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The American Dream has always been a great ideal to many Americans. What is it? According to Dalton and Maryjean Gross, it "promised the deepest and richest self-fulfillment for those who would make the most of their natural abilities. It was, of course, partly about money and comfort, but it was also about achievement and dignity" (Gross and Gross, 9). The American Dream has been pursued throughout the decades, and one of the first groups to pursue it was the Puritans. They had to work hard to achieve their goals, which were to survive and build a religious refugee in the dangerous American environment of their time. A more recent group of Americans tried to follow this ideal in the 1920's, when money and radical changes were everywhere. They were the young veterans who returned from "The Great War." One of them was the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald followed the American Dream and was successful initially. However, living a lavish lifestyle with his wife Zelda Sayre was too much for both of them. The Grosses called this "crude pursuit of wealth and the superficial glamour that wealth provides" (10). They encountered the reality of the corrupted American Dream, which was its failure. Fitzgerald's life went downhill from there, and he died young. The life of Fitzgerald perfectly portrayed the success and failure of the American Dream, which then he modeled one of his greatest novels, The Great Gatsby, after. The difference of the two main characters, Gatsby and Nick, showed the two sides of the American Dream. While Gatsby represented pursue of the American dream and the success through dignity, Nick represented the doom failure of the ideal corrupted by the East and the Roaring Twenties.
The life of Fitzgerald showed the ideals and realities of the American Dream. Frances Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, to parents Mollie and Edward. From his mother side, the McQuillians were rich but had little social standing because they were of Irish descent (Curnutt 22). His father was the descendent of Francis Scott Key, the composer of "The Star Spangled Banner," but he was a quiet man that eventually failed in his business. It is his heritage that influenced Fitzgerald to "aspire to a social position that he fervently sought but was painfully aware that he could never reach" (C. 24). This idea of the American Dream appearing and reappearing in his works, such as The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald entered Princeton University in 1913, where he met other novelists and writers that inspired him to write as well (C. 25). His first lover was with Ginvera King, who came from a wealthy family. Already we can see that the young Fitzgerald associates love with money, which is what his character Gatsby will think (C. 26). Fitzgerald soon joined the Army when World War I began. At a night club near the training camp in Montgomery, Alabama, he met his future wife, Zelda Sayre (C. 29). When he became famous from publishing his first novel, This Side of Paradise, he married Zelda in New York City (C. 30). On the surface, life was going well for the Fitzgeraldââ‚¬â„¢s: they had a baby; Fitzgerald is earning a lot from his books, etc. However, problems were already surfacing: both Scott and Zelda drank excessively, their spending exceeds that of their earnings, and the couple was constantly arguing (C. 35). Things got much worse when Zelda was diagnosed with schizophrenia and The Great Depression added extra burden on their economic condition (C. 38). Finally Fitzgerald's short life ended when he died prematurely from a heart attack, and his wife died afterwards from a fire (C. 44). The tragic ending that Fitzgerald and his wife have shows the ultimate failure of the American Dream.
The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, is a novel written by Fitzgerald that depicted the corruption and loss of ideals in the Eastern cities of the American Dream. Therefore the American Dream, especially experienced by Fitzgerald, is divided in to two parts: the idealistic success and the real failure. William Troy said "Fitzgerald was able to isolate one part of himself ... more intelligent and responsible... another part... dream-ridden romantic adolescent" (Donaldson 76). Gatsby, the one of the main character of the novel, is the dream-ridden adolescent. His version of the American Dream is two things, money and Daisy (G. and G. 11).
Throughout most of the story, Jay Gatsby is just a rich, yet unknown man who almost seems powerful because of the fame he has. However, that is not the whole story. Nick called Jay Gatsby the "Platonic conception of himself" and "invented just the sort of a Jay Gatsby...faithful to the end" (Fitzgerald, 90). Gatsby was a reinvention of James Gatz, the young boy born in North Dakota and lived a life of poverty. It was only by chance that he became a fisherman and warned Dan Cody, a copper millionaire, not to go out to the sea because a storm was approaching. Grateful, Cody took Gatz to be his assistant and this experience changed Gatz, as well as his name. He decided to be rich. His reinvention of himself is exactly what it means to pursue the American Dream; he dreams of himself as the self-made successful man achieved through dignity, and he holds on to the dream until the end. This young Gatsby is exactly like the author himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both of them are trying to recreate themselves because they were unhappy with their current social status. Gatsby wanted to be rich because he suffered the shame of poverty. Fitzgerald wanted to do the same to live up to his mother's side of the family, who lacked social standing.
