The falling off The Great Gatsby’s American Dream
Concept of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby...
Javier Cebollada Desentre Professor Mónica Calvo Literatura Norteamericana III June 13, 2014 The falling off The Great Gatsby’s American Dream One of the most notable elements in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is the conception of the American Dream; a well-known term whose appearance is very present throughout the story. Despite being a non-mentioned term in the novel itself, the author still conveys the idea of the American Dream through the employment of a brilliant sociological approach. Yet, although there is not any consistent or universal definition, the idea of American Dream might have different meanings to different people and its achievement is what most Americans have looked for through history. It could be considered as an idea of one’s own prosperity and happiness, with some common factors as hard work, good ethics and equality for all. In fact, these general factors may not be very clear for the reader when penetrating into the cultural and historical context of the novel, due to its constant evolution through history. In this text the purpose of the essay is to analyze Fitzgerald’s conception of “this” American Dream, finding out in what manner this conception has evolved or changed, and having a look in the way it is represented on the main character, Jay Gatsby, who apparently achieves that dream of becoming a wealthy man, but at the same time fails to reach Daisy’s love, giving some similarities between the author and the construction of the novel. Given the historical situation the reader is then obliged to delve into America’s The Jazz Age of the 1920’s, a post-war and chaotic period in which American society was being transformed, a time of moral decay, loss of old values, where corruption was the order of the day. All these elements are going to be reflected in relation with the pursuit of success. This transformation is a sort of degradation of ethical values where morality is no longer possible. Besides, this period full of sumptuous parties, clandestine alcohol, and entertainment with lack of morality was the perfect scenario in which the same Scott Fitzgerald would be moving himself. He took part in the moral decadence which is criticized in his books. Apart from that, it should be noted the fact
that Fitzgerald was one of those writers who belonged to the “Lost Generation” characterized for that sense of loss of faith and hope in humanity. Therefore, the reader can find more similarities between his life and novel than those who apparently seem to be. Among all these similarities, there are some more relevant (I'm not going to mention all the similarities because it would take me another essay). For instance the setting of the novel, more concretely Great Neck, was one of the many areas where Fitzgerald partly lived, and it served as an inspiration to locate the map of the novel. Another aspect was his extravagant lifestyle; alcohol had become a major part of how Fitzgerald lived his life, and it is shown in the novel throughout the lavish parties at Gatsby’s house, who is so obsessed with this materialistic vision of luxurious dependencies which surround him that he does not realize these things cannot bring him love or happiness. This deals in depth with the concept of Materialism. The hard work and good ethics is replaced here by immoral activities which lead to the quickly increasing of material possessions; and the social decadence of moral values can be easily tangible. But probably, the most influential aspect which embraces the whole novel is an anecdote which happened to Fitzgerald. There was a girl called Ginevra King; she was considered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first love, and it is told that Ginevra’s father once told Fitzgerald, “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls” (Mangum). This phrase is going to be reflected very deeply into the novel's argument, a question of class equality. Gatsby comes from humble origins, and he has turned himself into a “newly rich” man, unlike the high-status American aristocracy, he lacks of sophistication, and he will never be accepted by this “old money” upper class and consequently by Daisy. Then, the sense of equality which constitutes one of the fundamental elements in the American dream is lost here. Then, as means of explanation, we should take the American Dream as a key element which moves every character in the story, and all the characters in the story are then aspiring to move upwards in their pursuit of dreams, each in their own way and especially Gatsby. Here the protagonist attempts to progress and achieve all his goals at all costs. His means of achieving wealth and fame are progresses in vain; useless in the quest of his unique dream he aspires: Daisy’s love. So, as Fahey points, Gatsby’s goal “is a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material possessions are
synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty” (70). Thus, there is also a romantic idealization of Daisy which is not reflected in reality. Unlike Nick, who eventually sees her as superficial, selfish and careless, Gatsby still sees her as the perfect woman he met some years ago in Camp Taylor. This idealism and “extraordinary gift for hope” (Fitzgerald 4) leads him to have a distorted reality, as Hermanson suggests: “Gatsby seems committed to an idea of Daisy that he has created than to the real woman she is”. Nonetheless, it is paradoxical the way Gatsby stares at his dreams, represented by the green light, from his mansion in West Egg, to the East Egg. This approximation to his dreams is somehow opposite in direction to that of the traditional American Dream, which was looked from east to west, as well as the reaching of American frontier and the westward expansion. This also represents a kind of degradation and displacement in the notion of the American Dream, maybe a suggestion of Fitzgerald. There are no possibilities at this point for Gatsby to reach his goal, and the reader is allowed to see an evident failure, evidence of the degeneration and corruption of the American dream itself in a decadent society which will lead him to his own tragedy. So, the unreachable green light that Gatsby observe from his mansion implies the impossibility of reaching Daisy, even though he is very close to his goal. The reader can eventually distinguish between the American Dream itself from the conception of the American Dream in the 1920’s, in which hard work and good ethics, two fundamental principles which had constituted the American dream, are no longer visible. Instead, the dream has been degenerated to materialistic and immoral levels. The Great Gatsby as a whole is somehow a harsh critique of a society immersed in materialism and the consequences it has in one’s hopes and dreams; and it is also seen as a portrayal of the Jazz Age in a sociological manner. As a way of conclusion, it would be useful to highlight the importance of the 1920’s society’s transformation. A crude reality in which American Dream is perceived with a typical touch of the Roaring Twenties, prevailing the excess on materialism and the lack of morality. Although the fact that Gatsby had succeeded in reaching wealth through unfair activities such as gambling and bootlegging, his mind seemed to remain untouched by the corruption and decadence of the society; and his romantic vision of reality in which he was immersed places him out from that society; Nick perceives this and he eventually states: ‘They’re a rotten crowd... You’re worth the whole damn bunch
put together” (164), putting Gatsby above that shallow and superfluous upper class. Somehow or other Fitzgerald manages to convey an image of perishing dreams, whatever the kind of dream. His pessimistic vision of failure in the quest of the American Dream is inevitable, inasmuch as nothing can be as perfect as one could imagine. Just as Ryan explains that “although the American Dream is admirable, it is impossible to achieve eternal satisfaction…”(1) and after all, the American Dream is just that, a dream.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Changizi, P. and Ghasemi, P. “Degeneration of American Dream in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Education Research Journal. 2012 Vol. 2(2): 62-65. Shiraz University,
Fahey, William A. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Macmillan , 1986. Hermanson, Casie E. “The Great Gatsby: Major Characters, Time, Ambiguity and Tragedy.” Novels for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. 1998 Vol. 2. Detroit:
Mangum, Bryant. “An introduction to the Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald”. Virginia Commonwealth
Ryan, Devan. “The Great Gatsby-Term Papers”. StudyMode.com. 2011. 9 June 2014.