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Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.)
First Committee Member
Ruth Marie Faurot
Second Committee Member
R. J. Osborne
Those authors who criticized material success as a proper or rewarding goal in life were not moving with the grain of American opinion. The novelists who did examine the goals of American life did not condemn material success immediately, but instead their thoughts grew by gradual stages. These novels are grouped into three stages for discussion in this thesis. The first group is drawn from authors who were sceptics of success. These novels, although finding areas of concern in the American goal of success and the self-made man, still held out redeeming features as generally admirable. Arthur Mervyn discovers that to be self-made man is a demanding task requiring hard work and resistance of occasional temptations from evil persons. He chooses to return to Europe. In The Guilded Age the goal of wealth corrupts individuals and the government, but one character gains wealth through hisown honest hard work and shows that the concept is not wrong, but only the basic evil in some individuals. Silas Lapham discovers that he can find happiness in a simple life and doesn't need to be accepted by the American aristocracy. Yet the rich are not unkind to him or are they evil. The established rich are in a class division by themselves. In Washington Square Doctor Sloper takes a less charitable attitude toward the aspiring self-made man of Morris Townsend. Although society protests itself, the result is that the Doctor's daughter must face a life of emptiness.
The next category of novels is concerned with disillusionment of material success. These novels express grave doubts about the benefits of success and stress the spiritual emptiness that results even if success is gained. Sister Carrie rocks in her chair, unsatisfied by weatlh. Babbitt dreams of a fairy girl, and Tommy Wilhelm weeps before a dead body as if it were his own.
The final category includes only The Great Gatsby and is concerned with the victims of success. Fitzgerald's novel draws together the previous themes into a statement that concludes the thesis. Charles Holmes indicates the importance of Fitzgerald with his comment from "Fitzgerald: The American Theme:" "Nostalgia and loss--of our innocence, of our closeness to the land, of our dreams--are the great emotions in American literature and they are the chief emotions out of which Fitzgerald creates his stories."1
Material success and the self-made man is such an integral part of the American thought that a discussion of the self-made man precedes a close examination of the novels. For the most part, the ideas of the novelists were not new or original but were echoes from other comments made by critical Americans. The heritage of novelists can be traced to Crevecoeur and Franklin as well as to Jefferson and Puritan clergymen. The First section of the thesis prepares the reader for such associations.
Porterfield, Neil Bowen. (1967). Criticism of material success in the American novel. University of the Pacific, Thesis. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/1624
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