The American dream symbolizes ideas of hope, happiness, and a better quality of life. Though the years, however, this dream has often been corrupted by the growth of capitalism in the American mind. As a consequence, F. Scott Fitzgerald implied in his novel, The Great Gatsby, that early 20th century Americans were slowly redefining their lives in accordance to power and wealth as opposed to simplistic happiness.
Fitzgerald created the character of Jay Gatsby to symbolize the American dream. All the characters with the exception of the narrator, Nick Carraway, serve as a foil to Jay Gatsby. Albeit, Gatsby does evince his share of faults, the other characters, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, and the Wilsons, all seem to have faults greater than those of Gatsby since they represent the capitalistic cancer that embodies the country. Therefore, when Nick says, "They're a rotten crowdÃ¢ÂÂ¦ You're worth the whole damn bunch put together" (Fitzgerald 162), Nick is indubitably correct in his assessment of Gatsby.
The character of Tom Buchanan can be seen as a hypocritical and dogmatic aristocrat who symbolizes most of what is wrong with the wealthy people in 1920's America. He has been brought up in an aristocratic world where people have blind faith in the class system. Life in Tom's eyes is a string of superficial events peppered with the ascetic beauty of his surroundings. A nice car, a lavish home, and a wife, equal in status, are all needed things in his elite existence. On top of all these things, Tom is even seen as being a bigot when he says, "It's up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things" (Fitzgerald 17). Another facet of his careless and selfish mind is his somewhat unhidden extramarital affair with Myrtle Wilson. Tom is imperturbed by those who seem to be cognizant of his affair. Moreover, he even treats Mr. Wilson as inferior because of his low status and still keeps a somewhat friendly relationship with him. On the whole, status, immorality, and hypocrisy drive Tom's character.
Like her husband, Daisy Buchanan is also a symbol of aristocracy and capitalism. She was brought up in an almost identical world of money and power driven people who cared little for simplistic happiness. However, the evidence of her previous relationship with Gatsby soon warps the reader's perception of Daisy. Since Gatsby was a poor soldier when they were in love, Daisy is seen as having once faltered in her aristocratic ways. For a moment in her life she was driven by love instead of status and money. During the course of the novel, however, Daisy ends up choosing her husband over Gatsby and lets Gatsby cover up for Myrtle Wilson's murder. In a crucial scene in the novel, Tom and Daisy are having dinner after Myrtle's murder as "[Tom] was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement" (Fitzgerald 152). The reader finds out that Daisy is no different than her husband in her ways. She succumbs to her place in the aristocratic and capitalistic circle of people that she has been surrounded by for her entire life. Together Daisy and Tom define the epitome of the immoral, capitalistic upper class. Nick most accurately describes them when he says, They were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. (Fitzgerald 187-188) Jordan Baker's character may also be seen as a product of capitalistic America in the 1920's; however, she is also a symbol for dishonesty in the novel. The first time Jordan is introduced in the novel, we find out that she had cheated on her first golf tournament. Already, Fitzgerald is pointing out the cheating, deceptive ways of the rich. As a consequence of her cheating, it becomes evident that even the upper class can be dishonest concerning issues of power. Henceforth, Fitzgerald tries to show that the upper class would do anything to uphold the faÃÂ§ade of success.
The Wilsons are of great symbolic importance in the novel. They live in the valley of ashes, which is a symbol for the lower class in the novel. The valley of ashes is also home to a billboard of the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The billboard is understood to be the symbol for the eyes of capitalism brooding down on the poor and a sense of lost hope. For example, when George Wilson stares out into the horizon and into the ashheaps after the death of his wife, he stares into the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg and states, "God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!" (Fitzgerald 167). Initially, the reader may surmise that Fitzgerald is making an obvious connection to God with the billboard; however, it seems that the billboard is a better representation of how the poor cannot escape the firm grasp of capitalism and the wealthy. Fitzgerald makes Myrtle represent this hopeless escape from the lower class by making her get killed before George had the chance to move away with her. Myrtle only gets to experience the upper class lifestyle when she goes out on her excursions with Tom, which are only a brief glance into that aristocratic life for her.
Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, is considered to be the example of the nouveau riche in the novel. He came from humble beginnings and quickly climbed the social ladder by making his money through bootlegging and criminal connections. However, the criminal affiliations he makes and the criminal activity that he commits in his past are for the sole purpose of winning Daisy over. Unlike most characters in the novel, Gatsby understand the crass, superficial and pretentious ways of the rich and uses money only as a tool for his real love, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby loves her because "Her voice is full of money" (Fitzgerald 127). Gatsby is blinded by his undying love for Daisy and not for the love of money. When "Ã¢ÂÂ¦he stretched out his arms toward theÃ¢ÂÂ¦ single green light" (Fitzgerald 25-26), Gatsby yearns for this love and awaits the day when it will no longer be a dream, but a reality. Gatsby's dreams are not of wealth or the achievement of a supercilious nature, which is why he ascends above the other characters' personalities.
In conclusion, when Nick states, "They're a rotten crowdÃ¢ÂÂ¦ You're worth the whole damn bunch put together" (Fitzgerald 162), he is obviously correct in his observation. Through the detailed analyses of Tom, Daisy, Jordan, and the Wilsons, this idea has been supported to show that Gatsby's character, no matter how criminal it was in the past, still towered above all the other characters' personalities in the novel. Fitzgerald uses the upper class and Gatsby's dream as the American Dream in the 1920's. The author shows that even though Gatsby's dream is of love, it still deals with money throughout the novel. Unfortunately, like Fitzgerald's view of the American Dream in 1920's, Gatsby's dream is a corruptible one, one that desires a love that takes form around capitalism and wealth.