Gatsby was part of the Nouveau Riche, the new generation that got back from World War I and became rich. They were not as classy as the actual rich aristocrats, as distinguished by West Egg, the "less fashionable, and East Egg, the "more fashionable" (F. 20). The only way that Gatsby could earn enough money to impress Daisy was through illegal alcohol. He actually worked with the gang and had acquaintance with Meyer Wolfsheim, who "fixed the World Series back in 1919" (F. 70). This character is based on Arnold Rothstein, who was the real one behind the 1919 World Series scandal and met with Fitzgerald (Donaldson, 71). Here is Fitzgerald's life in the novel. Gatsby's fortune is further looked down upon by the old aristocrats, especially Tom. Fitzgerald was also part of the Nouveau Riche too, his fortune is legal and clean, as oppose to that of Gatsby's. This difference from Fitzgerald's life was included because he wanted to criticize capitalism. It was the beginning of the corruption of the American Dream. Wealth and fame were the only things that the Nouveau Riche cared about. What's worst was the "flawed materialism... mindless agents of money and power... wealth and crime as principal elements of American culture" (Berman, 47). These new Americans forgot about the American culture, the rest of the components of the American Dream. Gatsby, himself, however, is still in his dream because of his other goal: his love for Daisy.
The American Dream for Gatsby has become the desire for Daisy. He wanted to impress the girl of his dreams every since he met her when he joined the Army. "The transformation of James Gatz to Jay Gatsby was, of course, gradual, but when Gatsby kissed Daisy 'the incarnation was complete" (Tredell 90). Gatsby began to pursue her and entered the dream when she kissed him. However, Daisy married Tom Buchanan while Gatsby was gone, so the only way to win her back is through excessive wealth and fame. This scene is exactly the same as that of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Fitzgerald was first rejected by Zelda after he proposed to her because she saw he wasn't financially stable as a veteran. Gatsby later reveals that he did everything to please Daisy. That includes buying a gothic mansion on West Egg to be across the bay from her and throwing drinking parties every week so that she might one day join one to meet him again. In his mind, Daisy is the most perfect. The green light by the Buchanan's dock is a symbol of Gatsby's obsession for Daisy. Gatsby stares at it all night long. Also because it is green, it symbolizes that money and wealth is the key to winning Daisy's heart. He reinforces this idea when he said that "her voice is full of money" (F. 106). Nick realizes that Gatsby is still in his dream world. He told him that "you can't repeat the past," and to that Gatsby answers "why of course you can!" (F. 98). He noticed that Daisy is unworthy of Gatsby's affection; because the real person is much more corrupted than the one he had dreamt of as in "Daisy tumbled short of his dreams... colossal vitality of his illusions" (F. 87). From the book American Dream Visions, "Daisy is really a mix of positive and negative... a real human being," which further explained that she wasn't worthy of his transcendent goal (Schlacks 139). Gatsby is a dreamer and oblivious to the fact that his dream was corrupted, which led to his downfall.
Much like his creator, the rest of Gatsby's life is going downhill. Gatsby confronts Tom and later takes the blame for Daisy for killing Myrtle Wilson, because he loves her. Towards the end of the story, Gatsby is a shadow of his former glory. All he thinks about is Daisy, who will eventually betray him and his love. He even hides in a bush to spy on Tom. Finally on that fated night Gatsby decide to surf in his pool, he is shot dead by Myrtle's husband, who commits suicide afterwards. His tragic end shows how the American Dream was destined to failure, especially to the newer generation, who were disillusioned and corrupted from the extravagant lifestyle of the cities. Fitzgerald especially ended Gatsby's life that way just to show that love and money will eventually kill you. However, there is still the element that Gatsby has achieved the American Dream, through the tone of Nick, the narrator.
