How does Gatsby represent the American Dream?


‘The Great Gatsby’ is a classic novel characteristic of multiple themes such as immorality, illusion, reality, order, money, material gains, as well as love. However, it is indisputable that the predominant theme centers on the American Dream and the ultimate failure of any attempts to attain the anticipated deceptive goals. Therefore, the American dream is a fundamental caption in the novel. The ‘American Dream’ refers to a national philosophy or code of the United States dating back to the 1920s as a set of ideas premised on equality, opportunity, liberty, rights, and democracy. According to the dream, freedom entails the opportunity to attain success and prosperity as well as an upward social mobility for the American society possible through hard work. James Truslow Adams summed the American Dream, as “life should be better, richer, and fuller for every person, with equal opportunity for all according to their abilities or achievements” (131). Therefore, the American Dream did cut across any form of social, economic, or political impediments. The characterization of characters such as Gatsby and Nick in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a representative portrait of the famous American Dream.

Notably, the American Dream is a representation of the attractive observation of the American society that disregards challenges such as systemic misogyny, racism, chauvinism, and disparities in income distribution. It assumes a misconception of class equality, but the reality is an entrenched class and social hierarchy (Berman 27). The 1920s was a challenging period because of the increased changing women’s roles, and high immigration rates among other issues. Besides, the nation experienced economic booms that fueled the notion that anyone was capable of being. ‘The Great Gatsby’ describes the ultra-wealthy period particularly through characters such as Gatsby in a manner that seems to predict that the displayed wealth in the 1920s. New York and other city centers were as transient as some of Gatsby’s parties. Therefore, looking at the times and the prevailing circumstances when the novel was written, it is improbable to outline an optimistic view of the American Dream (Pidgeon 178). Besides, it is most unlikely not to present a clear version of the dream depicting equality in income, gender, ethnicities, as well as other ideals wafted by the famous American Dream.

Gatsby represents the Dream in some ways particularly through his devoted pursuits to live a better life. Similar to other Americans, his dream fails to materialize because of misunderstanding the real meaning of the hyped Dream. The Dream centers on self-fulfillment and prosperity as the rewards for resilience and hard work and challenges people to have dreams that they must seek to attain in their lives. However, many interpret it differently with some striving for spiritual and political excellence whereas majorities view it as purely materialistic (Bewley 239). The interpretation of the dream as a pure materialistic pursuit largely contributed to its failure as well as the downfall of Gatsby as depicted in the novel.

Gatsby cannot be regarded to as a key compatriot of the initial establishments harboring the dream. He was born of a poor family in rural North Dakota. His dissatisfaction with poverty and the inherent limitations attributable to poverty led him to the pursuit of a better life or his dream. Dan Cody, a copper tycoon, ushers Gatsby into the hall of richness where he learns the ways of the rich people. After the end of the First World War, Gatsby returns to the prohibition in the United States but manages to make his fortune through illegal operations. His breakthrough from poverty to wealthy ranks is a pure depiction of the American dream that advocated for the rise from rags to riches. The aptitude to surpass the humble lot in life towards the achievement of a lifestyle envied by many people in the society was a core tenet of the Dream (Pidgeon 178). Jay Gatsby manages this achievement in a tremendous manner. Ironically he is neither perceived as worthy by the various people he sought to bear a resemblance to nor is he particularly happy in his life. The unattainable nature of the American Dream clearly arises at this point where the attainment of material gains does not guarantee equality in the society, similar to Gatsby’s situation.

Gatsby is a romantic dreamer, ready to fulfill his wishes in life and earn wealth as a gangster. He firmly focuses on the attainment of his dream founded on the inconsistent realities and expectations of the society. Such a perception resonates well with the nature of the American Dream in the sense that it focused on admirable results but disregarded the core values in the society (Hewitt 292). The pursuit of material gains disregarded other aspects such as political and economic equality similar to Gatsby’s dream that disregarded the core social values in the society. For instance, he undertook to love and marry Daisy. Poverty died Gatsby his dream partner Daisy who went for a more affluent man, Tom. Gatsby believed money was enough to win back Daisy from Tom and wanted to obliterate the years they had spent together. “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before. She’ll see…” (Fitzgerald 110). Gatsby’s view that love is a guarantee with enough money represents the derailing of his dream to live a happily married life. The adoption of materialism to depict love, youth, and beauty is an instance of the corrupt American Dreams whose beautiful ideals were thwarted by materialism.

