With the story unfolding out in the vein of a Greek tragedy, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, with his quintessential work The Great Gatsby, has created a novel that destroys the illusion of the American Dream – a dream of money, wealth, prosperity, and happiness. The American Dream is shown to be a tragedy, an achievable goal that was a catalyst to the ruining of dreams and dashing of hopes, best represented by the turmoil and dealings of the book’s protagonist, Jay Gatsby.
Fitzgerald illustrates the American Dream and the “foul dust” or the carelessness of a society that floats in the wake of this dream. A society on a rush to nowhere and one that lacked the substance that the founding fathers visioned would be the basis for their America.
That substance was a strong sense of morality. The novel is an illustration of American society in the 1920’s (which Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age) and the associated beliefs, values and dreams of the population at that time.
These dreams, values and beliefs were a creation of the booming economy and get-rich-quick schemes that formed the essential underworld of American upper-class society. This underworld permeated the highest stratum of society and created a moral vacuum, with its epicentre located in the East, an area Fitzgerald described as the Valley of Ashes.
The crazy extravagance of Gatsby’s parties, the aimlessness and shallowness of the guests, and the indication of Gatsby’s connection in the bootlegging business all represent the period and the American setting.The transformation between James Gatz and Jay Gatsby is an example of how people can transform themselves according to their ambition for wealth and prosperity as well as their inability to distinguish where reality end and illusion begin. The use of illegal activities to gain Gatsby’s wealth shows the extent of how the American Dream avoid the moral revulsion and pushed people who were crazy about money into crime – driving the moral standing of wealthier citizens into the ground.To Gatsby, his dream was symbolised by Daisy; Gatsby even says that “her voice sounds like money”, a direct correlation between Daisy and the wealth and happiness that Gatsby would supposedly enjoy if only he could have married Daisy but could still enjoy if he had married her five years later.
His frenetic pursuit of happiness with Daisy was the ultimate cause of the degradation of Gatsby’s morals and realistic dreams. This is because he held an unrealistic view of life and how he could recreate the past.His dreams had distorted reality to the point where when his rationality realised that the image of life and of Daisy did not coincide with the real life version his mind did not grasp that perhaps the dream had receded to the point of no return, consequently his dreams helped to result in the devastating end that was the finish of The Great Gatsby. Despite all the shortcomings that are associated with the pursuit of the American Dream, Fitzgerald stresses the need for hope and dreams to give meaning and purpose to man’s efforts.
Striving towards some ideal is the way by which man can feel a sense of involvement, a sense of his own identity. Certainly, Gatsby, with ‘his extraordinary gift of hope’, set against the empty and vacuous existence of Tom and Daisy, seems to achieve an almost valiant greatness. Fitzgerald goes on to state that the failure of hopes and dreams, the failure of the American Dream itself, is unavoidable, not only because reality cannot keep up with ideals, but also because the ideals are in any case usually too fantastic to be realised. It is in this, that the American Dream is a tragedy as well as an illusion.
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