The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel about several people's lives in high society, told from the point of view of a rather normal man. The theme of the withering of the American dream shows itself in the book through many of its characters. Most of these people seem to be either living or pursuing the American dream, but they could not be considered altogether 'good' or 'happy'. This is shown in many of the characters, including Tom, Gatsby, and George.
Through rising by his own actions from the poor state of his youth to a state of great wealth in later years, Gatsby seems to embody the American dream. However, one part of the American dream involves superior morality, which is certainly one thing that Gatsby lacks. Much of his wealth is achieved by the illegal sale of whiskey. Once, he leaves a 'business associate' to take the, blame while he continues on with his business.
Another aspect of the American dream is happiness, which is one thing Gatsby does not possess. Although he is rich and can buy anything he wants, Gatsby remains restless and indecisive about his own needs. For months, he has parties almost every week, which are attended by much of New York's high society. However, he never seems to enjoy these parties, because he rarely attends them himself, and when he sees that Daisy does not like them, he calls them off. This shows that although he is wealthy, he is not making himself happy. A direct analogy to the withering, or death of the American dream is that Gatsby is murdered in the end of the book. In the story, when Gatsby dies, the glamour and appeal of the American dream dies with him.
Like Gatsby, Tom Buchanan embodies the American dream because he is wealthy and can do whatever he wants. Also like Gatsby, Tom does not possess the morals involved in the American dream. The only reason why Tom did not act immoral in gaining his material wealth is that his family is rich, so he never has to work for anything. Along with his immorality, Tom seems to be unhappy with himself and others. Nick states, "Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart". Because of this, Tom has an unusually short temper and a gift for gaining revenge. Once, he lost his temper with Myrtle Wilson, his mistress, and without a thought broke her nose. Also, after Myrtle is killed, Tom tells George that Gatsby was the one that killed his wife, knowing that George will kill Gatsby. This is an act of contempt and not of morality. Tom's downfalls show that although one can look to be living the American dream, it is not always true.
Perhaps the most honest and hard-working character in the novel is George Wilson, Myrtle's husband. Every day, he works at his garage, trying to scrape out a living and to achieve the American dream. Near the beginning of the novel, one finds out that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle. She is unhappy with her simple and honest life with her husband, so she attempts to find something better in Tom. When George finds out about it, he is shattered because he truly cares about his wife. Also Tom, who only seems to be living the American dream, takes advantage of George and uses him to exact revenge on Gatsby. When Myrtle is killed, George is distraught and mentally unstable. Tom tells George that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle, knowing that George would kill him. The only reason Tom told George was because he wanted to see Gatsby dead, so he let George take the blame. Instead of accomplishing the American dream, George only becomes tired, used, and betrayed. Both George's life and death can be looked upon as the withering of the American dream.
These three characters in the novel are alike in that they each embody an aspect of the American dream. Also, they are alike in that none of them truly achieved it. The only truly stable character in the story is Nick Carraway, the narrator. He is not artificial or truly immoral. When he moves to West Egg, he is pursuing the American dream, but he finds that he does not fit in with 'high society', who has supposedly achieved the American dream. Since Nick, the only 'good' and 'stable' character in the book, does not fit in with those who seem to be living the American dream, this dream must be flawed.