UW in the Classroom

Discovering Worlds Past and Present

Commercialism and the American Dream: 

     At the end of WWI, Americans returned home from the war in despair; not only had they assumed that hard work and ingenuity would result in unparalleled prosperity, they had also bought into the notion of political Progressivism (through Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson), only to discover all the promises of progress resulted in the worst bloodbath in human history.  As they settled in for a new era, they turned their eyes toward materialism, the notion that human worth lies in the accumulation of possessions.  

     To build a platform for this frivolous pursuit of wealth, America undergoes a radical expansion of spending and consuming.  The Stock Market runs itself wild, and the newest American Industry, Marketing and Advertising, grows just as rapidly as people pursue the mythological notion of the American Dream — that all we can dream will be ours.  

  • Poem: Toads, Larkin (Perrine’s, 727)
  • Background for Toads

Key Questions:

  • How has this character defined himself and how, do you think, did he get that way?
  • Describe the binary oppositions (tensions) that create sympathy in the reader? 
  • How do you think this attitude will effect the end of Martin Dressler?


Imagine Martin sitting on bench at the top of one of his hotels: turn this poem into a first-person internal dialogue as if Martin, himself, had written it.  Imagine it’s the last page of the book.

© Jeff Thomas, uw_thomas@icloud.com