American Dreams by Peter Carey
In American Dreams by Peter Carey we have the theme of conflict, art, reality, cultural dependency and guilt. Taken from his The Fat Man in History collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed young man and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Carey may be exploring the theme of conflict. Nobody, including the narrator, knows why Mr Gleason changed. Each resident in the town that is mentioned feels that they may be responsible but again no one is certain. This may be important as it suggests that the residents in the town are feeling guilty over the cause of Mr Gleason’s change. Though again no one can pinpoint the reason for the change. Also little is known or understood as to why Mr Gleason would build a model of the town. This too is significant as Mr Gleason may have been holding a mirror to the town and highlighting to the residents that the town was better than they thought it was. Dispensing if you like with the notion of the American Dream which carries the narrator and others.
In many ways Carey may also be challenging the notion of art versus reality. Where art itself can be more beautiful than the reality it is supposed to depict. Though it is important to remember that Mr Gleason’s depiction of the town does also include adultery with Mrs Cavanagh in bed with Craigie Evans. Something that neither person may want to be known and something that those in town may be unaware of. It is for this reason that the Minister of Tourism decides to ‘cleanse’ the model of the town. The arrival of tourists comes with the narrator having aspirations that he too can live the American Dream without actually having to go to America. Though the arrival of tourists proves to be an unhappy affair for the residents in the town. The narrator for instance has grown up and is not the same boy that Gleason had made a model of. The narrator’s father also appears to be tired of being asked to sit by Dyers bike.
This may be important as Carey may be highlighting the fact that there are differences between hopes and aspirations and reality. It is as though the narrator’s father’s life has been taken over by the role that the tourists are playing. The tourists want authenticity that is based on art (the model). While this is simply not possible day after day. No one would have the patience or ability to recreate a scene from the model accurately every day. It also suggests that the model has taken over the town. That art has taken over from reality. The premise of the American dream that the narrator holds so dear is an example of cultural dependency. He is looking for a bigger and brighter future like the American Dream. Which when it arrives is discomforting to the narrator. He feels unable to move from cultural dependency to cultural transmission or if he does manage the shift he is unhappy.
The end of the story is also interesting as Carey reintroduces the theme of guilt. The narrator feels guilty over not being able to satisfy the tourists when they come and look for pictures. Also as mentioned the narrator is no longer a seventeen year old boy. He has grown and this reality does not suit the tourists. They want the exact likeness that Mr Gleason made in his model. Something which the narrator is unable to provide. Having had a glimpse at the American Dream the narrator remains unhappy. Which may be the point that Carey is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that one should be happy in their own environment. That happiness can exist outside of the American Dream. As Mr Gleason found. A person does not necessarily need outside influences to be happy or happier. One should look closer at the world they live in and see the beauty of it regardless of the American Dream. Which in the story is fuelled by the American dollar.