How far does The Great Gatsby demonstrate view of the American Dream?

The American Dream is often portrayed in literature as the pursuit of ultimate happiness with regard to life and employment. The stereotypical protagonist of an early-twentieth century American novel is self-reliant and a hard worker, seeking to make a successful living through motivation and perseverance.

Jay Gatsby himself has pursued this dream and is a success story in terms of wealth, though the novel may be viewed as an exploration of the corrupted ideal that the American Dream became in the 1920’s when people with newly acquired wealth sought to flaunt what they owned. It is largely the owned wealth in the novel that is presented as an ideal; social values and morality are shown as corrupt and indeed unimportant alongside material prosperity.Nick narrates in Chapter One, “I decided to go east and learn the bond business,” and presents a stark contrast between his small new house and those on either side that ‘rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season’. This affirms the importance of wealth from Nick’s perception and equally from that of the other inhabitants of West Egg.

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They are the newly rich, who have worked hard and earned their money in a relatively short period of time – their wealth is based solely upon material possessions. Trask (1970) suggested, “Americans easily assumed that spiritual satisfaction would automatically accompany material success.” Gatsby’s false belief is perpetual that he can win Daisy’s heart by having parties in attempts to match the prosperity of East Egg and showing her his possessions, especially the assorted shirts. However, he gives little thought to values such as honesty and modesty, which are obscured by wealth as a result of him expecting them to be synonymous with this lifestyle – his expectation is that they will form passively without intervention.

A division in traditions between East Egg and West Egg is maintained. Tom and Daisy are part of a society that thrives largely on inherited wealth and as such, their lifestyle appears more relaxed and careless. Daisy’s speech in Chapter One – “What do people plan?” could be viewed as exasperation and more importantly, evidence that she has a spiritual hollowness. The couch is described as ‘the only completely stationary object in the room’ and yet is the object that the women are seated on, suggesting that their lives are deficient in a sense of direction.

Despite Gatsby’s wealth being due to bootlegging, there is encouragement to question the morality of such a life without a need to earn a living: Daisy takes the wealth for granted, yet tells Nick that she wept upon learning that her child was a girl. In this way, society is presented as being lacking of social values, for material wealth has preceded the importance of human life. Moreover, the couple fail to report any involvement in Myrtle’s death to the police, simply moving to a different home. Nick later refers to them as ‘careless people’, which in itself is best viewed as an understatement with respect to the fact that Daisy’s driving caused a fatal accident.

Tom’s affair with Myrtle leads to the presentation of him being personally corrupted, in contrast with the corruption in terms of Gatsby’s business. Despite being married and holding great wealth, he sustains their relationship without even being overly cautious to conceal it from Daisy, who in turn finds Tom’s disloyalty of little concern. This undermines the importance of a happy, stable marriage in the eyes of the characters and society itself. Fitzgerald provides a social commentary when detailing the affair; Tom even breaks Myrtle’s nose with a ‘short, deft movement’.

He is careless of her admiration of the dogs at the station and even manipulates George Wilson to ensure it remains simple for him to visit her. Likewise, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy cannot be considered ‘ideal’, for it is adulterous and therefore morally flawed. This indifference, which is felt by the characters who indulge in love affairs, is highly representative of the fact that social values in this society have not been sustained.It is Gatsby’s unfailing loyalty to the American Dream that significantly assists in presenting the decay of social values, though in keeping with the rest of the novel, he is blinded to the shortcomings.

In Chapter Nine, Mr Gatz shows Nick an old book that lists James Gatz’s daily schedule. Fitzgerald is illustrating that he was following what he observed to be a formula to financial success, and Gatsby never deserted his persistence, or his beliefs in what was yet to come. There is an important distinction between the expected ideal and the end result in the Jay Gatsby era, the latter lacking the social values, which would allow him the happiness he had wished for. Conversely, the image of Doctor T.

J. Eckleburg in the Valley of Ashes represents to the achieved ideal that is perceived by society. It is conveniently placed between West Egg and New York, making it unavoidable and the stare of the eyes is described as ‘persistent’; ‘Ashes’ in itself has connotations of decay. It is implied that this image of commercialism has replaced any form of deity in society and is just a fa�ade, thus allowing social corruption to flourish.

Fitzgerald also presents the social pursuits of the characters in the novel as corrupted. A multitude of guests arrive at Gatsby’s parties and are similar to celebrities, though concerned with business and politics. Names such as the humorous ‘Rotgut Ferret’ are used to illustrate that it is possible for a diversity of characters to follow a dream and be successful in the eyes of society – to this end it could be argued that the American Dream does fulfil its promise. However, it becomes clear that many of Gatsby’s acquaintances, like himself, are criminals who have made money by bootlegging alcohol during this Prohibition Era.

The imagery of an ideal in references to ‘young girls’ and ‘cocktails’ is contrasted with the fact that the entertainment has been brought about illegally. Fitzgerald suggests that since Gatsby has funded the celebrations immorally, this drawback will be reflected in their outcome – ultimately, they do not win Daisy’s heart for him.The end result of pursuing the American Dream in the novel cannot be viewed in one respect as a complete failure, for the characters clearly achieve the physical wealth that they longed for. However, Gatsby, a classic example of financial success, has not achieved in any way the ideal life which he worked towards, for the importance of Daisy to him ultimately transcends that of any physical wealth.

The American Dream has greatly decayed social values to such an extent that it has not merely ‘contributed’ to this change, but seemingly removed the concept of such values altogether from society. Most importantly, Gatsby has omitted to include in his dream the retaining of social values from the very beginning – it is, to him, an erroneous belief that they are passively incorporated into the perceived ideal that is physical wealth.

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How far does The Great Gatsby demonstrate view of the American Dream?. (2017, Aug 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/how-far-does-the-great-gatsby-demonstrate-view-of-the-american-dream/