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Materialism American Dream In The Great Gatsby English Literature Essay

    “The American Dream”: what does it mean? Wealth, material possessions, and power are the core values of “The American Dream.” For many Americans, the dream is based solely upon reaching a higher standard of living. Gatsby was one of these Americans who lived his whole life in pursuit of wealth and power. Gatsby based his whole self-being on how much money he earned and the possessions he had. He felt that with money came many other advantages to life. Gatsby’s sole purpose for acquiring wealth was to win back his old love, Daisy. When Gatsby first met Daisy he was underprivileged and considered unworthy because of his lower class status. He knew that while he was poor there was no chance of them ever uniting as a couple. “I was poor”, Gatsby had no money and he thought that Daisy “was tired of waiting around for me” (Fitzgerald 131). Gatsby felt that the only way to win Daisy back was to reach for what many people considered the “American Dream.”

The typical American dreamer aspires to rise from rags to riches, while accumulating such things as love, high status, wealth, and power on his way to the top. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a self-made man who started out with no money—only a plan for achieving his dream. He is so blinded by his luxurious possessions that he does not see that money cannot buy love or happiness. Fitzgerald demonstrates how a dream can become corrupted by one’s focus on acquiring wealth, power, and expensive things. Gatsby’s dream “is a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material possessions are synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty” (Fahey 70). His American dream has become corrupted by the culture of wealth that surrounds him. Gatsby’s romantic view of wealth has not prepared him for the self-interested, snobbish, corrupt group of people with which he comes to associate. He throws lavish parties for countless people, yet he has no real friends. Gatsby buys expensive things and entertains large groups of society because of his incommunicable desire for something greater.

In Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, all the characters are, in one way or another, attempting to become happier with their lives. The characters in the novel are divided into two groups: the rich upper class and the poorer lower class (West egg and East egg). The main characters are only trying to make their lives better but the American dream that they are all trying to achieve will eventually be ruined by the harsh reality. The unrestrained desire for money and pleasure surpasses more noble goals and reality.

Daisy and Tom’s marriage is further proof of the collapse of the American dream. Although they belong to the elitist West Egg social group and have extreme wealth, they are unhappy. Tom and Daisy are both in unsatisfied with life and are searching for something better. They are unhappy and bored with life. Tom seems to be searching for the excitement that he found in playing football in college, and he finds an outlet for his dissatisfaction by cheating on his wife with Myrtle. Even though Tom is married to Daisy, he has an affair with Myrtle Wilson and has an apartment with her in New York. Daisy and Tom are perfect examples of wealth and prosperity, and the American Dream. Yet their lives are empty, and without purpose. Once again, Gatsby does not see that attaining wealth and power does not equal happiness.

Tom and Daisy are a great example of the hollowness of the upper class. The Buchanans’ marriage is full of lies and infidelities, yet they are united through their corruption. After Myrtle and Gatsby are both killed, neither one of the Buchanans sends their regards or seem remorseful. In fact, they go on a short vacation, which is an indication of the lack of compassion they have toward others.

Nick perceives Tom and Daisy as they really are, heartless and careless. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (Fitzgerald 188). Tom and Daisy’s actions are an indication of the damaging and emotionally numbing effects that wealth can have on someone. They focus too much on appearance and things of monetary value, while ignoring people’s feelings and lives. Daisy is shallow and only attracted to Tom because of his wealth, “They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich, and wild, but she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation,” (Fitzgerald 77).

Though Myrtle Wilson makes an attempt to escape her own class and pursue happiness with the rich, she ends up gaining nothing and eventually dies. She is basically a victim of the group she wanted to join. She talks like she is upper class and thinks like the upper class would, “These people! You have to keep after them all the time,” (Fitzgerald 32). Myrtle tries to become like Tom by having an affair with him and taking on his way of living, but in doing so she becomes unsatisfied with her life. Her constant clothing changes show that she is unhappy with her life. She changes personalities every time she changes her dress: "with the influence of the dress her whole personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality... was converted into impressive hauteur"(Fitzgerald 35).

