The Central Theme of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

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F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is regarded as a brilliant piece of literature that offers a vivid glimpse into American life in the 1920s, a period of perpetual sin and moral despondency. The central theme of The Great Gatsby novel is the decay of the American Dream and how it no longer signifies the noble pursuit of progress; instead, it has become grossly materialistic and corrupt. Fitzgerald utilizes the concept of the color white to establish the idea of whitewashing and corruption within the society of the 1920s. It illustrates how individuals, such as Jordan Baker, hide their decayed morals behind such a pure, white exterior to get away from the consequences of their unethical actions. “Jordan’s fingers, powdered white over their tan, rested for a moment in mine” . During this time period, it was a fashion statement to be pale, but since Jordan is a golfer, she is often out in the sun, thus making her tan. The fact that she attempts to cover up her tan skin suggests that she is trying to disguise her true self to fit in to the standards of a typical, innocent woman during the 1920s, but in reality, she is careless, judgmental, arrogant, and selfish. 

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Fitzgerald has her wear the white powder to illustrate the facade that she has created, and how beneath the fine powder, lies the result of the deception and decay in morality. Jordan is concealing her imperfect identity underneath a layer of white powder to mask the truth behind the corruption that she greatly possesses. Along the concept of inner corruption, the whiteness that is described in correlation to the lavish mansions of the East Egg district alludes to the idea of immense wealth and power that the Old Money people possess. “Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the the water… Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay” (5-6). The white exterior of their mansions represents their fake outer innocence that is trying to hide their corrupted exterior. This presents the upper class sector of the 1920s to be highly materialistic and morally deficient, as they try so hard to make their outer appearance seem perfect to fit into the superficialities of the wealthy people, that they completely forget about their ethics and virtues.

 The color represents their nobility and social class, as they are the ones who have inherited the money; they did not work as much for their wealth as much as people in the lower classes do, but they are born into a wealthy life by their name and who they associate themselves with. Their lives are luxurious due to the fact that they live in this kind of fantasy that allows them to be carefree and not worry about how to gain their money. They depend on others to fail, so they can succeed, adding on to the decay of the American Dream among the larger majority. This is shown in Tom Buchanan’s treatment of Jay Gatsby; Tom and his fellow Old Money associates see themselves as pure, looking down even on the New Money people because they, like Gatsby, make their living off criminal activities. White exemplifies how privileged the Old Money people think they are just because they have a good name and background to hide behind. 

Their characters are so demoralized to an extent where they feel that the only way to increase their social mobility even more is to find any opportunity possible to put the people below them at an even greater disadvantage. This corruption in moral character of the privileged is a leading factor in which prevents the middle and lower classes to rise up their social status. This kind of extortion in the American Dream provokes immoral demeanors that ultimately makes way for the downfall of society. As time goes by, mankind will continue to further its advancements in economics that will attempt to aid those in financial situations to climb up their social status. But the ones already at the top of the hierarchy seem to be at a great advantage point, as they are the ones with real power and more money.

 The Great Gatsby, although it was written in the past, creates an illusion for modern day individuals to see into the future and predict what would happen if these events were to repeat itself. If people continue to be at such moral deficiency as time goes on, the American Dream will no longer be attainable for all. It will continue to be selective among those of high power and wealth, but all it takes to turn the situation around is to make changes in people’s values and lead them toward certain directions that can restore their levels of egalitarianism and empathy.

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