The Great Gatsby – The American Dream
The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is about the American Dream, and the downfall of those who attempt to capture its illusionary goals. This dream has varying significances for different people but in The Great Gatsby, for Jay, the dream is that through wealth and power, one can acquire happiness. To get this happiness Jay must reach into the past and relive an old dream and in order to do this he must have wealth and power.
Jay Gatsby, the central figure of the story, is a character that longs for the past. Surprisingly he devotes most of his adult life trying to recapture it and, finally, dies in its pursuit. In the past, Jay had a love affair with the beautiful and seemingly innocent Daisy. Knowing he could not marry her because of the difference in their social status, he leaves her to accumulate his wealth to reach her economic and social standards. Once he acquires this wealth, he moves near to Daisy, Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay, and throws extravagant parties, hoping by chance she might show up at one of them. He, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. When his hopes don’t show true he asks around casually if anyone knows her. Soon he meets Nick Caraway, a cousin of Daisy, who agrees to set up a meeting, He wants to know…if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over. Gatsby’s personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want. Later, as we see in the Plaza Hotel, Jay still believes that Daisy loves him. He is convinced of this as is shown when he takes the blame for Myrtle’s death. Was Daisy driving? Yes…but of course I’ll say I was. He also watches and protects Daisy as she returns home. How long are you going to wait? All night if necessary. Jay cannot accept that the past is gone and done with. Jay is sure that he can capture his dream with wealth and influence. He believes that he acted for a good beyond his personal interest and that should guarantee success. Nick attempts to show Jay the flaw of his dream, but Jay innocently replies to Nick’s statement that the past cannot be relived by saying, Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”. This shows the confidence that Jay has in reviving his relationship with Daisy. For Jay, his American Dream is not material possessions, although it may seem that way. He only comes into riches so that he can fulfill his true dream, Daisy.
Gatsby doesn’t rest until his dream is finally lived. However, it never comes about and he ends up paying the ultimate price for it. The idea of the American Dream still holds true in today’s time, be it wealth, love, or fame. But one thing never changes about the American Dream; everyone desires something in life, and everyone, somehow, strives to get it.
A big house, nice cars, 2.5 kids, a dog, a beautiful devoted spouse, power and a ridiculous amount of money. That is the classical American Dream, at least for some. One could say, an outsider perhaps, that Americans strive for the insurmountable goal of perfection, live, die and do unimaginable things for it, then call the product their own personal American Dream. Is having the American Dream possible? What is the American Dream? There is one answer for these two questions: The American Dream is tangible perfection. In reality, even in nature, perfection does not exist. Life is a series of imperfections that can make living really great or very unpleasant. Living the American Dream is living in perfection, and that by definition is not possible, thus deflating our precious American Dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald proves this fact in The Great Gatsby, through his scintillating characters and unique style.
Characters in books often mirror the author’s feelings towards the world around them. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald suggested the moral decline of the period in American history through the interpersonal relationships among his characters. The situations in the lives of the characters show the worthlessness of materialism, the futile quest of Myrtle and Gatsby, and how America s moral values had diminished- through the actions of Daisy, Tom, Jordan, and Gatsby’s party guests. Despite his newly acquired fortune, Gatsby still cannot afford his one true wish; therefore he cannot buy everything that is important to Daisy. .Their love is founded upon feelings from the past; these give it, notwithstanding Gatsby’s insistence on being able to repeat the past, inviolability. It exists in the world of money and corruption but is not of it. (Lewis 48)
In the novel The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the uses of literary technique of symbolism to reflect what life in the 1920s was like, through Fitzgerald’s eyes. The image of Doctor T.J. Mecklenburg’s eyes is used to signify an ever-watchful godlike figure. Just as Wilson comes half consciously to identify the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg with God, so the reader gradually becomes aware of them as representing some kind of detached intellect, brooding gloomily over life in the bleak waste land surrounding it, and presiding fatalistically over the little tragedy enacted as if in sacrifice before it. (Miller 36) The eyes not only symbolize a godlike being but also Fitzgerald himself and his negative views of 1920s society. Fitzgerald’s negative views of society are also portrayed through his depiction of certain guests at Gatsby’s parties.
The symbol of the two women dressed identically in yellow at Gatsby’s party represent the values of the people of the 20s. The two women meet Jordan and Nick at Gatsby’s party and are completely self-involved. These women are only concerned with what happens to them and the fun that they have at the parties and don’t even inquire the names of Jordan and Nick who they are so openly speaking with.
Do you come to these parties often? inquired Jordan of the girl beside her.
The last one was the one I met you at, answered the girl in an alert, confident voice. She turned to her companion: Wasn’t it for you Lucille? It was for Lucille too. I like to come, Lucille said I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. (Fitzgerald 47)
Lucille admits that her general attitude toward life is that she does not care what she does as long as she has a good time. Her entire motivation in her life is to enjoy herself. When all she was asked was if she came to the parties often she also felt the need to inform the rest of the guests of her trivial anecdote. The reason that these women are indicative of the generation is because of their self-absorbed characters and egotistical nature.
Also, the food served at Gatsby’s parties symbolizes the attitudes of most people living in the 1920’s. At Gatsby’s parties, most of the food was just show and no one really ate it. People display Large amounts of expensive food at parties to subtly remind the guests how much money they have, which is exactly what Gatsby did and the food was wasted. This incredible wastefulness is representative of people who lived in the 20’s. They were so extremely wasteful because they assumed with all they had gone through, they deserved to be. After so many years of being unhappy and repressed from, among other things World War I, they thought it was okay to become carefree when indeed it was not.
Through Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism to describe the costumed characters of the 20’s the reader can learn to constantly and conscientiously examine the people that they surround themselves with. The novel also teaches the lesson of being true to one’s self and following one’s own personal dream, not the one Americans are programmed to have.
Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Macmillan Publishng Company, 1980.