Nick Carraway is the other important character of the novel that also represented the American Dream. While Gatsby represented Fitzgerald's rich and adventurous side from his mother's influence, Nick represented his quiet side he got from his father. In fact, Fitzgerald chose Nick to narrate Gatsby's life to us because Nick voiced what Fitzgerald was feeling by the time he was writing this novel. Nick Carraway is a young adult who comes from the Midwestern state of Minnesota to stay in West Egg, New York City. He called himself a "guide, a pathfinder, an original settler," referring to new pursuers of the American Dream (F. 19). However, unlike Gatsby, Nick was already disillusioned from the start. He was "alienated." He was left the Midwest unmarried, lonely, without a goal, and with a girl he left behind because he was afraid of commitment (G. and G. 3). That feeling of American Dream failure was already in him and it grew because he narrated this story after Gatsby's death.
Even though Nick himself wasn't successful with the American Dream, he admired Gatsby's effort to persuade it. Towards the beginning of the story, Nick was astonished at his wealth and fame. After all, Nick did come to the East in order to become and bondsman and earn money. The Nouveau Riche earned their fortune through the Stock Market as well. As he got closer to Gatsby, he saw him more as a friend, but at the same time, he saw his flaws as a person. He admired Gatsby's romantic tenacity towards Daisy, even though he was disapproval of it. The last thing that he said to Gatsby was that he was "worth the whole damn bunch put together" (F. 132). Nick saw Gatsby a man with dignity and vision, both are qualities of the real American Dream pursuer. He wasn't like the Buchanans or Jordan Baker, who were "fake." This showed that Fitzgerald himself wanted to be that real American Dream pursuer like Gatsby, but he failed as well due to circumstances in his own life. He was corrupted from the start because he thought that wealth was the only way one can earn recognition, which wasn't true at all.
Finally, Nick experienced the true epiphany about everything, in particularly the American Dream, at the end chronologically, or at the beginning of the novel. Gatsby's death was the final blow to that ideal. He saw this at Gatsby's funeral, in which few out of many of his friends and connections showed up. He realized that city life disgusted him. The people also disgusted him, whether it's the Buchanans or Jordan. Tom is loud, rude, physically abusive, and is involved in an extramarital affair. He was the one that sent Wilson to kill Gatsby and covered up the truth. Daisy is naive, and fraudulent. She only noticed Gatsby because she was bored. However, when trouble came, she stayed by her husband's side and let Gatsby take all the blame. Jordan is the girl that Nick is involved with romantically, but he found her fake as well because she lied about winning her championship at golf and was engaged to another man when he broke up with her. Nick pointed out that Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, Jordan and himself were ironically all from the West, which made them "subtly unadoptable to Eastern life" (F. 149). He decided to return to Minnesota, where he believed that the actual American Dream still persisted. Both Nick and Fitzgerald saw that "the American Dream... become a dead and hollow thing" (G. and G. 5). They both realized that it failed in the East because people were too busy pursuing wealth that they forgot the original ideals, which were self-fulfillment and achievement through dignity. The Fitzgeralds were like that too, which was why Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in order to point out the failure of the American Dream.
The story of Jay Gatsby paralleled that of its author, Fitzgerald. Both were all trying to fulfill the American Dream, which was to be rich, famous, successful, and be in love with the dream girl. Fitzgerald and Gatsby were born and raised in an environment where both aspired to reach a higher social class and become wealthy. They met the girl of their dreams while they were in the Army. While Fitzgerald married Zelda, Gatsby didn't have the chance to propose to Daisy. However, the ways that both men were romantically involved with their women were very similar. Fitzgerald and Gatsby had initial success; Fitzgerald became wealth from selling his writings, whereas Gatsby became rich from bootlegging alcohol. They both suffered setbacks and eventual demises. Fitzgerald was in debt and his novels weren't selling because the Great Depression hit. He drank excessively and had drama with his wife. Eventually he died of a heart attack. Likewise Gatsby suffered from the paparazzi after he took the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson. His love for Daisy made him lost his wits. Finally he was murdered by Myrtle's husband. That's how Fitzgerald is also similar to the other main character of the novel, Nick Carraway. Nick original suffered from a lack of direction in life. He too suffered in love when he decided to break up with Jordan. His resolution was to move back to the Midwest, because he realized that the American Dream failed in himself, Gatsby, and in the cities in the East. Even so, the American Dream is still present today, still pursued by the young aspiring Americans, who have not been corrupted just yet. They are still there today, striving to be that Great Gatsby.