The Corruption of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby

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Fitzgerald depicts in The Great Gatsby how the yearning for wealth and materialism prompts the deterioration and degradation of the American Dream. Each person has a distinct understanding of what the American Dream encompasses; nonetheless, it generally revolves around notions of independence, liberty, and an aspiration for something more substantial. The traditional aspirations of making money and forming a family slowly transformed into a materialistic ideal of owning a lavish home, a fancy automobile, and a tranquil existence. Numerous individuals perceive costly possessions as a measure of tremendous achievement.

Jay Gatsby, a character in the novel, is a self-made man who acquires his wealth through illicit methods. He fills his life with extravagant possessions, hoping to win the love of Daisy Buchanan. Michael Sandel argues that genuine friendship cannot be bought. He asserts that the money used to purchase friendship ultimately weakens or transforms it into something else (Sandel 94). Nevertheless, Gatsby manages to create that “something else.” He forms a corrupted relationship with Daisy, driven by her greed and attraction to materialism.

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The desires of the characters in The Great Gatsby are easily corrupted as they strive for wealth, social status, and material goods. The American Dream represents a vision of a fulfilling life. Sandel argues that in such a life, people from all social classes would interact and unite for the greater good (203). However, Fitzgerald’s novel depicts a different reality. The depiction of East Egg, West Egg, and the valley of ashes highlights the division between classes. Those from East Egg hold the highest position in society, while those from West Egg struggle to reach their level.

In the “valley of ashes,” a desolate area, the working-class resides without any sense of unity or shared purpose. Each individual selfishly pursues their personal aspirations, fueled by their own vision of a prosperous life and their version of the American dream. Gatsby’s dream is shaped by Daisy, whom he met during his military service. To him, she embodies everything he yearns for; he even describes her voice as being filled with wealth (120). Gatsby becomes entirely consumed by his desire to win her love.

Upon initial observation, Gatsby may not appear to be an immoral individual, but upon closer examination, his true nature emerges. He employs corrupt and unethical methods to amass his wealth, taking advantage of the prohibition era to engage in the illicit sale of alcohol on the black market. Sandel would classify this as a market transaction. However, Sandel might argue that Gatsby is compelled to resort to bootlegging due to his overwhelming desperation for Daisy. He is willing to go to any lengths, even if it means breaking the law, in order to acquire the wealth necessary to impress her. Despite Daisy’s initial facade of sweetness and kindness, she undeniably possesses a cold-hearted and self-centered disposition.

This passage highlights the detrimental effects of immense wealth. Daisy, a calculating individual, evaluates every decision based on its financial and reputational implications. Her heedlessness and indifference lead to Gatsby’s demise, as she displays no regard for his involvement in Myrtle Wilson’s accidental death. Although she engages in an extramarital affair, she never intended to leave her spouse due to Gatsby’s inferior social standing. Upon discovering Gatsby’s questionable past, Daisy swiftly returns to the embrace of her equally self-centered and morally corrupt husband.

The marriage of Daisy and Tom reveals their corruption of the American dream. Despite their membership in a privileged social group and their immense wealth, they experience unhappiness. Tom is initially characterized as someone who achieved exceptional success at a young age, resulting in everything else being underwhelming. Both Tom and Daisy are dissatisfied with their lives and yearn for something more fulfilling. They have embarked on journeys to France and aimlessly moved around, seeking contentment in places where wealthy individuals engage in polo. Ultimately, they feel unhappy and uninspired by life.

Tom appears to be in search of excitement and finds it by being unfaithful to his wife with Myrtle. Despite the lies and infidelities within their marriage, the Buchanans are united through their corruption. Following the discovery of Daisy’s affair and Myrtle’s death, Tom and Daisy display their selfishness by reuniting over a meal of fried chicken and two bottles of ale (Fitzgerald 145). Neither Tom nor Daisy show any remorse after Myrtle and Gatsby’s deaths; instead, they go on a brief vacation, demonstrating their lack of compassion towards others. Nick perceives Tom and Daisy as heartless and careless, as they destroy things and living beings and retreat into their wealth without taking responsibility for the mess they create (Fitzgerald 179). These actions by Tom and Daisy reveal the immoral and corrupting effects that wealth can have on individuals. Their focus on appearance and material possessions leads them to disregard the emotions and lives of others. Sandel argues that markets now dominate our lives more than ever before, emphasizing the role of market values in shaping our society (5).

Despite being set in the 1920s, it appears that in Fitzgerald’s novel, market values wielded a significant influence over the characters’ lives just as they do in American society today, if not more. Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom all become corrupted by their insatiable desire for wealth and power, forsaking their moral compasses in their relentless pursuit of the American Dream. The individuals residing in the Eggs epitomize the corruption spawned by materialism and their careless nature. Moreover, Gatsby finds himself surrounded by ample evidence of the misery that “success” can entail, particularly through the actions of Tom and Daisy.

In The Great Gatsby, a marriage constructed on dishonesty and deception is depicted. Both spouses aspire for a life that surpasses their present American Dreams. Gatsby’s unwavering pursuit of his goals prevents him from recognizing that love and joy cannot be acquired solely through wealth; in truth, riches frequently result in moral deterioration. By way of its storyline, The Great Gatsby presents a strong criticism of a materialistic society, unveiling the adverse impact it has on individuals’ comprehension of the American Dream.

Works Cited

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was printed in 2004 by Scribner, and What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel was published in 2012 by Farrar, both in New York.

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The Corruption of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby. (2016, Dec 30). Retrieved from

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