The Great Gatsby | The American Dream (1126 words) Essay

The Great Gatsby | The American Dream
This essay looks at Fitzgerald’s critique of Jay Gatsby’s particular vision
of the 1920s American Dream; what Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing is not
the American Dream itself but the corruption of the American Dream.

The ideal of the American Dream is based on the fantasy that an individual
can achieve success regardless of family history, race, or religion simply
by working hard enough. Frequently, “success” is equated with the fortune
that the independent, self-reliant individual can win. In The Great Gatsby,
Fitzgerald examines and critiques Jay Gatsby’s particular vision of the
1920s American Dream. Though Fitzgerald himself is associated with the
excesses of the “Roaring Twenties,” he is also an astute social critic
whose novel does more to detail society’s failure to fulfill its potential
than it does to glamorize the “Jazz Age.”
As a self-proclaimed “tale of the West,” the novel explores questions about
America and the varieties of the American Dream. In this respect, The Great
Gatsby is perhaps that legendary opus, the “Great American Novel”-following
in the footsteps of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Mark Twain’s
Huckleberry Finn. As a novel that has much to say about faith, belief, and
illusion, it merits being considered alongside works like T. S. Eliot’s The
Waste Land, which explores the “hollowness” lying below the surface of
modern life. It is possible to regard Gatsby as an archetypal tragic
figure, the epitome of idealism and innocence who strives for order,
purpose and meaning in a chaotic world. Fitzgerald introduces the theme of
underlying chaos early in the novel when the violent Tom Buchanan declares,
“‘Civilization’s going to pieces'” (12; ch. 1).

We will write a custom essay sample on
The Great Gatsby | The American Dream (1126 words) Essay
or any similar topic only for you
Order now

Although Fitzgerald is sketchy about the details of Gatsby’s meteoric rise,
the reader does know that he was a poor boy from the midwest without
inherited wealth or family connections who succeeded in obtaining an
elaborate house in West Egg from where he stages lavish, catered parties
for people he doesn’t know. With wealth comes the opportunity to reinvent
his identity, inspired primarily by a “single green light, minute and far
away” (21; ch. 1): this is the house of Daisy Fay Buchanan, the very
wealthy, former Louisville belle whom Gatsby had loved before the war but
who marries the immensely wealthy Tom Buchanan of Chicago.

All that matters for Gatsby is the future: achieving his goal of reclaiming
Daisy. That is part of the power of the American Dream-the irrelevance of
the past. A fabricated history is just as useful as a truthful history. So
Gatsby constructs grandiose lies that he doesn’t even bother to cloak in a
shred of reality. For instance, when he decides to convince Nick Carraway,
the novel’s narrator, that he isn’t a “nobody,” Gatsby casually mentions
that he’s the “‘son of some wealthy people in the Middle West … but
educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for
many years'” (65; ch. 4).

When Nick, who is indeed from the Middle West, inquires “‘What part?'”
Gatsby is reduced to the geographically hysterical lie: “‘San Francisco.'”
Later in the novel, the reader learns that far from being educated at
Oxford as part of a family tradition, Gatsby’s brief stint there was part
of a program for American soldiers following World War I. As Nick observes,
Gatsby gives new meaning to the phrase “the self-made man”: “The truth was
that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic
conception of himself” (98; ch. 6).

The idealism evident in Gatsby’s constant aspirations helps define what
Fitzgerald saw as the basis for the American Character. Certainly Gatsby is
a firm believer in the American Dream of self-made success: he has not only
self-promoted an entire new persona for himself, but he has also succeeded
both financially and , at least ostensibly, socially. Yet the Dream which
offers Gatsby the chance to “suck on the pap of life” (110; ch. 6) forces
him to climb to a solitary place, isolated and alienated from the rest of
society. In the midst of the drunken revelers at his party, Gatsby is
“standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another
with approving eyes” (50; ch. 3) At the end of the novel, Gatsby will also
be practically alone at his own funeral.

Gatsby’s primary ideological shortcoming is that he makes Daisy Buchanan
the sole focus of his belief in the orgastic future. His previously varied
aspirations (evidenced by the book Gatsby’s father shows Nick detailing his
son’s resolutions to improved himself) are sacrificed to Gatsby’s single-
minded obsession with Daisy. Even Gatsby realized when he first kissed
Daisy that once he “forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable
breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (110; ch. 6).

Finally five years later, Gatsby reunites with Daisy, takes her on a tour
of his ostentatious mansion, and pathetically displays his collection of
British-made shirts. Significantly, that much longed-for afternoon produces
not bliss but disappointment.

As Nick observes:
As I went over to say good-by I saw that the expression of bewilderment
had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to
him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There
must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his
dreams-not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of
his illusion. (95; ch. 5)
As the novel unfolds, Gatsby seems to realize that-as he did with his own
persona-he has created an ideal for Daisy to live up to. He remains firmly
committed to her, even after her careless driving has caused Myrtle
Wilson’s death. Only his own needless death at the hands of the distraught
Mr. Wilson (led by Tom Buchanan to believe that Gatsby has killed Myrtle)
ends Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy.

What Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing in The Great Gatsby is not the
American Dream itself but the corruption of the American Dream. What was
once for leaders like Thomas Jefferson a belief in self-reliance and hard
work has become what Nick Carraway calls “the service of a vast, vulgar,
and meretricious beauty” (98; ch. 6). The energy that might have gone into
the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled into the pursuit of power and
pleasure, and a very showy, but ultimately empty, form of success.

Gatsby’s dream can be identified with America herself with its emphasis on
the inherent goodness within people, youth, vitality, and a magnanimous
openness to life itself. With the destruction of Gatsby, we witness a
possible destiny of America herself. Critic Matthew J. Bruccoli, writing in
Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, quotes a letter written by Fitzgerald while
composing Gatsby: “That’s the whole burden of this novel-the loss of those
illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether
things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.”
Work Cited
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner Paperback
Edition, 2004.


Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out