The American Dream in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…” (Fitzgerald 9). These words were written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the last part of his novel “The Great Gatsby.” In this quote, Fitzgerald described the American dream as a “green light” which people constantly hoped to achieve.
Through the years, the pursuit of this dream and its consequences remained the same. It was the novel “The Great Gatsby” which exemplified that decline of the American dream that still occurs at present.
The novel, narrated by the character named Nick Carraway, was essentially about the decline of the American dream. This dream, which was described in the novel as the “last and greatest of all human dreams,” was reduced to the fixation over wealth and material possessions (Fitzgerald 9).
People were overwhelmed with greed and the pursuit of pleasure, living a life of decadence and immorality. The corruption of the “green light” began with the 1920s, the time period in which the story was set.
The characters in the novel reflect how immoral society became in the 1920s as a result of the corruption of the American dream. Tom and Daisy Buchanan were part of the old aristocracy who lived in the East Egg. Tom was married to Daisy, but had kept Myrtle Wilson as a mistress (Fitzgerald 2). He was abusive, as he broke Myrtle’s nose when she chanted his wife’s name. Daisy was no better than her husband. After reuniting with Jay Gatsby, she became impressed with his wealth and soon started an affair with him. Later on in the novel, Daisy ran over Myrtle when she was driving Gatsby’s car. She did not claim any responsibility for the crime and Tom made Gatsby pay for Myrtle’s death. By the time of Gatsby’s death, the Buchanans had left their home. Fitzgerald wrote about the couple, “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (9).
However, the character that most defined the decline of the American dream was Jay Gatsby. The title character of the novel had wanted only one thing: Daisy. Jordan Baker narrated to Nick that Jay had been in love with Daisy since his days in the army (Fitzgerald 4). However, she ended up marrying Tom. Her marriage did not dampen Gatsby’s desire to win her back. In the end of the first chapter of the novel, Nick first saw Gatsby in the latter’s lawn, reaching his arms out to the green light (Fitzgerald 1). The green light came from Daisy’s dock, and he sought to touch it. Gatsby was determined to win back Daisy, and her love became his ultimate dream.
This was when the corruption of the dream began. For Gatsby to win back Daisy, he had to become wealthy and successful. At seventeen, James Gatz encountered a rich man named Dan Cody who showed him the life of the wealthy. In Cody’s yacht, Gatz’s ambition of wealth and prosperity developed. He even changed his name to Jay Gatsby. However, Gatsby had to resort to illegal activities to fuel that ambition. Daisy came from the wealthy people of the East Egg. Gatsby knew he had to be rich to become Daisy’s equal in social status. He really gained his wealth from his participation in the bootlegging business, though he claimed that he was involved in the oil and drug businesses (Fitzgerald 5-6). With such an immense fortune, Gatsby was able to live in a mansion, own expensive cars and throw lavish parties with overflowing liquor. He sought to impress Daisy with his wealth, and he succeeded. They soon rekindled their romance.
Unfortunately, the dream Gatsby thought had come true vanished immediately. His wealth and material possessions was not enough to keep Daisy on his side. She decided to stay with her unfaithful husband, and was nowhere to be found when Gatsby was killed. Gatsby’s efforts proved to be futile; he did not get Daisy back for good and his attempts eventually led to his demise. Gatsby’s dream was a chance to love Daisy again and he was able to hold on to her for awhile. However, Daisy had been affected by the decadence of her time and had proved to be lacking in value. In the end, Gatsby’s dream was lost because it had ceased to be valuable upon fulfillment.
The problem with the American dream was that in the process of its fulfillment, it becomes corrupted and it loses its original value. Money became the sole priority in the 1920s, and its acquisition undermined moral values. Society was defined by the extravagant and excessive lifestyles of its people, as reflected in the characters in the novel. On the contrary, money was never the object of the real American dream. The American dream failed to be the noble destination that it truly was; instead, it was rendered to be a goal which encouraged materialism, moral decay and the insatiable love of wealth. Due to this misrepresentation, the dream itself had become invaluable.
At present, the same problem still exists for those who seek to reach the American dream. The best example of the corruption of the American dream is the celebrity culture in Hollywood. There are so many individuals who struggle to make a name for themselves in show business, either as actors or musicians. All of them hope for a break to present them the opportunity to become successful thespians or musical artists. They were all hoping for the American dream, for the “green light” that Fitzgerald written about. The moment they do become successful, everything changes. What began as a sincere wish for success is soon clouded by the trappings of fame. The famous people become preoccupied with making a fortune, driving fast cars, living in several mansions throughout the country, and going to parties. Again, the dream is corrupted and has since lost its meaning. Hence, from the 1920s to the present, there are no significant changes in the journey towards the American dream.
Despite the corruption and the excess that comes with the American dream, there are still many people who are in pursuit of it. There are still a significant number of people who have embraced the notion of the “green light” and have dedicated their lives for its fulfillment. For instance, people all over the world have this desire to live in America. People of different countries and languages have also adopted the American dream as an ambition. This is the reason why thousands of people migrate to the United States of America, as they saw immigration as a means to this dream. As was indicated in the opening quote of this essay, the American dream had eluded many people. Nonetheless, this elusiveness did not become a hindrance to those who want to achieve it. The statement “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther” only meant that people will continue pursuing this dream (Fitzgerald 9). The foreigners will proceed forward with their ambition to live in America for their dreams to come true.
There had been no significant changes with regards to the American dream from the 1920s up to the present. Throughout history, the American dream had been corrupted enough to lose its value when one achieves it. The best example is found in the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel mirrored the decadent 1920s, where the American dream became characterized by fame and fortune. The novel introduced the American dream as a “green light” which people reached out to touch. The character of Jay Gatsby has revealed the repercussions of living for an object which has no value. The American dream has meaning in itself, but it becomes invaluable due to corruption. However, the times have not changed the appeal of the elusive American dream to the people. There are still many individuals who live in pursuit of this dream in present society. The fulfillment of the American dream may seem to be a remarkable achievement, but once the dream is tainted in the hands of the seeker, it would eventually lose all value.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1 Jun 2007. University of Adelaide Library. 10 Feb. 2009 <http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/gatsby/index.html>.
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