own life.

Discussing the paths these characters took, it appears that both are false and misleading. Paul, with his laziness and dishonesty, is not accustomed to being a diligent worker, the one who knows what discipline is, the one who knows how to set goals and where to find means for achieving these goals. He is a dreamer, but he is not a doer of his dreams. Such people’s paths often end up with failure or even a disaster. Sarty, though honest and hardworking, is poor and unindustrialized. He is a worker from a family of workers able to do nothing more but work hard with his hands. However, the American Dream and the fortune it goes foot in foot, love people of wisdom, of mind, of entrepreneur nature. They have nothing in common with people of physical labor. As a result, there is no chance for Sarty.

Concluding on the above-discussed information, it appears that the examples of the two young men’s pursuits for riches and prosperity shown in Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case” and William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” help to understand that choosing a wrong way one will never get to the desired destination. Evaluating Paul’s example, it appears that his path took its beginning in an unlawful place (he stole his initial capital). He also never worked hard to get ready for this path. He was lazy, he never wanted to study. How would that be possible for such a young man to attract fortune? No way pursuing the American Dream could work for him successfully. In Sarty’s case, the situation was also too complicated. He possessed some important inner qualities for success such as a diligent spirit and honesty, but his origin and way of thinking developed in it were against him.

Works Cited

Hitchcock, Bert, and Virginia Kouidis. American Short Stories (8th ed.), The United Kingdom: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.

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IvyPanda. "American Dream in Cather's "Paul's Case" and Faulkner's "Barn Burning"." January 31, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-dream-in-cathers-pauls-case-and-faulkners-barn-burning/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "American Dream in Cather's "Paul's Case" and Faulkner's "Barn Burning"." January 31, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/american-dream-in-cathers-pauls-case-and-faulkners-barn-burning/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'American Dream in Cather's "Paul's Case" and Faulkner's "Barn Burning"'. 31 January.

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