When I was about eight years old, I wanted to be a celebrity singer. In reality, I was an awful singer. But at the time I was infatuated by the idea of the spotlight and the success that intertwines with it. The American Dream and its promise of a better life entrances people of all ages. People all across the country work towards money, fame, love and ultimately happiness. But what if the American Dream is nothing more than simply that- a dream? Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby finds himself engrossed with the idea of once again winning the affection of his former lover, Daisy. Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, a 50 year old former starlet striving to be 20 again, writes a script that she believes will jumpstart her return to the screen and all her adoring fans. Nothing, other than their biggest desire, will make either of them feel complete. However, it is slowly revealed that their one wish is unattainable. Gatsby discovers that Daisy cannot hold up to the weight of his imagined version of her and that she does not love him in the same, unrelenting way that he loves her. Norma finds that Hollywood has moved on and has already forgotten her legacy. Both characters feel they let their chance of happiness slip through their fingers, and are now grasping at nothing to bring back the past.
The American Dream is impossible to achieve, yet Jay Gatsby and Norma Desmond convince themselves otherwise- only to fail miserably. It was not that they did not give enough effort, but rather they were doomed from the start, striving towards a dream that was never accessible in the first place. The unfortunate endings of Jay Gatsby’s death and the insanity of Norma Desmond show us that the American Dream is unattainable and nothing more than an intangible mirage.
For years, Gatsby dedicated his life to repeating the past and fulfilling his dream of earning Daisy’s love again. There was no line Gatsby wasn’t willing to cross in order to win over Daisy, a fact that becomes clear once Nick discovered his criminal activity in order to acquire his immense wealth. In Gatsby’s eyes, the chemistry he once shared with Daisy could be rekindled- but this time he would have enough money to keep her happy. Gatsby was much like a spider as he weaved a careful web of stories and likely orchestrated many ‘chance’ events and encounters in order to lure Daisy, his prized fly, towards him. The endless parties and the open invitation were all planned with hopes her attendance. The first time we meet Gatsby we see him stretching his arms out across the water toward a green light that hangs by Daisy’s house. This action of reaching towards something that cannot be reached is the perfect symbol for Gatsby’s impossible objective, his American Dream.
This green light is what gives Gatsby purpose in life, but this purpose eventually becomes an obsession. Gatsby puts Daisy up on a pedestal and she eventually becomes a goddess-like being to him. Imagined qualities of her soon become his reality. But after the two are reunited, Gatsby realized that Daisy was not quite who he had believed her to be. Nick gives a voice to Gatsby’s inner disappointment as he narrates, “As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way” (101). The real Daisy cannot compete with Gatsby’s dreamed up version of her. Gatsby sees her as the perfect lady- pure, kind, and compassionate.
In reality, Daisy has many flaws and imperfections that contradict this imagined impression of her. This is Gatsby’s first taste of his failed American Dream. But Gatsby still can’t completely let go of this illusion of Daisy as he continues to pine away for a women who wouldn’t care for him even after he was dead. Gatsby’s hopes of fulfilling his dream finally shatters after he pressures Daisy into telling Tom, her husband, that she never loved him. The tension builds until Gatsby tells Tom this himself and a heated conversation pursues. Daisy becomes upset by this and Gatsby begins to babble in an effort to keep her engaged with him. “He began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave up on that and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undesparingly, toward that lost voice across the room” (142). That voice was Daisy’s, and the fact that it was across the room demonstrates the distance between Gatsby and Daisy once again. Fitzgerald himself refers to Gatsby’s dream as “dead”, and in an instant, the one thing Gatsby had truly worked for in his life was gone. This moment is especially significant because it was here that Gatsby lost Daisy’s heart and along with it his American Dream.