Society And The American Dream In The Great Gatsby
The novel, “The Great Gatsby”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is about the American Dream, and the idealistic and illusionary goal to achieve wealth and status. The ruthless pursuit of wealth leads to the corruption of human nature and moral values. Fitzgerald uses characters in the novel to show the corruptions and the illusionary nature of the American Dream. The superficial achievement of the American Dream, give no fulfillment, no real joy and peace; but instead, creates lots of problems for the characters in the novel. What happens to Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and Daisy Buchanan represent the failure of the American Dream. Each character has a different dream. For Jay Gatsby, his dream is to attain happiness, represented by Daisy’s love, through materialism and power. For Nick Carraway, his goal is to find someone whose achievement in life could prove that the American Dream is not an allusion. For Daisy Buchanan, her dream is to reach a higher standard of living and to become very rich even though she has to pay the price of betraying her own heart and her loyalty to Gatsby’s unconditional love.
The possession of money and power, no doubt, can provide material and pride satisfaction in life; but it cannot fulfill the real needs of the human heart, which is true love and genuine happiness. In order to fulfill their American Dreams, the characters in the novel have actually given up the moral values and beliefs that were once precious to them, and the result is that they reap only emptiness in their heart and soul. The main theme in the Great Gatsby focuses on the corruption of the American Dream.
The basic quality of the American Dream described in the novel is the hope for something, and the consistent determination to reach one’s idealistic goal. For Jay Gatsby, his dream is to win back the love of Daisy, the perfect woman of his dream. He sacrifices his integrity in order to get rich by involving in illegal business. Gatsby thinks that he can recreate the past, which is the relationship between himself and Daisy, with money. He thinks that he can impress Daisy with his wealth so that she will love him once again.
Gatsby’s strategies of winning back Daisy’s heart are to show off his wealth and social status such as connecting himself with “Oxford”; living in a luxurious “mansion”, throwing lavish parties, dressed in nice expensive clothing; he even has “men in England who buy him clothes and sends him a selection”. Gatsby believes that with his money and material success he could buy anything in life including true love and happiness. Because of his obsession to obtain Daisy’s love, he betrays his honesty and morality.
With no other purposes in life, Gatsby ends up engaging in illegal activities. Therefore, it is very ironical that sometimes in life, good idealistic goal, somehow, is achieved by immoral and illegal means. This is the reason for the failure of the American Dream, and the tragedy of Gatsby. Daisy is a vain lady. She marries Tom for money and status, and turns her back on true love and happiness, which is represented by Gatsby. Her American Dream is to enjoy a luxurious and comfortable life given to her by, hopefully a man who truly loves her, and whom she also loves.
The corruption of her human values begins when she decides not to wait anymore for Gatsby, her real love, but to take the opportunity that Tom Buchanan offers, which are money and status. Her choices reveal her vain and superficial nature hidden beneath her beautiful and innocent look. When Gatsby returns with wealth and status in order to win her love back, she has struggles within her heart about whether she should follow her true feelings or not. Although, when Tom tells Daisy about Gatsby’s “bootlegging,” with the intention of destroying her desire to leave him for Gatsby; her will, which is very weak, wavers.
She is a person without any strong desires or conviction or loyalty to anybody, including Gatsby; Tom, her husband; and her own baby girl. Even when she knows that Tom has a mistress outside, yet she finally decides to choose him over Gatsby, who is really devoted to her and is offering her true love. She chooses to forsake Gatsby for a life of comfort and security, but full of emptiness. Her behavior in responding to the car accident in which she killed Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, again reveals her corrupted nature: “Careless people? Mashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was? And let other people clean up the mess they had made?”.
When looking back at the foundation qualities of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby, which are hope, strength, and determination to reach a person’s idealistic goals in life. Daisy is a very good example of the failure and the corruption of the American Dream. The corruption and failure of the American Dream is seen through Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel.
Nick’s dream is to find someone who can realizes the idealistic American Dream, and he finds this person in Jay Gatsby. Nick is the only character in the novel that stands aside as an observer and understands the truth about all people and all things. He admires Gatsby’s determination and strong will in achieving his goals in life, but despises all the rest of the people in the society in which he exists. In his eyes, Tom and Daisy and all the others are a bunch of heartless people who becomes successful at the cost of losing precious human values.
Gatsby is the only exception among them. In the novel, Nick comments “They’re a rotten crowd… You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (154). With the physical death of Gatsby, Nick’s hope for the realization of the American Dream is extinguished. He also has a feeling that Gatsby’s faith and hope in his dream is fading away and that Gatsby is beginning to doubt, feeling lost and empty.
If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air?” (161). Gatsby’s dream dies, so does Nick’s. In conclusion, Fitzgerald uses this tragic story to express his feeling about the American Dream of the American people during the 1920’s.
The characters in the novel are being used to reflect the gradual demoralization of the people in the society. Every person living in this world needs to have a dream and purpose to life, something to work towards. Without dreams, one’s life has no meaning, as seen in the destiny of Gatsby and the Buchanans. Their lives become empty and lost without a dream or an ideal. Gatsby is an important example of the failure of the American Dream, which is, in fact, an illusion after all.
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