“He has lived not for himself, but for his dream, for his vision of the good life inspired by the beauty of a lovely rich girl” (Fahey 71). Gatsby’s inspiration comes from the beautiful Daisy. Daisy is the symbol of all that Gatsby strives for; her voice is full of money, as Gatsby describes it. Her voice was “full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song in it” (Fitzgerald 127). Gatsby became so enamored by her voice that he based all of his actions on winning Daisy over. Her voice contains the promise of vast riches. However, Gatsby is too late to realize that money is the only thing her voice promises. There is no compassion in Daisy, just as there is none in cold, hard cash.

Gatsby’s lapse in judgment is in not realizing that Daisy represents both material success and the corruption that wealth can bring. Although she appears to be full of sweetness and light, she is at heart self-centered and cold. Daisy is careless with people’s lives; she lets Gatsby take the blame for her unintentional manslaughter of Myrtle Wilson. Her careless actions eventually result in Gatsby’s death, of which she shows no concern.

It is very telling that Gatsby’s house is full of people throughout the entire summer, yet when Gatsby dies, no one attends his funeral except Nick and Gatsby’s father. The shallow acquaintances of Gatsby were never his true friends—the only used him for his lavish generosity, “When a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it anyway. I keep out,” (Fitzgerald 171)). The countless people who attend his parties, ride in his car and drink his alcohol are nowhere to be seen when the time comes to pay their respects for him. The only guest who calls Gatsby’s home is Klipspringer, who lived in Gatsby’s mansion for a period of time. However, he only calls to inquire about a pair of shoes that he has misplaced. The corrupt atmosphere in which Gatsby has lived blights his dream of success.

Nick comes to realize that the East is full of heartless and shallow people. His Midwest background has given him a comparison for judging the glitz and materialism that surrounds him. Nick’s American dream is based on his experiences of warm home life and friendly faces. Nick’s dream is closer to the original American dream, which was focused more around family than wealth and an unending quest for success and individualism.

The Great Gatsby is a profound social commentary on the corrupt and disillusioning effects that materialism can have on members of society. The have-nots yearn to be like the haves, yet those who already have wealth and status are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. On the whole, the elitist group in the novel displays characteristics of being bored, disenchanted, and unmotivated. For example, the Buchanans drift from one place to the next, with no real plan or goal in mind. Jordan Baker has a constant bored, unaffected look upon her face. These people are the “haves,” but Fitzgerald makes the reader question whether what they possess is really worth having.

The drifting, careless, shallow people who comprise the social group of East Egg and West Egg are representative of the corruption that materialism can bring. Gatsby is surrounded by this materialism and discontent, which serves to tarnish his dream of success. His rags-to riches dream turns into a dark nightmare that leads to his untimely downfall. His romantic idealism has not prepared him for the corrupt world in which he enters. Gatsby is surrounded by proof of the unhappiness that “success” can bring, as seen especially through Tom and Daisy. Their marriage is full of lies and deceit, and they are both searching for something greater than what they already have. Gatsby is so blinded by his dream that he does not see that money cannot buy love or happiness. Fitzgerald effectively offers a powerful critique of a materialistic society and the effects it can have on one’s hopes and dreams.

Gatsby's dream collapses when he fails to win Daisy and is not accepted by the upper class. Without his dream Gatsby has nothing, nothing to keep him going, no direction, and no purpose to live. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald shows how dreams are destroyed, no matter what the dreams consist of, money, material status, or just simply to be happy. Fitzgerald also shows that the failure of the American Dream is unavoidable in a sense that nothing can be as perfect as one could imagine. Without hopes or dreams life would be empty, as shown by Tom and the Buchanans. The American Dream is something every person works for throughout his or her life. Although the American Dream is admirable, it is impossible to achieve eternal satisfaction. The American Dream is just that, a dream. Gatsby’s dream is behind him and the American dream is ultimately unattainable, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him,” (Fitzgerald 180).


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