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It is the American dream, and the idea of it that pushes the characters, more so, Jay Gatsby, the titled character and protagonist. Jay Gatsby is symbolic of the American dream and its corruption. Jay Gatsby is seen as innocent, optimistic and hopeful. He was born poor, and as such despised it. He yearned for the American dream and what it represented. It can be said then, that he loved Daisy, not for who she was, but what she represented in his eyes. He fell in love with Daisy's life. He was fascinated with her world, her lifestyle, her grace and her charm, "It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy--it increased her value in his eyes." (Chapter 8)
The green light on Daisy's dock can be used as an example for his longing, as he spends hours gazing at it "a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock." (Chapter 1, Page 22). The green light is symbolic of Gatsby's longing for the American dream, the color could also represent dollar bills, capital, which is another appealing aspect of the American dream.
'"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money - that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it ... high in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. (Page 120, Chapter7)'
It is in Daisy's character that we see what went wrong with the American dream, its corruption, so to speak. In Gatsby's mind, Daisy is seen as perfection, but though she is graceful and charming, she is also, selfish, hurtful and shallow, this is seen in the novel by her lying, cheating, and leaving Gatsby to take the blame for her murdering Tom's mistress. In a sense, Gatsby's quest for the American dream is ill-fated, as his devotion for Daisy is misguided as she cannot fulfill the role and expectations placed upon her by him.
Another symbol used in the novel to represent the disintegration of the American dream is the "Valley of Ashes". This is symbolic as it represents the lost hopes and the moral and social decay of the period. This results from the pursuit of wealth, the American dream. Whereas at one time the American dream was simultaneous with various ideals of freedom, the novel shows how it became equated with material objects. Jay Gatsby represents this change very well as he flaunts the things he has in an attempt to "win" Daisy over. The author shows us the hollowness of the upper-class through the representation of 'old money' versus 'new money'
Motifs are another device used by the author to develop the theme throughout the novel. This brings us to the use of geography as a motif. The author uses places to symbolize various aspects of the era. East Egg represents 'old money', West Egg new money while The Valley of Ashes represents the fall of the morality of the American dream and society. The new rich is portrayed by the author as lacking is social graces, pretentious and base, Gatsby is a perfect example as he lives in a monstrosity of a mansion, drives a rolls Royce and wears a pink suit. in contrast the old aristocracy is seen as graceful, tasteful , possess subtlety. Gatsby is the epitome of the fall of the moral values of society as we the readers see where he is involved in criminality, which accounts for his vast fortune. But even has graceful as the old aristocrats are; represented by the Buchanan's, they lack in compassion as they prove themselves to be a careless bunch of inconsiderate individuals. This is seen to be true where after Gatsby's death they (Tom and Daisy) simple move to an unknown destination with no forwarding address. Nick describes them as 'careless' people.
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
Though Gatsby is seen as a criminal and as such represents the ideal of a self-made man, from rags to riches. He is the force that corrodes the American dream, it is through him that we see the harsh reality of the dream, its rise and its end. It is with his death that we see the death of the American Dream. All his hopes shattered with a bullet. The death of both him and George, the rich man and the poor man, show again the fall of the American dream. With nothing left for him there, Nick moves back to his home, away from the emptiness and the moral decay.
To conclude, The Great Gatsby is a representation of the harsh reality of the American dream. It shows its corruption and its fall. Each of the characters in the novel are seen trying to attain happiness through one way or the other. They become lost, and lose their touch with morality and reality. Criminality, infidelity, murder and lies pervade the story. The theme of the corruption of the American dream was seen throughout the novel and was exemplified by the author's use of characterization, motifs and symbols. The American dream is of freedom and of social upward mobility through hard work and success. Gatsby's life in criminality gave him money but not freedom and not happiness. His goal of attaining the American dream was never realized.
The Great Gatsby - Response Paper