Most people are pursuing a dream. The “American Dream” is the ideal of freedom and opportunity of achieving success and wealth; the belief that every individual can rise from rags to riches with a little grit, imagination and hard work. A dream could just as well be about personal fulfilment. We might not even need the success and glamour if we meet these personal dreams. Nevertheless we pursue opportunities in desire and expectation of living a better life, a life more glamorous and prosperous than our present. In Emerald City by Jennifer Egan, the main character Rory, an ambitious guy from Chicago, is seeking the “American Dream”.
He has moved to New York in hope of reaching the glitter and success he expects the city to offer. Rory has built up expectations and ideas about New York through reading novels and envisioned the glamorous New York life he might be living even before arriving in the big city. In the beginning of the story Rory appears rather vain and irrational. He strives towards fitting into his own idea of the New York jet set, therefore he changes his behaviour: “…But no matter how much Rory ate, he stayed exactly the same. He took up smoking instead, although it burned his throat”1.
He is pretending to be someone he is not, believing this change of behaviour will make him successful – “Fake it till you make it”. To emphasize this, Egan uses the Elmer’s glue as a catalyst to get Rory to reflect on his artificial life: the glue might look more appealing, but it is useless and fake as milk2. In the same manner Rory is misusing himself – he is not true to himself. “Rory had found this disturbing in a way he still didn’t quite understand”3. On a subconscious level he might be aware of this. Yet, it is not until the end of the story Rory realizes this.
As one of the world’s largest cities New York, “The Big Apple”, is the epitome of a metropolitan, emanating glory, greatness, opportunities as well as temptations. The immensity and diversity of the city makes the individual seem insignificant. Consequently you tend to get lost in the sea of people, feeling unimportant. New York represents today’s civilization of people trying to fit in. Like Rory and Stacey, everybody is reflecting themselves in other people in hope of being recognized and acknowledged. In addition the role of New York has a great importance
regarding the relationship between Rory and Stacey. “And it struck him that this was New York: a place that glittered from a distance even when you reached it”4. In this sudden revelation Rory realizes that New York always will be full of temptations and achievable success, and he understands that Stacey for him is the true glittering matter, he has been searching for. “He searched the dark shopfronts for something, some final thing at the core of everything else, but he found just his own reflection and Stacey’s”5. The relationship between Rory and Stacey seems to be the only deep matter in the story.
Rory has the option of choosing one of the successful models. Nevertheless, he chooses Stacey: “…a failing model whom he adored against all reason”6. The narrator is a third-person narrator limited to Rory. As a reader you are not acquainted with Stacey’s feelings for Rory. It is implied that Stacey and Rory do not prioritize getting to know each other deeply. They are both too busy in their search of fulfilling their individual dreams. Yet, this changes in the end where Stacey realizes and accepts that her dream in New York presumably never will come true.
Rory believed he had the power to crush Stacey by telling her she was not good enough succeeding as a model: “… it would take so little, he thought, to crush her”7. But when he tells her this in the end she reveals an inner strength and ability to see new possibilities: “Rory held his breath, watching in alarmed amazement as the slender wand of her body swayed against the yellow sky. She had no trouble balancing […] “If it doesn’t work”, she said, “then I’ll see the world some other way”8. Stacey is letting go of her dream, and she is able to see the world from a different angle.
She may not know what will happen, but for the first time in the story she is showing heartfelt affection towards Rory: “She took Rory’s face in her hands and kissed him on the mouth – hard, with the fierce, tender urgency of someone about to board a train”9. This tells the reader that she does have feelings for Rory after all. The title “Emerald city” could be interpreted in several ways. The reflections in an emerald could represent how the people in New York are mirroring themselves in their unattainable conceptions of what it is like to be successful. That everybody is trying to be someone else, someone more successful.
The title could moreover relate to the famous children’s novel “The wonderful wizard of Oz”, where everyone who enters the beautiful capital “Emerald City” has to wear green-tinted eyeglasses in order to protect themselves from the glory of the city. The city is not a special city, but the glasses make the city look green, although the city is no greener than every other city. Emerald City would in this allegory be New York, and clarify that New York is like any other big city. This would additionally explain why Rory disappointingly does not feel more successful than other people in New York.
In “Emerald City” Rory and Stacey are pursuing their dreams of making it in New York. It is not until the end they realize that their hopes of succeeding is insignificant, as their dreams of a better life in fact are personal needs of acknowledgement and love. We are taught to believe that being successful will make us feel happier – that is what today’s society tells us. We rarely consider what could happen if our hopes of being successful do not live up to our expectations, if our life of chasing success does not make us happy or if being successful does not make us feel any more special.