F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Comment on the American Dream in The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Comment on the American Dream in The Great Gatsby The American Dream can be perceived in a multitude of ways depending on one’s view of wealth; in the 1920’s, wealth meant nothing but how much material you could afford. F. Scott Fitzgerald comments on the change of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby through symbols and the actions of people in the newly developed society of the roaring twenties. The introduction of paying with credit in the booming economy and the new material products changed the American Dream from its original meaning to an unquestionably corrupted version.
The change in the American Dream caused the values and priorities of the people to morph into greed and materialism. Fitzgerald shows the characteristics of the new American Dream through symbols and characters. He despised what the American Dream had become when he wrote The Great Gatsby and withheld no judgement in his writing. The 1920’s were a time when a lot of new material things were available to buy. With newly introduced credit and the stock market rising, more people could afford the newly developed products which ultimately caused the American Dream to become corrupted.
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The original American Dream was the idea that anyone and everyone has the ability to live a good life within their potential if they work for it. In the 1920’s, the ability to pay with money that you did not physically have meant that people who would not have been able to buy something such as a new stereo, were now able to. The American Dream was changed from a comfortable life to a life filled with excessive amounts of stuff that was not necessary.. When the affair between Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson is introduced Tom visits the apartment that Tom bought for him and Myrtle in the city.
The apartment is described as “crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture” (Fitzgerald 29). Tom already has an enormous house filled with extravagant things and because he feels the need to buy and furnish an apartment for him and his mistress to share, it shows the need to have unnecessary amounts of stuff. Whoever had the greatest amount of the most expensive things was the person that was living the American Dream. This is what Fitzgerald loathed about the change in the American Dream. The introduction of being able to buy more with credit changed the values and priorities of the people living in the 1920’s.
The people’s change of values in the 1920’s is expressed through the characters and their actions that Fitzgerald includes in the novel. Namely, the car crash that happens after one of Gatsby’s parties shows the demoralization of society’s priorities. When the driver gets out of the vehicle, he is “blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns” (54). Instead of getting out of their cars and making sure the people involved are not injured like a civilized group would have, bystanders are impatiently honking their horns.
In this instance, the priorities have changed to material items such as cars and selfish actions being more important than the well-being of other people. Describing the next morning Fitzgerald writes, “On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages along shore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn” (61). Previously on a Sunday morning, the townspeople would be going to church but with their new set of values, they are returning to the party house to begin their antics again.
The values changed from morality and doing what is right to indulgence and ignoring their responsibilities. The destruction of the American dream is a result of the changes in society that Fitzgerald shows through several symbols. The symbols that Fitzgerald uses in the Great Gatsby show the corruption that he despises so strongly about the American dream. The Valley of Ashes is described as “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat… where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke… of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (23).
The valley is described in the same way something decrepit and forgotten would be described. It represents the loss of the society and its morals that they once lived by. Additionally, Fitzgerald’s character names symbolize the corruption of society.. Owl Eyes and Wolfsheim named after owls and wolves, wild animals that are not associated with civilization, to further show the loss of it. Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s life to represent the new American dream and how unreachable it is. Gatsby leaves his family behind and got involved in illegal businesses to live a wildly luxurious lifestyle to impress a girl that will never love him.
His dream becomes so unrealistic and unreachable that even though Gatsby devotes his entire life to achieving the dream, he ends up dying alone. Myrtle was an additional casualty in the novel. She strived for the American Dream; she wanted so desperately to live the opposite kind of life that she had with her husband. She wanted the kind of life she had with Tom. Before her death, Myrtle ran towards a car she thought tom was driving (symbolically she was running towards the American Dream) but instead of finding what she was looking for she was brutally killed.
The American dream had become so unreachable to everyone, no matter how hard you worked, The amount of material things, including “fake” money, that were introduced in the 1920’s changed the American dream of living a life of comfortably providing for themselves instead of needing senseless luxury to have a good life. The values and priorities of greatest importance to people changed as the American Dream changed. Through the symbols and negative actions of the people that Fitzgerald uses in his writing of the Great Gatsby, he shows us that the dream he probably once aspired to complete became one he despised.