The Great Gatsby and the American Dream
Published in 1925 and written by one of the most prominent authors in the history of American literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby is a novel set up in Long Island during the summer of 1922. As it is a very intriguing and controversial yet an appealing and interesting book, it garnered a lot of attention and later on had numerous adaptations on film and television. It is actually considered as the greatest masterpiece of Fitzgerald because of its relevance and relation to the American Dream (Wulick, 2016).
The centre of the story, as obviously stated in the title, revolves around Jay Gatsby and his overly unrealistic manic obsession and fascination with Daisy Buchanan (Maurer, n.d.). But while it is a love story with a tragic ending in the front, most critiques agree that it is actually more of a pessimistic representation of the realism behind the American Dream (Wulick, 2016). The Great Gatsby revolved around the themes of decadence, self-indulgence, opposition to change, idealism, and social turmoil – the heart of the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties, which is known to be the age of revolution of the American Dream (Maurer, n.d.).
In the novel, the story was narrated by Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbour who was a writer trying to unfold the mysteries of life after he served for the army during the First World War. He tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a very mysterious multi-millionaire who always held big parties in his mansion, but actually never showed up in any of them. The story begins when Nick moved into the house near the mansion of Gatsby. Meanwhile, Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s muse and Nick’s cousin, live across the bay with her husband, Tom. When Nick came to visit the house of Daisy and Tom, he met Jordan Baker, who later on became his love interest.
Gatsby and Nick started to have a great connection after realizing that they were both heroes who served the Army during World War I. This connection gave room to a very meaningful friendship and later on became the gateway to the relationship of Gatsby and Daisy (Maurer, n.d.).
Aware of Tom’s infidelity, Nick decided to reunite Gatsby and Daisy after discovering that both had some sort of an interrupted affair before. Daisy, also aware of the infidelity of her husband, rekindled her feelings for Gatsby and so the two started to have an extramarital affair. Tom discovered this relationship and although he has his own outside love affair, he grew a feeling of rage toward Gatsby and tried everything to get revenge (Maurer, n.d.).
The conflict in the finale took place when Gatsby and Daisy accidentally encountered a fatal car crash with Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, wherein the latter died. Daisy was the one driving the car and unintentionally killed Myrtle, but Gatsby took the blame. So, Myrtle’s husband, upon knowing what happened, took revenge on Gatsby. It was only at the latter part of the story when Nick discovered that the violence and rage felt by Myrtle’s husband was intensified only because Tom told him that Gatsby was Myrtle’s lover. Tom’s lies and deceits became the tragedy of Gatsby (Maurer, n.d.).
The Great Gatsby is not your typical tragic love story. Through the years, it has become so much more important because of the relevance it reflected on not just the society, but also on politics. It has been regarded as one of the masterpieces that attacks the concept of American Dream. It had a lot of symbolism and played along around a lot of themes that represented and signified the obsession of every American with the nature of their dreams (Churchwell, 2014).
What is the American Dream, to be exact? It is the belief that emerged in the 1920s where one believes that anyone has the ability to be successful and rich in the United States if they work hard to become what they want to be. Regardless of what race they come from, what class they belong to, what gender they have, or what nationality they come from, anyone has the chance to be successful as long as he works hard enough to achieve such success. This is the American Dream – the elimination of inequality and hierarchy among classes and races of the society (Wulick, 2016).
But as Wulick (2016) have suggested, The Great Gatsby is quite a pessimistic view of this American Dream. Things did not really turn out the way they are supposed to for the characters in the novel. This symbolizes that not every dream is meant to come true.
According to SparkNotes Editors (2002), one of the story’s main important themes is the failure of the American Dream during the 1920s. During these times, America was bombarded with too much materialistic innovations and decadent emancipation of wealth and prosperity. Fitzgerald, in this novel, clearly wanted to emphasize on the deterioration of the social and moral ethics of the American people by making the characters portray an intense thirst for greed and opulence.
In the novel, Gatsby’s goal was to have the love of her life, Daisy, back into his arms. This is the dream for Gatsby, the ultimate completion and perfection of his American Dream would be Daisy. He was described as the perfect example of a man who started from no one until he became someone – the epitome of a real success story. But for him, this success will only be complete if he will be able to get his ultimate dream, which is to have Daisy (Wulick, 2016). In the end, however, though he was able to attain the love of Daisy, it did not turn out to be a dream come true because he died.
If we are going to look at the entirety of it, nonetheless, the “American Dream” was not actually invented to live up to the promise of eternal peace. It was in fact an invention of failure, a promise meant to be broken due to all the capitalism and monopolistic occurrence of wickedness during those times. Fitzgerald was certain of this when he was writing the book, and proved himself right by the time he finished writing it when he saw that people still had their minds corrupted with all the wealth and greediness they have (Churchwell, 2012).
Originally, as explained by the book itself, the American Dream that was intended to be contemplated is about the freedom of men to a new discovery, a unique sense of self-preservation and individualistic affection, and chasing paradise through discovering true happiness. However, such intentions were destroyed and not achieved for America in 1920 became corrupted when money and pleasure presented itself to the people. This was what Fitzgerald wanted to convey – that no matter how pure the dream may be, it will always be corrupted if we let evil do so (SparkNotes Editors, 2002).
In a nutshell, the American Dream incorporated in The Great Gatsby was a portrayal of the dream’s failure. While the novel itself was a success for being able to deliver the message it wanted to bring, the story itself was a story of how dreams could be broken if not achieved in the proper way. The real significance that the author wanted to imply was that no matter how much we try to achieve our dreams, there will always be a time when this perseverance will be tested and sometimes, the results does not turn out the way we want them to be.
- Churchwell, S. (2012). The great Gatsby and the American dream. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/25/american-dream-great-gatsby
- Maurer, K. (n.d.). The great Gatsby. CliffNotes. Retrieved from https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/g/the-great-gatsby/summary-and-analysis/chapter-1
- SparkNotes Editors. (2002). The great Gatsby: Themes, motifs & symbols. SparkNotes. Retrieved from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/gatsby/themes.html
- Wulick, A. (2016). Best analysis: The American dream in the great Gatsby. PrepScholar. Retrieved from https://blog.prepscholar.com/the-great-gatsby-american-dream