Our very existence is forged in these words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The idea is seared into our bones, coursing through our veins. But the world has changed drastically since the colonists constructed these words. Modernization led the way to skyscrapers rising from the scorched earth, and the skies are bathed in light and smoke due to industrialization, making the ways of our ancestor's grow stale. Francis Scott Fitzgerald understood this more than anybody, having been plagued with the fast paced changes in society that lead to excessive alcohol consumption and the tortured essence of his romantic spirit. Love was no longer enough, not when held against money and social standing. The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald's-if not America's-best work of literature preaches this through the tale of a man named Jay Gatsby, and his struggle to obtain the woman that haunts the dreams of his past, the enchanting Daisy Buchanan. He rose from rags to riches, his plight for greatness never soured by meaningless things such as morality and abiding by the law. Jay Gatsby is the American Dream, his pure intentions soiled by wicked actions and lavish pleasure seeking. Fitzgerald's depiction of the American Dream in the novel is an illusion, unobtainable by any means, for happiness is measured in material wealth, morality is traded in for success, and those born into money reign without consequence over those less fortunate.
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In the novel, Fitzgerald gives us an insight into wealth and how it directly correlates with a person's happiness which is essential to the American Dream. The readers see Gatsby's life through the eyes of Nick Carraway, his next door neighbor who has blood ties to Daisy, the love of Gatsby's life. Gatsby, through the entire novel, uses his boundless wealth to lure Daisy into his home, in hopes of stumbling upon her amidst one of his soirées. Daisy is a woman who is accustomed to a certain standard of living; having been bathed in riches and extravagance. Gatsby attempts to one up everything she is used to, showing off in every way possible in order to draw her in. His parties are known for their dizzyingly enormous scale; there is never a dull moment. Upon his first weeks in West Egg, Nick describes Gatsby's parties in glorious detail, stating, "his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars." (31-32). This quote shows how money plays a great deal in happiness, because these wealthy men and women flock to Gatsby's reckless and luxurious parties spilling over the brim in search for true and utter felicity. The excessive pleasure seekers attending Gatsby's get-togethers are a mixture of invited and uninvited guests. They are prestigious and pompous. In their drunken bliss, "Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilling with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word" (32). These people forget their names and their ranks in order to achieve a heightened state of blissful delirium. The women, flitting and flowery and glowing, dance without a care and hitch their skirts. The men watch and drink and smoke and bask in the glory of being well-to-do white men in a white man's world. The parties have a circus feel to them, all bright lights and loud music and laughter. These people are purely and utterly happy within themselves, throwing care and decency to the wind in the hopes to grasp a hold of life. They chase after the thought of happiness, their follies masked by the belief that joy is found at the bottom of a martini glass and under the lights of Gatsby's mansion that shine brighter than any star in the sky and the deafening sound of orchestras and swing dances. The American Dream has been tarnished by these creatures, who think only of themselves and pay no mind to others and their grievances.
Morals, or the lack of them for that matter, play a key role in The Great Gatsby. Each character, in some form or another, has put aside morally unjust actions because it convinced them, or because they felt as if it was not their place to make a fuss. For instance, Gatsby invited Nick out to lunch, where the two meet a friend and associate of Gatsby's named Meyer Wolfshiem. Gatsby introduces him as "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919" (55). Nick reflects on this meeting, stating "the idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World's Series has been fixed in 1919, but had I thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happenedâ€¦. He just saw the opportunity" (56). Wolfshiem involved himself in these activities simply because he could, and in doing so he would be wealthy. Gatsby's words sum up the general mindset of the business men amidst the Roaring Twenties. They see, and they take, and they never think about consequences or how they are affecting others. The lives of thousands betting on that one game, some of whom more than likely had half of their life savings pitted against a team, are simply collateral damage to a man like Wolfshiem. He does not lay awake at night, the weight of his indiscretions crushing the air from his lungs. No, the Wolfshiem's of the world are too busy turning deals and hoarding money, building up a fortune to squander on lavish perks. Gatsby is not innocent either; under his romantic and friendly exterior is the heart of a man who clawed his way to the top using questionable means. In the blow up between Tom Buchanan and Gatsby, when Tom finally comes to the conclusion that Gatsby and his wife, Daisy, are having an affair, he calls Gatsby out on his means to building a fortune so quickly. He says "I found out what your 'drug-stores' wereâ€¦. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong" (97). Gatsby does not deny this allegation; he actually seems to affirm it, wearing it as a coat of armor, for he believes that his reasons for doing so are just. To him, selling alcohol illegally and the blood payments that went along with it were acceptable, because in the end they would lead him to his one true love. The 1920's are plagued with men like Gatsby and Wolfshiem, pursuing the promising light of fortune, trotting and trampling all the things that make them human beings in the process. They become paper cut-outs of men, void of decency and morality, because that is the only way to get ahead in a dog-eat-dog world where the American Dream is a fairy tale their grandparents used to believe in.
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Money is the bane of existence, and no one understands that quite as well as the rich men and women portrayed in The Great Gatsby. Paper sustenance seems to have magical properties, healing wounds and misunderstandings, making problems disappear into the very air that is polluted with their imported cigarettes. Tom and Daisy Buchanan are the perfect example of how the rich triumph over the poor, especially in the case of Myrtle Wilson's death. Myrtle was Tom's mistress, as well as the wife of one George Wilson, the owner a garage in a town known as the Valley of Ashes between East and West Egg and New York City. On the drive back from the city after the intense row between Tom and Gatsby, Daisy accidently hits and kills Myrtle and flees the scene. Gatsby, too in love with her to let her take the fall, says that he was the one driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. However, Tom was already pointing fingers towards Gatsby to the widow before he even knew for certain that it was him driving the car. Nick, who was reflecting on the events of his life that occurred during the course of two seasons, says "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- 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 made" (128). This quote alone sums up the Buchanan's to a tee; they are fickle beings who are wrapped up in the essence of their own stature, too noble and mighty to care about how their actions may affect others. The two show no remorse for what happened to Myrtle that night; they simply packed up their belongings and moved onto another town. Daisy, who had once been in love with Gatsby, did not even bother to show up to his funeral. She and her husband cared only for themselves, and their reputation, because in the end that is all they really are. They are names, ancient and prominent, cut from the same cloth as their ancestors, who were just as self-absorbed, turgid, and grandiloquent as their distant kin. The American Dream suffers under men and women like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who show that human beings have turned cold and cruel in hearts that once used to bleed for freedom and equality for all.
The characters in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby live in a world forged in greedy exploits and illegal activities. You have the men and women born into lineage, noses turned towards the sky and hearts swelling with love only for themselves and their reputation. Then there are those of new money, their fortunes built on the rubble of morals and respectability, fighting and killing their way to the top. Finally you have those who live as paupers, scrimping and saving every penny, watching those with pockets laced in pelf with longing in their eyes. These three live together in a functioning dystopia, loathing each other in silence. The days of those who fought for our independence are gone; gallant men were replaced with womanizing cads, while respectable and docile women morphed into "beautiful little fool(s)" (18). Fitzgerald's contempt for the generation of careless beings bleeds through his impassive narrator. He sees them all as vicious, careless, creatures who have stomped on the ways of those who built the American Dream. Fitzgerald despises those who have sold their souls for pleasure and gluttony, turning his abhorrence into alluringly brilliant plays on words, sculpting a novel depicting the decay of the nation's values and dreams that would go on to be worshipped by all for decades to come.