The Failure of the American Dream Through The Great Gatsby Novel

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Throughout American history, the West has been seen as a land of promise and possibility; the very emblem of American ideals. The American dream is the belief that every US citizen has an equal opportunity to achieve prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. America has been seen as a land that promises its citizens the potential for unlimited advancement; regardless of social status. However, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not optimistic about the capitalist boom of the 1920s and believed that the country was still split into classes. The attempt to capture the American Dream is the central theme of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby appears to have achieved the American Dream due to his achievement of moving from a lower-class background into the highest echelons of New York society. The novel explores the validity of the American Dream through Gatsby’s life and his achievement of wealth. The Great Gatsby, by F.Scott Fitzgerald, uses Gatsby's life as a metaphor for the American dream through his struggles to attain affluence, the emblematic green light, and Daisy.

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Aware of his poverty, young Gatsby develops an obsession with amassing wealth and status. Gatsby comes from humble roots and rises to be notoriously wealthy. Gatsby’s life is the typical rags to riches story and his accumulation of wealth is the American dream. “After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock.”  For numerous years, Gatsby has been attempting to contact and impress Daisy with his immense wealth. The quote reveals Gatsby’s genuine emotions, rather than his carefully-constructed persona. Nick finds these emotions pleasing, though there is also the sense that this love could swiftly fall apart and gently foreshadows the escalating tensions that lead to the novel's tragic climax. ' I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.'  The scene coveys Daisy’s feelings for Gatsby and how touched she is at the lengths he went through to win her back. However, Gatsby discounts the important distinction between wealth and class. Through his illegal activities, Gatsby has acquired great wealth, but is still shut out by those born into wealth. Although he appears to have achieved the American Dream, he illustrates the hollowness of the American Dream, as he still is unable to attain Daisy (who represents a traditional elite background). Tom consistently mocks Gatsby for his humble beginnings, calling him a “common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger” . Even though Gatsby seems to have as much money as they do, he lacks their sense of social nuance and easy, aristocratic grace. This implies that the American Dream is ultimately unfulfilling, despite the illusion of social mobility, people from the lower classes will never be fully accepted by those who were born into wealth. Gatsby adopts the catchphrase, “old sport” in order build his image as a man from “old money”, which is related to his frequent insistence that he is “an Oxford man”. Both Jordan Baker and Tom Buchanan are immediately skeptical of Gatsby’s his claim of being an Oxford man, indicating that it is difficult to pass yourself off as “old money”. The connection of Gatsby’s dream to the pursuit of material success reflect the coarse combination of pioneer individualism and uninhibited materialism that Fitzgerald perceived as dominating 1920s American life.

The most memorable image is the green light that Gatsby observes every night. Traditionally, the color green is associated with money. The green light symbolizes the success, past, and wealth that Gatsby believes will enable him to reunite with Daisy. “The Buchanan's' mansion is directly across the bay from Gatsby's mansion, Gatsby can always see the green light. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness”. The inaccessibility of the green light is an important element of its symbolism. The green light is forever just out of reach, but forever motivates feats of improbable achievement. Evidently, the green light symbolizes his unwavering love for Daisy. However, Nick only seems to be able to see the light when Gatsby is reaching out towards it, as soon as Gatsby disappears, Nick is in “darkness”, even if the light never turns off. Furthermore, the green light represents the type of money that is available to someone like Gatsby who is willing to do anything to attain it, while the inherited wealth of Daisy and Tom (linked to their class status) remains out of reach. “Gatsby believed in the green light—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. These words reflect on the significance of the past to dreams of the future. The past functions as the source of people’s ideas about the future (epitomized by Gatsby’s desire to re-create his love with Daisy) and struggle to transform their dreams into reality. They will expend all of their energy in pursuit of a goal that continues to move farther away. This apt metaphor characterizes both Gatsby’s struggle and the American dream itself.

Gatsby is in pursuit of the American Dream, which is personified by Daisy. Similarly, as the American dream has degenerated into a quest for mere wealth, Gatsby’s dream of happiness with Daisy has become the motivation for lavish excesses and criminal activities. Nick identifies Daisy’s aura of wealth and privilege as a central component of Gatsby’s attraction to her. However, it becomes clear that the two are intertwined in Gatsby’s mind. “Her voice is full of money” . Gatsby ties his love for Daisy to his pursuit of wealth and status. Gatsby continues to function as a symbol of America in the 1920s, which Fitzgerald implies, has become vulgar and empty due to the subjection and greedy pursuit of money. 'Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!'. Gatsby’s tragic flaw is his inability to wake up from his dream of the past and accept reality. 'I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before,' he said, nodding determinedly. She'll see.' His obsession with recapturing his past relationship with Daisy compels him to a life of crime and deceit. Gatsby invests Daisy with an idealistic perfection that she cannot possibly attain and has made her a symbol of everything he values. If Gatsby had not imbued her with such value, Daisy would simply be a rich young woman with no particular moral strength or loyalty. 'Your wife doesn't love you. She's never loved you... She loves me.' This is the moment Gatsby risks everything to win over Daisy. Gatsby’s confident insistence that Daisy has only ever loved Tom feels desperate. His insistence that Daisy never loved Tom reveals his reluctance to acknowledge the possibility that Daisy could have changed or loved anyone else since they were together. This declaration creates an image of an overly optimistic naïve person. Gatsby’s happiness undoubtedly depends on Daisy, as she can be identified as Gatsby’s American dream. Gatsby’s huge dreams are all precariously wedded to Daisy. Nevertheless, Daisy is flawed and unable to embody the fantasy Gatsby projects onto her. Consequently, this implies that the American Dream itself is only a fantasy.

The Great Gatsby describes the failure of the American dream and questions the idea that all things are possible if one simply tries hard enough. The novel’s title, The Great Gatsby, is similar to the title for a performer, subtly emphasizing the theatrical and perhaps illusory quality of Gatsby’s life. Gatsby obsessively stares at the light at the end of Daisy’s dock, dreaming of reuniting with her. He is the one who reaches his hands towards it, showing us that it is a symbolic representation of his dreams that are always just out of reach. The American Dream is as unattainable as the green light at the end of the dock, which is evidenced by the aftermath of the car crash that serves as the climax of the novel. As a result of the crash, the three characters from lower class backgrounds  die, while the upper class characters  survive. Tom and Daisy, who were born into privilege, remain insulated from the negative consequences of their actions. Fitzgerald’s critique of the American Dream reaches its apex, as he implies that although working-class people can circulate among the upper classes, they will be expendable while the upper classes will maintain their own dominance. Daisy is the representation of Gatsby’s ultimate goal, but at the same time, her life is the opposite of the American Dream (being born with money and privilege). Gatsby blinds himself from the reality that Daisy would never desert her own class and background to be with him. The Great Gatsby is a harsh meditation on the American dream and uses Gatsby’s life to investigate the idea that people reach towards dreams that are unattainable. 

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