The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is about one man’s pursuit of the American Dream and his downfall as he tries to reach this imaginary goal. Although the dream is different for each person, the principal idea behind the dream is if an individual is determined to reach a goal, he or she has a chance of achieving wealth, and the happiness that accompanies it. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby believes that one can acquire happiness through the accumulation of wealth and power.
Jay Gatsby is a visible example of the success and the failure of the American Dream. Gatsby is living the American Dream. Initially, he appears to be a self-made, wealthy man and is a remarkable example of how hard work can lead to material prosperity. Gatsby exhibits that it is possible to achieve wealth and success through determination.
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Although he is the child of “unsuccessful farm people” he manages to cross this social barrier and overcome his modest childhood. He is able to raise himself to his high social stature through hard work and perseverance. The one reason that Gatsby is determined to achieve material wealth is to recapture the love that he once shared with Daisy. Gatsby’s interpretation of the American Dream is where the charming hero-himself, becomes extremely successful and affluent and wins the love back of the “beautiful damsel in distress.” Gatsby throws extravagant parties to try to impress Daisy.
He tries to live out his dream of being reunited with her and reliving the past love that they shared. During one of these parties, Nick and Jordan come across Gatsby’s impressive library that is filled with books. As they came into the library, they came across a man who was astonished at the fact that the books in Gatsby’s library were “absolutely real-have pages and everything” (50), but these books were unread. The pages were not cut, signifying that the books were never opened and were put there for show. This illustrates the somewhat shallow, false side of Gatsby. Although he is personified as a high-class, intelligent man, this personification starts to diminish when his superficial side is shown.
Gatsby embodies the mores of the American Dream. He comes from a poor childhood in the West and moves to the East in hopes of making his fortune. Nonetheless, Gatsby preserves the innocence of the West. As a result of retaining this innocence, Gatsby’s dreams prevent Nick from witnessing the moral corruption in Gatsby that he sees in Tom and Daisy. Before Nick leaves to return home, he yells out “They’re a rotten crowd…You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (162).
Although Gatsby reached his goal of becoming rich and powerful, there still seemed to be emptiness left in his life. Gatsby had everything that he desired, except for love. Gatsby tried everything in his power to relive the past and recapture Daisy’s love, but he failed to do so. His dreams were shattered when he asked Daisy to admit that she had never loved Tom, and she refused to do so-“I did love him once-but I loved you too” (140). This was the turning point in their relationship and the beginning of the end of their love affair. Gatsby tried wooing her and using his wealth in order for her to coincide with him, but she never did.
A fascinating parallel can be drawn between Myrtle’s interpretation of the American Dream and Gatsby’s. Like Gatsby, Myrtle has incentive and aspiration. She too is trying to reach a higher stature on the social pyramid. She is trying to reach Tom Buchanan’s social position. In contrast to Gatsby, wealth corrupts and destroys Myrtle. Myrtle shows her passiveness and her lack of social position and morals when she lets Tom buy her affection by giving her gifts. Myrtle Wilson dreams of being rich and having all the money that her heart desires. She thinks Tom is going to leave his wife Daisy and marry her. She puts up with his vulgarity and beatings in order to reach her dream. Tom will never leave his wife to be with her. Myrtle’s rendition of the American Dream never comes true and she eventually gets killed.
The upper class that is depicted in The Great Gatsby is an example of how the American Dream has failed. The principles of working hard, taking responsibility, having respect and showing decency towards one another are lost to greediness, selfishness, and snobbery. These people are superficial and believe that money can buy happiness. They come to Gatsby’s parties uninvited, and gossip about Gatsby in his own home-“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once’…‘I don’t think it’s so much that… it’s more that he was a German spy during the war” (48). People tend to overlook the significant characteristics in others, and tend to focus more on the shallow characteristics of the person.
The Great Gatsby is not merely a description of the failed aspirations of many people; it is also about how the American Dream is too extreme an idea to ever be reached. The American Dream can be perceived in many ways. One can consider the American Dream to be about wealth and power, and others can see it as one’s accomplishments fulfilled through hard work and dedication.
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