The Great Gatsby and the American Dream

TheGreat Gatsby and the American Dream

AlthoughTheGreat Gatsby hasbeen regarded one of the greatest American novels capturing the ideaof individualism and success, the American dream is not realized.This dream is captured in the life of Gatsby, which runs parallel tothe American culture. Gatsby has unconditional love for Daisy, whopersonifies for him true success, love and the ultimate possession.This novel is written in the 1920s during the Jazz age. It dramatizesthe betrayal of the naïve American Dream in a society that iscorrupt. The novel is structured as a series of mysteries whichneither ends with a solution nor a resolution. The story is told byNick who is awed by Gatsby’s extra-ordinary gift of hope and aromantic readiness that could not be found in anyone else. Thespecial gift of Gatsby gives the novel its structure. The greatGatsby blends history and fiction, in that it has specificreflections of its time, thus the term, the American dream.

TheAmerican dream is a guarantee by the American nation to offerfreedom, a good life and unending happiness to every citizen.Contrary to its initial beliefs that the dream was part of history inthe early colonial period, it has changed its meaning to be a meansof getting rich by a quick means. Once America gained freedom as anation, there was hope that every citizen had access to riches and ahappy life altogether. However, Scott Fitzgerald is far from reachingto the fact of this reality.


Inhis novel, TheGreat Gatsby,Fitzgerald had the American Dream as his subject matter. In thisnovel, he identifies with the fact that there existed classconsciousness in America. The Great Gatsby as a novel dramatizes howthe American Dream is betrayed in the midst of corruption. This isbecause, while one pursues their dream towards happiness, that veryroute encompasses destructive seeds (Kochan 2).

Themain character, Jimmy Gatz, changes his name to Jay Gatsby, in orderto signify the start of a new life. He meets with Cody as his mentorand his employer. Cody educates him through a period of war, whichleads Gatsby to be housed by Daisy. Much as Gatsby lacks complicatedlifestyle, he is driven by his dream to have a good life, which isinspired greatly by Daisy. Gatsby is an embodiment of two conflictingissues, which are illusion and reality. Although he loves people, hedoesn’t bring them close enough to become friends. Thus, he ispersonified as a romantic hero who can inherit the American dream(Fitzgerald7).

Gatsby’smythical nature is described by Nick Carraway as existing only inmaterial possessions and his extravagant nature of entertainingstrangers. He lives optimistic of the fact that he would reach thepeak of his dream as a writer. However, his encounter with women likeDaisy makes him forget about his dream as he stumbles on romance thatwould never become a happily-ever-after scenario. Gatsby’s life iswonderful as it begins and ambitious and focused as it progresses.Unfortunately, the dream ceases to exist when Gatsby is tragicallykilled by George, Tom’s driver (Barbarese 1).

Fitzgeralduses the character of Gatsby to show the rise and subsequent fall ofthe American dream. The early 1920s was characterized by aspects ofopulence and exuberance. However, these aspirations soon becamenightmares when World War 1 got destroyed. The narrator in the novel,Nick Carraway, relocated to New York expecting to achieve personalfulfillment as his deepest desires. The island is described as “thatslender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York(Bloom and Blake 68).” This exemplifies its natural beauty.However, he is disappointed as the island is characterized by moraldecadence.

Nickrelates the experiences of the island with the life of Gatsby who heis closely examining. Gatsby is deceived and replaces moral attentionwith foreign address. He changes his name from Jimmy Gatz to JayGatsby, just to pass his claim that he is educated in Oxford. Thisrefashioning makes him refer everyone else as being old fashioned.Fitzgerald portrays this change of moral decay by quoting T.S Eliot’spoem to describe the Long Island as a “wasteland”. “…Thevalley of ashes…where ashes take the form of houses and chimneysand rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of [ashgrey] men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powderyair…’’(Bloom and Blake 68).

Thisdescription reflects pollution of the environment and depictshumanity as hopeless. In addition, it represents extremely richAmericans who made their earnings from the stock market and livedextravagantly. These Americans are reflected through the life ofGatsby who made his living in crime. For instance, he distributedillegal alcohol, bribed police officers and traded in stolensecurities. This depicts the new society whose lifestyle was morallyin question (Fitzgerald9).


Despitethe flashy and extravagant lifestyle of Gatsby, he can never haveenduring wealth. Therefore, his lifestyle would never match with Tomand Daisy Buchanan who represent the upper class Americans. Thelatter live in the East Egg and have inherited long-lasting wealth.Gatsby, however, characterizes self-made millionaires who are hostileand flamboyant (Bloom and Blake 69). They are an imitation of thecheap and materialistic American dream. Thus, the American Dream onlyremains an illusion, in that it can never acquire real opulence.

Muchas East Coast members possess great wealth, they fail to embody theAmerican Dream with reality as individuals who are self-made. Nickelaborates that aristocratic members are …”careless people, andretreat back into their money with vast carelessness…” (Bloom andBlake 74). As a racist, Tom enables one to understand the nature ofold wealth which is arrogant. His imbalance, however, is brought outby the fact that he has fears about the dangers posed to the whites.This leads him to kill Gatsby who he suspected to have an affair withhis wife Daisy (Fitzgerald12).

