American Dream in The Great Gatsby

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The American dream stands as an image for faith, interest, and enjoyment. But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, views the American dream from a different point of view, one that discards light on those who deform these fundamentals to their own greedy delusions. Fitzgerald delivers Jay Gatsby as a man who seizes the dream too far, and becomes helpless to recognize his false soul of wealth from the real world. This American novel describes how humankind’s ravenous thirst for wealth and power subvert the idyllic principles of the American vision.

Jay Gatsby is the personification of limitless wealth and prestige, a shining beacon for the aspiring rich. Nick Carraway declares that there is “something glorious” about Gatsby, and that he is filled with “some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life”(8). It appears to mere mortals who are not blessed with riches, that Gatsby fulfills the American dream of achieving fame and fortune. But instead of being content with his greenbacks, Gatsby believes that he can replicate the “Platonic conception of himself” (89) and become the flawless god of wealth that he depicts. The American dream has many interpretations, but Gatsby latches onto the concept of wealth alone, failing to see that he can improve his character through hard work and toil as well.

One understanding of the American dream, bettering oneself to achieve a higher social status, sadly spurs people like Gatsby to achieve social superiority through money, but never finding true happiness. Gatsby believes in this “unreality of reality” that “the rock of the world [is] founded securely on a fairy’s wing” (89). Embedding himself within his dreams, Gatsby finds solace in his fantasy of wealth and the false joy of having it. Taking pleasure from such a materialistic item dulls Gatsby’s soul until it is as cold as the cash he covets so much. For Gatsby, like many upper class Americans, fails to realize that the American dream is not merely about wealth, but finding contentment in living, one luxury that Gatsby never achieves.

Instead of following the American dream of ‘pursuing happiness’ Gatsby focuses on using his assets to bring consummation to an otherwise empty life. This perversion of the American dream serves only to improve his ‘image’ to a society that initially rejects him when he is impoverished. It is Gatsby’s belief that wealth makes him a “son of God”, a deity that carries out his “Father’s business” through the “vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” (89) of possessing material objects irrelevant to happiness. To get these earthly treasures, he exploits the ‘Land of Opportunity’ and dabbles in illegal activities, a practice akin to modern corporate scandals.

The true purpose of the American dream is lost upon Gatsby, as it makes “no sound” of warning upon his conscience, fading into an omen that becomes “uncommunicable forever” (100). Jay Gatsby’s indecent ascension as a king of society depicts America as a land of the affluent, instead of the land of the free. In this counterfeit America, Gatsby’s dream “must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (159). But since he “[does] not know that it [is] already behind him” (159), Gatsby continues to seek contentment in fattening his purse. Unable to see past his warped reality, he tries to procure any object that could possibly satisfy his desires. But unable to find happiness through his quest for wealth, Gatsby turns inward to the past, a time when opulence was but a dream, not a harsh reality.

Gatsby attempts to rectify his failures from the past with his money, not knowing that this is impossible. He endeavors to ‘purchase’ the love of Daisy Buchanan, who he had been unable to woo due to his lack of considerable income. But even though it seems that Gatsby’s “number of enchanted objects [have been] reduced by one” (84) with the possibility of winning Daisy, he is foiled by her greater attraction to a secure life of luxury. Ironically, Gatsby is unable to comprehend that Daisy’s obsession with material possessions mirrors his own fixations with such objects.

Though Gatsby is aware of the “youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves” (132), his inability to sacrifice his wealth and embrace simplicity breaks his spirit. Rich on earth, but poor at heart, Gatsby thus “[pays] the price for living too long with a single dream” (142), as he learns that his life is superficial and lacks meaning. But instead of attempting to reverse this misfortune, Gatsby takes it apathetically, wishing only to live this leisurely path. Gatsby wallows in his suffering, unable to see America as a land where he can be revitalized. Hereafter, he becomes a “a boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (159). According to a classic nursery hymn, ‘life is but a dream’, a fact that Gatsby silently acknowledges in the end.

If one does not achieve happiness, life may appear meaningless and empty. So is the fate of the ‘Great’ Jay Gatsby, a man who has been destroyed by the very riches he covets. But Gatsby does not merely represent the extravagance of the Roaring 20’s, but serves as a metaphor for the people of today, as evidenced by a survey featured on the BBC. This study “appears to confirm…that money can not buy happiness” (Nigeria tops Happiness Survey, BBC News), and that wealthier nations like the United States rank far lower than third world countries like Nigeria. The study shows that consumerism is a factor that happier nations lack, while the lust for money and possessions still hinders countries like America from basking in bliss. Hopefully, America does not take its materialism to extremes, in such a way that its fate is linked to Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. For “the mass of men lead lives in quiet desperation” (Thoreau, Walden), waiting to awaken from the American Nightmare that they have brought upon themselves.


Cite this paper

American Dream in The Great Gatsby. (2020, Sep 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/american-dream-in-the-great-gatsby/

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