The American dream has barely changed over the past century.
The American dream has not changed because the people have not changed. The American dream represents a theory that many people follow. They believe in this theory and incorporate it within their lives. Most believe that one must become wealthy in order to meet success.
The American dream is close to becoming reality because people have brought it so far. Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, analyzes the legitimacy of this principle through the inevitable downfall of Jay Gatsby. The novel takes place during the “roaring twenties” in two affluent Long Island neighborhoods. The people in these neighborhoods characterize the superficiality and arrogance that distorts the American dream.
Fitzgerald utilizes this environment and its people to examine the negative attributes of the American dream. Fitzgerald portrays two neighborhoods, East Egg and West Egg, to display the slowly evolving corruption of the American dream. East Egg houses old money sophisticates, while West Egg accommodates the less fashionable new money types. The apparent differences cause the two neighborhoods to develop an apparent competition. The different neighborhoods are connected through the characters becoming entangled with each other.
Both Carraway and his wealthy yet mysterious neighbor, Jay Gatsby, live in West Egg. Carraway lives in a modest small house, which is overshadowed by Gatsby’s extravagant estate. In his magnificent manor, Gatsby indulges in an excessive and exaggerated lifestyle including many lavish parties. “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars” (43). Gatsby considers his abnormal wealth and stature to be the means to regain his one true love, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy’s atmosphere of wealth and privilege attract Gatsby’sattention and gradual obsession.
Gatsby realizes that his own capacity for hope made Daisy seem ideal to him. He does not realize that he is pursuing an image that has no true, lasting value. This realization would have made the world look entirely different to Gatsby, like a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about” (169). Daisy and her unfaithful husband Tom live in a large East Egg mansion directly across from Gatsby’s estate. Gatsby longs for Daisy’s love, but never seems to have her entirely.
In this situation, Gatsby’s destiny with Daisy becomes his individual version of the American dream. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (189). When Gatsby meets with Daisy in his own house, he easily impresses her with his luxurious estate and opulent manor. Gatsby does not recognize that Daisy’s image of the American dream has been so vague by the superficiality of her surroundings. To Daisy, the most impressive aspect of Gatsby is his inordinate amount of silk shirts.
“They’re such beautiful shirts, she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such?such beautiful shirts before” (98). Daisy is able to take her position for granted and she becomes for Gatsby, the essence of everything he invented “Jay Gatsby” to achieve. As Nick realizes, Gatsby’s dreams have been tarnished by the people that surround him, “it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (6). These people believe that by surrounding themselves with material comforts, they are living the so-called American dream. The characters are seduced by the mistaken belief that money equals self-worth.
In reality, they are mocking themselves and sometimes deceiving one another. “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge. . . anything at all.
. . ” (73). Nick believes that the American dream can still take place even in Manhattan, but the people are the ones who control what turns out. “In a well- fanned Forty-second Street cellar” (73), Nick meets Gatsby for lunch with one of Gatsby’s associates, Meyer Wolfsheim. Nick is shocked when he learns that Wolfsheim orchestrated the fixing of the World Series.
The idea staggered me. I remembered of course that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919 but if I had thought of it all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could play with the faith of 50 million people?with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. (78)Baseball, being America’s favorite pastime is an integral element of the American landscape. The fact that one man could get away with such a stunt, is deeply disturbing to Nick. It shows Fitzgerald’s critical attitude towards the prevailing morals of his time.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald demonstrates that the superficial environment corrupts the American dream. In Gatsby’s case, the pursuit of the dream ultimately leads to his tragic death. It becomes apparent that The Great Gatsby is truly an indictment of the American dream. It represents a misleading notion, a mistaken belief that has become the goal of many generations.
At one point, Nick writes that Gatsby must have realized what a grotesque thing a rose is. In other words, that a rose is not inherently beautiful, but is felt to be beautiful by people because they choose to perceive its form as a thing of beauty. Without that choice, the rose loses its beauty and becomes grotesque. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. The American dream is much like this rose, an outwardly beautiful visual concept. However, the weaknesses of human nature turn its pursuit into a failed reality.