We often hear of the phrase “The American Dream”, a promise that if one works hard one will reap the benefits, regardless of status or standing in society. The Great Gatsby questions the meaning of the American Dream. Is it possible that the American Dream is nothing but an illusion? Many hard working Americans would surely be disheartened if they found out that the American Dream is a lie. The characters Gatsby and Daisy lead luxurious and easy lives because of their vast wealth. Daisy was born into old family money, while it is eventually revealed that Gatsby was a poverty stricken young adult until he was taken in by Dan Cody, who taught him everything he needed to know about money, the people who have it, and how to acquire it. Gatsby is born poor, but he would end up being ashamed of his background for his whole life.
Gatsby desperately desired to strike it rich and make it look like he had “old money” because he knew that was the only way his love interest, Daisy, would reciprocate his feelings. He throws parties constantly in the hopes Daisy would attend one. There is a green light at the end of Daisy’s dock represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Fitzgerald, p.180). Gatsby’s nonstop pursuit of the American Dream only leads to violence and tragedy. His death at the hands of George Wilson, while avoidable, shows what happens when dreams become too entangled with reality. The fact that Gatsby loses his life after achieving wealthiness and receiving attention from the woman he likes shows that the American Dream is implausible; for such great milestones do not come without a substantial price to pay.
Another character that is destroyed by the American Dream is Myrtle. Myrtle has the hope and desire for a perfect, wealthy and famous life. She believes that Tom is the ideal picture perfect man that represents the advertisement of the American Dream. Myrtle is considered to be lower class, as she doesn’t have a lot of money. Myrtle lives out her life in an average marriage with an average man, George. Like Gatsby, Myrtle loses her life in an attempt to achieve the American Dream. The Valley of Ashes neighborhood that George and Myrtle live in is a symbol of the couple’s desolate present and their tragic futures. People who live in the Valley of Ashes seem to lose health and vitality. George and Myrtle, just by being stuck living in the Valley of Ashes, are denied the chance to realize the American Dream.
Daisy is an example of how people benefit from being born into wealth and power. She never had to work for any of the money she had. The American Dream was quite simply handed to her. She is born with the so called “old money” and is raised to think that only other people with old money are worth her attention. This is why she marries Tom instead of waiting for Gatsby, despite how badly Gatsby likes her. People with “new money”, such as Gatsby, are irrelevant to her. When Daisy first met Gatsby while he was in the army, she did not question his background because he had nice manners. Why does Daisy have everything that the American Dream promises when she did nothing to achieve it? For a lack of a better answer, she is lucky enough to be inherently rich. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.” (Fitzgerald, p.162).
Nick, the main character of The Great Gatsby, travels to New York in hopes of studying the bonds business. He takes note of how the American Dream affects the other characters. Nick’s inability to be swayed by the American Dream establishes his realiableness as a narrator. As Nick says in the first chapter, he is reserved and inclined to reserve all judgements. Throughout the entire novel, Nick portrays Gatsby as his idol.
In conclusion, Fitzgerald shows that the American Dream can be chased, but cannot be caught without consequences. He does so primarily by writing the Great Gatsby in a way where the titular character, Gatsby, manages to fulfill the American Dream, but his life is quickly stolen from him by George Wilson. It seems as though Fitzgerald holds a cynical opinion of the American Dream, using the Great Gatsby as a medium of expressing his viewpoint on the matter. He shows that men such as Gatsby fail not because of their dreams, but because of the society they live in.