The novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald examines the American dream through the perspectives, personalities and actions of the characters. Through the characters and elements of setting and writing style the novel concludes the dream as one of extreme disillusion.
Firstly, through the central character of the novel Fitzgerald is able to explore the American Dream and its nature of disillusion and false hope. Jay Gatsby is a character who is depicted through two conflicting personalities. He is at first displayed as an ambiguous mysterious person who may be involved with criminal associations, through his relationship with Meyer Wolfshiem who is a shady character with underground business connections. His materialistic parties displayed vulgar wealth attracting people with worthless socialites. However Gatsby’s aspiring ambition was not to indulge in these social events, instead to show his love Daisy that he could provide for her like her husband Tom Buchanan could. This shade of Gatsby’s character, of a man pursuing blind love, depicts the American Dream as he realizes the opportunity to turn back time and once again be with Daisy. This personal strife limited only by his imagination is the essence of the American dream. Using this character Fitzgerald also displays the tragedy of the American Dream through the tragedy that befell Gatsby, for example
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‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us’. Gatsby was blinded by his love and was ignorant to believe time could change, as the current created by life is too strong to strive against and reach the past. This love blinded him to reality and in turn leads to his aggressive death. This tragedy greatly depicts the American Dream as an unobtainable dream which creates false hope to those who are striving for there life goals, being the disillusion created by the dream.
The disillusion created by American Dream is again explored through Daisy Buchanan. To Gatsby, Daisy represented the epitome of perfection she possessed the aura of charm, wealth, sophistication, grace, and aristocracy that he longed for as a child in North Dakota and that first attracted him to her. Nick observes that Daisy could not fulfill Gatsby’s ideals. Although she is beautiful and charming, she is dull and ignorant, for example she hoped her child would become a fool ‘that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’. This comment is typical of a shallow person. However we see her true character emerge ultimately with her decision to retreat with her husband Tom and hide behind their immense wealth. She leaves Gatsby with the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson even though she was driving the car and does not even attend Gatsby’s funeral. Instead she moves away with Tom without leaving a forward address. Fitzgerald creates the disillusionment of the dream through Daisy by depicting her with amoral values as a typical aristocratic member of East Egg of the 1920’s. We discover that Daisy does not truly love Gatsby, although she occasionally seems sincere, she is attracted by wealth, comfort and material luxury and possessions.
Through Tom Buchanan we can again see the negative qualities and actions which corrupt and destroy the American Dream. While the dream is described as a strive to succeed in life and the journey encompassed within it, Tom is born into a very wealthy aristocratic family. Therefore it is no surprise that Tom is remarkably self-centered and desires to control and influence others. He leads a life opposite to that of the American dream as he cheats on Daisy with woman such as Myrtle, which appeared to be a material relationship. However, Nick observed tears flowing from Toms face and Tom also claimed that closing the apartment in New York was a painful experience for him. These occasions display that he does posses some human qualities. On the other hand, Tom’s craving for power (in the form of knowledge) seeks to destroy Gatsby, by researching the past business life of Gatsby. This is in an effort to expose the truth to Daisy. Tom also has theories of white superiority which conflicts which the American dream as all men are qualified for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This concludes to a large extent the misconception and disillusion of the American Dream.
Jordan Baker is a prime example of the great disillusion of the American Dream created in this novel. She is a realist who cheats in order to win and uses people and events to her advantage by twisting the truth. Along with Daisy and Tom she is self centered representing a typical woman of the 1920’s with her hollow and empty nature as a human being. Jordan, Tom and Daisy have acquired wealth however in the process have adopted ideals which corrupt the Dream into one of material possession and bare goals. This optimizes the disillusion displayed in the novel to a large extent as the qualities possessed by these characters contradict the nature of the American Dream.
The American Dream is also examined through the setting used in the novel. Setting such as Long island and the valley of the ashes again explores the conclusion of great disillusion in the American Dream. East and West egg are two headlands within Long Island, however there are clear divisions and differences. East Egg is the symbol for aristocratic old wealth, while West Egg symbolizes for the new wealth acquired by questionable means. This distinct division according to the American Dream should not exist as each person has the right to strive for their own success, and above all that all men are equal. This social distinction and segregation opposes the American Dream therefore to a great extent concludes the disillusion of the dream.
The setting of the Valley of Ashes also greatly examines the destruction of the dream. This waste ground separates Long Island and New York, therefore many characters pass through. This valley is symbolic of the reality emptiness created by the pursuit of material prosperity and action. This emptiness is an unavoidable consequence of surrendering ones soul for material reasons. This immensely displays the American Dream as one of disillusion.
The great extent of Disillusion concluded by the novel is evident in the last paragraphs of the novel where Nick Carraway reflects on the first thoughts that the Dutch sailors experienced. Nick describes these thoughts of a “fresh, green breast of the new world…greatest of all human dream..’ This explores the idea that for ‘ a..transitory enchanted moment man must of have held his breath…face to face for the last time in history…to his capacity for wonder’. This idea of America being the last chance for man to implement great new initiatives, to create a better world is also lost as the moment experienced by the sailors is lost forever in the current of time and corruption of the dream.
In summary, The Great Gatsby examines the American Dream through a variety of characters and settings which conclude to a large extent the disillusion created by society.