Moreover, the automobile, a perfect symbol of material wealth of those times is another example of the corrupt American Dream. Many people envied the appearance of Gatsby’s automobile. “It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and super-boxes and toolboxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns” (Fitzgerald 64). The overblown car indicates the creation of wealth to fulfill the American Dream whose shift was now on personal material success. Ironically, Gatsby’s car kills Myrtle Wilson with Daisy on the wheel and indirectly leads to Gatsby’s death. Fitzgerald demonstrates through the automobile that the construction of the American Dream through materialism lenses is destructive. In reality, the destructive nature of materialism in the pursuit of the American Dream culminated in capitalism that occasioned immense economic exploitation and suffering of the vulnerable population.

Fitzgerald opines in the novel that materialism is corruption as opposed to the attainment of the American Dream. Maintaining a lifestyle founded on purely materialistic values leads to self-delusion as depicted by Gatsby’s destruction. Gatsby’s dream and the American Dream that emphasizes on the inherent goodness of nature, healthy living, romance, and vitality exist as an East dream dreamed in the west. Accordingly, the novel is both a savage criticism of the American Dream as well as its exploration too (Bewley 239). For instance, Gatsby pursues the dream of material possessions and progress after being lured by Daisy who is a mere symbol for him leading to his eventual destruction. Besides, Gatsby’s personal dream is symbolic of the American Dream that sought to accord all individuals the equal opportunity to accomplish their desires. The American dream in Gatsby’s context is not material possessions but only targets riches to attain his true dream, to win his love Daisy.

Nick also relates the American Dream narrative through the piece of his individual history by recalling on how things were. Nick intended to read great books as well as to be a man of culture in the summer when he rented the chalet adjacent to Gatsby’s house. Undisputedly, this was Nick’s innocent dream. Therefore, Nick presents a character with a dream despite the fact that the dream does not materialize in the end. He appears as an individual who is highly interested in digging into the past, to discover some truths and hence brings about the theme of time. For Nick and Gatsby the dream is unachievable since it is largely a misconceived notion, similar to the ideal American Dream. Moreover, Gatsby never really changes despite the changes in time as evident from the crowd that attended his funeral. Only his father attended the funeral depicting that his past persisted and waited in abatement as he goes to it in the end (Ornstein 141). On the other hand, does the same thing when he appears to return to the Midwest at the end of the story. Their dreams of conversion into culture and wealth attached to a future time that never came. Over the time, transformation becomes an illusion as the past ever wanted to reclaim them as suggested by Nick in the final lines of the novel.

The Great Gatsby gives a clear outline on how the society perceived wealth in the 1920s. Similarly, it gives an insightful account of the revelation and critique of the American Dream on its unattainability, as it was a fallacy. The novel centers on the manner in which people result to wealth in the pursuit of happiness, laying fundamental ideas witnessed today. Besides, it gives a clear interplay between wealth, the passage of time, and the value of dreams in human life. The characters employed by Fitzgerald indicate that hollowness and wealth of the higher social classes induce a false, misleading conception of the American Dream.

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  1. Adams, James, Truslow. The epic of America. Transaction Publishers, 1932.
  2. Berman, Ronald. The Great Gatsby and Modern Times. University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  3. Bewley, Marius. “Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America.” The Sewanee Review 62. 2 (1954): 223-246.
  4. Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925.
  5. Hewitt, Douglas. “The Great Gatsby.” The Review of English Studies 44.174 (1993): 291-293.
  6. Ornstein, Robert. “Scott Fitzgerald’s Fable of East and West.” College English 18. 3 (1956): 139-143.
  7. Pidgeon, John. “The Great Gatsby.” Modern Age 49.2 (2007): 178.
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