In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a vivid portrait of life in the Jazz Age. Taking place in between World War I and the Great Depression, people during this time were all trying to achieve their own version of the American Dream. If it meant becoming rich as quick as possible, or the old fashioned way, everyone had their eyes set on the same prize, money. People would do anything to get it and morals were all but lost in this frenzy to become rich. Fitzgerald uses his novel as a way to demonstrate and criticize different versions of the American Dream. He gives us a variety characters and with each of these characters he offers different means of achieving the American Dream. Although many of the characters in the novel have corrupted views of how this dream should be achieved, Fitzgerald does offer one person who goes about things the right way.
His means of becoming rich being corrupt, but Jay Gatsby justifies his actions by having honorable reasons for wanting to achieve the American Dream.
Fitzgerald uses Tom Buchanan to illustrate the wrong way to go about achieving the American Dream, Tom does so by surrounding himself with material possessions. Living what many would consider a perfect life Tom Buchanan seems to have everything, money, a fancy house, and a beautiful wife. Although he may have all these things, it is the mentality that goes with having them that makes you happy and not the actual ownership of them. Treating everything as a possession, Tom bases all of his happiness on what he does or does not have. Tom even treats his relationships with women as thought they are possessions. As you would smash a punching bag or a pillow Tom takes out his aggression on Myrtle, his lover, "Tom broke her nose with his open hand" (41). This view on the treatment of women is also visible in his relationship with Daisy.
Myrtle Wilson tries to duplicate the life she has seen many others live, by hitching onto Tom Buchanan she feels she will be lifted out of the valley of ashes and achieve the American Dream. Myrtle is unhappy with her marriage to Wilson and feels it is not going to take her anywhere. Therefore she knows that she is going to have to find another man to bring her out of the valley of Ashes. Initially Myrtle thinks that Wilson is the man who she had been looking for, when she first saw him in a suit she thought for certain he was the kind of man who she was looking to marry. Only later does she find out that the suit was not his "Crazy, the only crazy was when I married him" (39). While still married to Wilson, Myrtle does everything in her power to try and imitate the life she sees Tom and his friends living. She attempts to throw parties, similar to Gatsby, but they are almost all failures that demonstrate how much lower in class then Tom she really is. In fact, it is her lowness in class that is what keeps Tom from forming a real relationship with her. Although Tom tells Myrtle that the reason that they cannot form a solid relationship is that Daisy is catholic, "its really his wife that is keeping them apart?" (38) everyone, with exception to Myrtle and her sister, knows that is not the real reason. A person of Toms stature would never marry a women from the Valley of Ashes, and Myrtle is too naÃÂ¯ve to realize that. Myrtle is another person who puts all of her hope of the American Dream in material items and doesn't emphasis the importance of the ideas behind the items.
Toms wife, Daisy, is given an opportunity to achieve the American Dream, despite her chance she places her class and power before her true love. Daisy grew up in the South, she was instilled with good morals and taught right and wrong. Unfortunately all this seems to go to waste once she meets Tom Buchanan. Daisy then begins to live the high-class life, acting as one of Toms many possessions, Daisy even says of herself, "Sophisticated-God, I'm sophisticated" (22). Carelessly causing accidents and then forgetting about them Daisy has no goal in life other then to try and maintain a somewhat stable relationship with Tom, the man she does not love. She even has the opportunity to try and achieve the true American Dream, but she chooses not to. When given the chance to go with Jay Gatsby and be happy with her true love, she decides to leave him, causing his premature death, "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money?and let other people clean up the mess they had made" (188). Daisy is the prime example of how living the wrong American Dream can be destructive to others.
Gatsby like many of the other characters is affected by the corruptness of money, yet he also has the necessary reasons for wanting the American Dream that justify his actions. Jay Gatsby is extremely naÃÂ¯ve and does not realize any of this. He thinks that money is the answer to everything. Because of this Gatsby surrounds himself in money and expensive things, he feels this will bring him closer to Daisy. Nick said of Gatsby, "If personality were a series of gestures?" (6). This shows the pureness of Gatsby and of his hope for getting what he wants, Daisy. For her, he sacrificed everything he had and forged a new life. By bootlegging and illegally selling alcohol, Gatsby becomes as rich as he deems necessary to get Daisy. Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy's voice is "full of money" (127), along with his obsession of money this shows that his love of Daisy and his greed with money are one of the same. Despite his reason for loving Daisy, Gatsby still has the purest quest of every other character in the novel. He put his hopes of the American Dream in love, not a material item. The green light at Daisy's house is a symbol of Daisy, and Gatsby's love towards her, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future" (189). With a corrupt view on things, Gatsby makes everything ok by having a love for Daisy so great he does anything to attain her.
Fitzgerald gives us many different characters and with each of them shows how their attempts at the American Dream failed. By placing all value in material possessions characters in the novel forget the importance of the true quest for the American Dream. Money clogged the thoughts of many people and distorted their views on what the American Dream was. People no longer cared about the dream itself instead they only cared about what came along with it. Only Jay Gatsby sticks with his original dream, after becoming rich, his quest is only beginning. He continues to try and win Daisy over and does so until his dying day.