The Great Gatsby, written by Scott F. Fitzgerald in the 1920’s is the epitome of the Jazz Age, a phrase coined by the author himself. In the novel, Fitzgerald uses many literary elements to accurately portray the time period in which he lived including setting, characters, diction, and many symbols, which form the majority of the analytical portion of the story. In fact, many of the characters in the book double as a symbol, in order to strengthen a particular motif or theme within the novel. The most apparent, recurring and powerful theme in the book is the corruption of the American Dream during the Jazz Age. Even though many scholars believe that Fitzgerald is promoting the Dream, he is actually condemning it and what it stands for.Order now
This theme is used in conjunction with the motif of appearance versus reality to criticize further the “single green light, minute and far away” 25 that many Americans have strived for: financial success, fame, power and glory. Fitzgerald masterfully uses the character Gatsby to show the illusion that is the American Dream that, in reality, is an extremely corrupt and greedy practice during the extravagant and flagrant era of the 1920’s.
Primarily, Fitzgerald uses Gatsby to show the corruption and the greed that consumes and destroys the followers of the Dream. When Gatsby realizes that he is not able to be with Daisy in his youth because of his social class, he decides to pave his own way by climbing to her social class. Formerly James Gatz, “he the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” 95, beginning his search for a higher social class. Gatsby is willing to give up the institution of family and his heritage in order to gain monetary wealth like many of the immigrants coming over to America to make a living.
This vice of Gatsby’s assist the reader’s negative view towards the main character and further criticizes the idea of the American Dream, because of the priority of money over family values. After his departure from Cody, Gatsby earns his money from obviously crooked proceedings. Even with his crimes not being known, it can be assumed that he is a villain and breaks existing laws. This can be seen when his party guests speculate over whether he “killed a man” or if “he was a German spy in the war” 47. This corrupt portrayal of Gatsby is confirmed later in the story through the shady character of Meyer Wolfsheim, the Jewish ‘gambler’ with cufflinks made from the “finest specimens of human molars” 70, showing yet again the corruption that Gatsby uses to gain his wealth; whereas The Dream advocates hard work to gain your success and wealth.
Although Gatsby himself is a very disillusioned man, Fitzgerald also expresses his loathing toward the American Dream by what Gatsby is actually chasing, Daisy. After Gatsby recounts to Nick his story of past times with Daisy, Nick responds to a motivated Gatsby by declaring that one cannot repeat the past, as Gatsby is trying to do. Disillusioned, Gatsby defends his actions when he says “can’t repeat the past?â€¦ of course you can”, attempting to counter Nick’s statement. Through this quote, Fitzgerald reveals the impossibility of the American Dream, which for Gatsby, is Daisy. The followers of the Dream are mislead and will never realize their goal, the same way as Gatsby cannot repeat his past times with his dream. Later, at one of the climactic sections of the book, Daisy is forced to choose between Tom and Jay.
Eventually she states, that she “did love him once- but she loved too” 126, and eventually choosing to flee Long Island with Tom. Through her actions, Fitzgerald shows the fleeting American Dream, the dreamer never achieving his goal, just as Gatsby never claims Daisy for his own. Daisies voice is highly significant in displaying the corrupt value of the Dream, which is solely based on gaining material goods and nothing else. After meeting Daisy at Nicks house, Nick observes how her “voice held him most, with its fluctuating feverish warmth, because it could not be over-dreamed- that voice was a deathless song” 93. Daisy’s voice here entrances Gatsby, and is the one thing that Gatsby will never stop loving about her.
Fitzgerald is probably alluding to the sirens, the ancient mythical creatures that sang sailors to their deaths by captivating them with their magical voices; and thus giving a highly critical view to Daisy and her “deathless” voice. Further on in the novel, Nick realizes what it is about Daisy’s voice that fascinates Gatsby so much. “It full of money-that the inexhaustible charm” 115 that draws Gatsby closer to her, that is her power over him. Gatsby is entranced by material goods, like much of the population during the prosperous twenties, and Fitzgerald uses these quotes to exploit the defects of greed and materialism in his character.
By developing Gatsby and his goals, Fitzgerald exposes the fantasy of the American Dream and the corruption within it. Even though millions of immigrants came to America in pursuit of economic wealth, to turn their ‘rags to riches’, nearly none of them succeeded in achieving the Dream that so many sought. The Dream is truly a dream, something that one would think of subconsciously when asleep. Monetary wealth is never gained easily and as Fitzgerald demonstrates, requires corrupt means to achieve, completely destroying the illusion that is the American Dream, “the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matterâ€”tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morningâ€” So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” 171.