Death of a Dream

Essay by robdlsCollege, UndergraduateA, July 2009

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The deterioration of the America Dream is a main theme in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. In the novel we gain insight into the life of the upper class during the 1920s through the eyes of Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator. Through his accounts, we learn how modern times have transformed the notion of the American Dream. This essay will discuss the American Dream and how the character, Jay Gatsby, represents this dream.

In examining the character of Jay Gatsby and how he relates to the American Dream it is important to first understand what the American Dream is. “The American Dream is the idea held by many in the United States that through hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity” (Wikipedia). The American Dream embodies the belief that each person can succeed in life on the basis of his own skills and effort. Originally, the American Dream focused on discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness, but the society of 1920s, as portrayed by Fitzgerald, focuses on the ideas of wealth, success, and status.

Fitzgerald, successfully, portrays the “death” of the American Dream through the character Jay Gatsby.

For Gatsby, the American Dream is his love for Daisy Buchanan. He identifies Daisy as a rich, beautiful and charming young lady, who represents the perfect woman. This inspires his love and invokes his dream to reach her. “He stayed there [St. Olaf’s] two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor’s work with which he was to pay his way through” (Fitzgerald 105). We see that Gatsby is a poor and uneducated young man, without any past. This is the reason Gatsby becomes interested in the glamour and careless joy that surrounds Daisy. "I was flattered that she wanted to speak to me, because of all the other girls I admired her most" (Fitzgerald 79). “She was the first nice girl he had ever known. He found her excitingly desirable” (Fitzgerald 155). Gatsby questions his ability to reach Daisy, but he remains optimistic and he persists in his relationship.

Gatsby's ambition is a representation of the American Dream as well. He believes that despite his past, he can achieve a relationship with Daisy based on his wealth, his status, and his success. As Brucolli states in his preface, “He innocently expects that he can buy anything—especially Daisy. She is for sale, but he doesn’t have the right currency” (Bruccoli xi). Gatsby goes to extremes in order to gain the wealth that will lure Daisy into his arms. We learn that the origin of Gatsby’s wealth and possessions are questionable. Nick suggests that Gatsby became rich due to illegal activities affiliated with Wolfshiem. Similarly, Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, suggests that Gatsby earned his money through bootlegging. “He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drugstores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him and I wasn’t far wrong” (Fitzgerald 141).

Gatsby, also, utilizes his possessions to win Daisy’s affection. This idea is particularly prominent with the lavish parties that Gatsby throws every weekend. “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like months among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars” (Fitzgerald 43). Gatsby’s ultimate goal in having the parties was to have Daisy attend and become impressed with what he has become. Furthermore, Gatsby utilizes the magnificence of his mansion, the extravagance of his clothing and car. Tom even notices the extravagance, “I’ll take you in this circus wagon [Gatsby’s car]” (Fitzgerald 128). Despite Gatsby’s use of wealth and possessions to achieve his dream, his moral status begins to decline.

The American Dream began to fail in Gatsby’s life with the decline of his morals. Gatsby’s character changed once he was reunited with Daisy. His qualities diminished and became more like those of Tom and Daisy. "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 188). Gatsby becomes dependent on Daisy as she became the central figure of his life. Her qualities and emotions imitated his own. Gatsby stopped thinking about all the other people and was only concerned with Daisy. We see this concern for Daisy after she has killed Myrtle. “I thought so; I told Daisy I thought so. Its better that the shock should all come at once. She stood it pretty well. He spoke as it Daisy’s reaction was the only think that mattered” (Fitzgerald 150-51). Although, Daisy was driving Gatsby’s car; he takes the blame in order to protect her. “Was Daisy driving? Yes, he said after a moment, but of course I’ll say I was” (Fitzgerald 151). In the end, Gatsby's lack of concern led to his death.

In conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel focuses on the deterioration of the American Dream due to wealth, success, and status. Gatsby’s American Dream was to be in a relationship with Daisy Buchanan. In order to fulfill this dream, he concerned himself with wealth, success, and status to please Daisy. Gatsby’s lack of concern for everything else ultimately led to his downfall and the death of the American Dream.

Works CitedBruccoli, Matthew. The Great Gatsby: Preface. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1992.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1925.

Wikipedia. “American Dream.” American Dream – Wikipedia. 2005. Wikipedia.

9 June 2005 Works ConsultedUnknown. “Character Analysis - Gatsby.” CliffsNotes: The Great Gatsby. 2005. CliffsNotes.

9 June 2005 Unknown. “The Great Gatsby Overview.” Gatsby Overview. 2000-2005. eNotes.

7 June 2005 Unknown. “The Great Gatsby Theme Analysis.” The Great Gatsby. 2005. NovelGuide.

7 June 2005