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Meaning of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby

The novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, portrays a story about a man’s attempt to fulfill his American dream. Jimmy Gatz starts off in life poor and eventually finds himself hopelessly in love with a woman he thinks he cannot have because of his low social status and his lack of money. Early on in life, he boldly sets out to achieve a picture-perfect life of wealth and love. Jimmy Gatz transmutes his entire world, erasing his past and much of himself. Remaking himself as Jay Gatsby, he vows to live a wealthy, extravagant life with Daisy Buchanan, the woman of his dreams. Jay Gatsby pursues his dream through money, reinventing his past, and making Daisy part of this new world.

The first step toward Gatsby’s wealth comes the day he meets Dan Cody on Dan’s rich, luxurious boat. Nick narrates, “Too young Gatsby, resting on his oars and looking up at the railed deck, that yacht represented all the beauty and glamour in the world” (p. 90). Dan Cody takes Gatz under his wing and helps him toward his goal of becoming rich and reaching the acceptance in a society that he desires. Gatsby’s wealth eventually leads him to the mansion in West Egg that becomes the center of his dream life. In many respects, this wealthy Long Island community represents, for Gatsby, what the New World did for the original settlers. It stands, in Gatsby’s mind, for a better, more affluent life, a place of refinement and class. It paves the pathway to Daisy, and he must establish himself so firmly in that community, that his right to be there could not be questioned.

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The American dream is wrapped in the opportunity to improve oneself and one’s life. Gatsby feels he must erase his past in order to improve himself and create a seamless picture of a life of elegance. He loses his soul in trying to bury his roots; he tries to forget “Jimmy Gatz.” Gatsby says, “I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West-all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years.”(p.60) In doing this, he reaches his destination but he does not reach it as a whole person because he does not really mean his true past. The new life may feel fake or almost unreal to him because he leaves so much of himself behind to get there. Gatsby reinvents his past and pulls himself closer to the ultimate goal.

Although Gatsby becomes wealthy, with expensive cars, a mansion, and successfully creates a new personal-image, he does not fully satisfy his dream if he does not have Daisy. Nick narrates, “…Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor” (p.132). Gatsby must share his extravagant life with Daisy in order to be complete. Daisy is the final part of Gatsby’s dream, and he tries to lure her in with extravagant parties that he hosts at his mansion. Gatsby all but fulfills his dream with Daisy before she is drawn away from his fantastic dream world and decides to continue her life with her husband and family.

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Jay Gatsby’s dream includes money, class, and love. In striving for this goal, he loses all that truly is important, his family and his past. Even though he has the money, he never fulfills his dream, as he does not get Daisy and he does not seem to actually fit in his newfound social status. When he dies, there are no rich, high-class friends weeping at his funeral, and the reader is left wondering what values are really worth pursuing in this life, and at what cost.

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Meaning of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from