Irrespectiveof his superiority as an upper-class American, Tom wages warfare tothe “lesser” races which included the African-Americans, Jews andforeign-born groups of whom Gatsby was a member. Tom conveys to Nickand Daisy that… “Civilization’s going to pieces…have you readabout “The Rise of the Colored Empires” by this man Goddard?…The idea is if we do not look out the white race will be-will beutterly submerged. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watchout or these other races will have control of things… this ideathat we’re Nordics… (Kochan 9)”. This fear paralyses hisbeliefs and even for a moment suspects his wife Daisy of not-being-sowhite.

AlthoughTom is of the high class race in America, he erodes his confidencethrough fear and blatantly comments to Gatsby “I suppose the latestthing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love toyour wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out…Nowadayspeople begin by sneering at family life and family institutions andnext they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriagebetween black and white…. We are all white here, murmured Jordan…”(Bloom and Blake 71). Regardless of their superiority, it isunfortunate that whites dismiss the other races. As such they derivetheir strength and class authority from all non-whites.

Despitethe violence and racism of the old-wealth owners in America, theirindividualism disallows them to disengage from their lavisciouslifestyles. Instead they further erode the dream even in those whoare truly passionate to see the American Dream come to pass. Gatsbyaccumulates his materialistic goodies such as massed suits,extravagant mansion sand piles of unread books as a symbol of theAmerican Dream. This is because he perceived that the dream was inthe abundance of wealth (Fitzgerald14).

Unfortunately,Daisy takes the shirts of Gatsby to represent his obsession of theAmerican Dream that is self-destructive. She cries with passion andthis act foreshadows the eventual demise of Gatsby. “It makes mesad because I’ve never seen such-such beautiful shirts before”(Kochan 61). Daisy is described by Gatsby to ‘have a voice full ofmoney’ irrespective of her juvenile and selfish personality. Gatsbyfails to confront the fact that she could not leave her family inorder to be with him. Instead, he admires the ‘green light thatburns all night at the Daisy’s dock’ which he likened to hisfuture. Finally, he becomes a victim in the hands of Daisy, and assuch to the American Dream.

Itis true that Fitzgerald’s scrutiny of the American Dream pointsdirectly at the heart of the American ideology. The dream itself isambiguous, contradictory in nature while at the same time flawed.Fitzgerald understood the duality inherent in the American dream’sessential character, and his style and form of The Great Gatsbyclearly confirms that. His style and form is the lens through whichhe projects his critique of American’s ideology and pursuit of hisdream.

Throughthe use of language, Fitzgerald presents the American Dream as “amirage that entices us to keep moving forward even as we areceaselessly borne back into the past” (Kimberly189). Fitzgeraldjuxtaposes poetic language and vulgarity to mirror his critique ofthe American dream. The dream promises freedom from persecution andunjust hostility as well as the freedom to advance and achievesuccess. However, the unity they hold in the highest esteem isdivided by their ambitions and willingness to oppress others in orderto achieve their individual goals although the nation’s foundingprinciples suggest otherwise (Kimberly 190).

That“Gatsby turned out all right at the end” and thus stood forAmerica itself, according to Will, is not true (Will 125). Throughoutmost of the novel, Gatsby is marked by hope that is unachievable tillthe end of the novel. His desire to have Daisy who is materialisticin nature leads to his unfortunate death. This, in essence, is areflection of the fall of the American Dream. Although J.T Barbareseconsents that the novel has realized America’s dream throughstylistic beauty and cultural importance, it is not so in the novel.When he goes to the Long Island, Gatsby changes his name from JamesGatz to Oxford-sounding Jay Gatsby, and consequently lives in a worldof deception. The image of the Long Island is portrayed by Fitzgeraldas moral decadence and metaphorically calls it “a valley of ashes”(Barbarese 3)


Inconclusion, there lacks possibility of true love, or a desireseparate from the economic realm. Much as the novel portrays theAmerican Dream of reinventing oneself, it doesn’t achieve one’sdream of prosperity and success. After World War 1, the new societybecomes corrupt and acquires wealth through unscrupulous means.Gatsby, as part of the new society acquires his wealth throughorganized crime. As a result, the enjoyment of the wealth becomesshort-lived. Gatsby instead should have worked for Tom Buchanan inorder to acquire the wealth legally. This would have allowed him toexperience true riches instead of coveting Daisy. In the long run,his dream of happiness would have been achieved. This, in turn, wouldhave upheld the re-invention and subsequent accomplishment of theAmerican Dream. The American dream therefore is portrayed as anegative aspect of American culture.


BarbareseJ.T. “The Great Gatsby’ and the American Dream.” SewaneeReview100.4. (1991): 1-3. Print.

Bloom,Harold and Blake Hobby. TheAmerican Dream.New York: Bloom`s Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.

Fitzgerald,Scott. TheGreat Gatsby.New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Kimberly,Hearne. “Fitzgerald’s rendering of a Dream.” TheExplicator 68.3.(2010): 189-194: Print.

Kochan,Sandra. TheGreat Gatsby and the American Dream. München: Grin Verlag, 2007. Print.

Will,Barbara. &quotThe Great Gatsby&quot and The Obscene Word.&quot&nbspCollegeLiterature&nbsp32.4(2005): 125-144. Print.