The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest novels that present a pessimistic evaluation of the American Dream. Scot Fitzgerald, the author of the book, personifies the American Dream using the life of Jay Gatsby, who targets becoming wealthy, famous and prosperous. However, Gatsby is rejected and finally gets killed. The American Dream ends in tragedy where it breaks down completely.
Using Gatsby’s life, the author critiques the idea that any person can grow from poverty to success by mere hard work because of class-hierarchy and social evils like corruption and racism. In this post, we will take a closer look at how Fitzgerald brings out this theme and evaluate some of the main quotes from the novel.
A Brief Look into the American Dream
Before we can delve deeper into the American Dream in the Great Gatsby, let us take a step back and understand what it is. So, what exactly is “the American Dream?”
American Dream is a set of ideals (rights, democracy, opportunity, equality, and liberty) where freedoms incorporate the opportunity to become prosperous via hard work. It is, therefore, a pretty straightforward view of the society but ignores inherent issues such as nepotism, racism, xenophobia, and tax avoidance. Further, the dream also avoids the reality of the well-known class hierarchy in the US.
This novel was published in 1925 when the notion of “working hard” in pursuits of wealth and better life took the center stage. But as Fitzgerald indicated, the American Dream ideology was a bubble. Indeed, it burst four years later during the Great Depression. And through an ironic presentation, the Great Gatsby American Dream further indicates that even the wealth in top cities was equally short-lived.
A Closer Look at the American Dream in the Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald presents the American dream as a bubble simply waiting to burst. And when it does, as demonstrated in chapter 7 and 8, it crumbles everyone trying to work hard to achieve the dream of being wealthy. Here is a summary of the Gatsby’s American Dream chapter by chapter.
- Chapter One: This chapter captures the background of WW1, which ushered the 1920s, a time of open corruption, especially for the elite.
- Chapter two: In this chapter, the author introduces George and Myrtle. They are toiling hard to acquire wealth. George is busy working on every opportunity while Myrtle is involved in a relationship with Buchanan.
- Chapter 4 and 5: Here, we are introduced to Gatsby’s objective of winning Daisy, a girl from a wealthy family. Although Gatsby has a lot of wealth, money, and a good mansion, Daisy is hesitant. Finally, they unite, and Gatsby appears like he has achieved his goal. His American Dream appears to be on course.
- Chapter six: Up to chapter six, no much is revealed about Gatsby’s past. So, Fitzgerald flashes back to demonstrate how Gatsby worked hard and moved from poverty to success. His American Dream appears almost accomplished.
- Chapters 7 and 8: Things come down crashing fast and hard. Myrtle is killed, Daisy opts to stay with Tom, and George kills Gatsby and himself. All the workers (call them strivers) are dead and their ambitions never achieved. Further, we establish that Gatsby amassed his wealth not through hard work, but crime.
Fitzgerald closes the novel on a sad note where Nick is reflecting about the lost American Dream.
The Great Gatsby American Dream Quotes
Another common question in literature is, “how does Gatsby represent the American Dream?’ The theme of American Dream is brought out using a number of literary elements including, flash-backs and quotes. Here, we are going to look at some of the great quotes and their interpretation:
“He stretched out his arms toward the dark water. . . . I . . . distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way. . . . When I looked once more for Gatsby, he had vanished.”
When we first meet Gatsby, Nick watches him trying to reach something that is far off, a red light. This light is figuratively used to represent Daisy. It also symbolizes money and success – although visible, it is out of reach. Notably, this yearning signifies an unhappy ending for Gatsby as a dreamer, not like Tom and Daisy, who were born in wealthy families.
“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; ‘anything at all. . . .’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.”
We come across this quote when Gatsby and Nick are driving to New York to have lunch. Gatsby has just narrated to Nick his most false story, as a son of a rich family living in mid-west. But Nick does not believe it immediately. Here, Gatsby’s ability to succeed appears limitless to nick because or of his connection to New York.
The moment indicates the classic notion of the American Dream – economic diversity, liberation, and hard work. Nick believes that to succeed without having connections to a wealthy family is only possible in the US.
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
The author uses this moment to tie Daisy to Gatsby’s dream of becoming wealthy and successful – his American Dream. This is used to set the stage for the tragic end because Daisy, having been born and brought up in a wealthy family, could not get satisfaction in Gatsby’s dream. Therefore, Daisy opts to remain with Tom, even though she had decided to get into an affair with Gatsby. This is why the novel is always considered pessimistic one as opposed to an optimistic one – the American Dream has no chance for success!
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