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The Pursuit of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

1658 words (7 pages) Essay in Literature

18/05/20 Literature Reference this

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  The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story on the outside but is most commonly understood as a skeptical judge of the American Dream. In the novel, Jay Gatsby overcomes his poor past to gain a substantial amount of money in the 1920s NYC, as he fulfills his eventful life impacted by characters in the big city. The idea of the American Dream, is where qualities of hard work and ambition are revealed. The novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald embodies many themes; however the most compelling one relates to the corruption it in tales. The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working hard towards prosperity and or wealth and fame, (Webster, 2019). The idea of The American Dream in the 20’s to the idea of the American Dream in 2019 can be shown through contrasting the wealth, social class and realities of the characters in the book to that of our current time.

Being successful does not come easily, it always takes hard work, dedication, and will power. To Myrtle Wilson, the American Dream is to instantly become very rich and high class. For her, this is very difficult to achieve. She is married to a working, middle class man who owns an auto shop in an old part of New York. Myrtle is so corrupted by money and wealth, that she cheats on her dedicated, loving and hardworking husband, in order to be with Tom Buchanon’s wealth. When describing her marriage, Myrtle said, “The only crazy I was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in . . . then I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon,” (Fitzgerald, 35). Myrtle is caught up in her reputation and how she pursues herself throughout the novel as she is always focused on expectations of wealth and happiness. “I married because I thought he was a gentleman,” she said finally. “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.”(Fitzgerald, 1925). John bowen also shares a strong opinion for expectations of wealth, “He portrays in detail the extraordinary variety of ways, in small differences of clothing, accent and behaviour, by which people show and act out their class identities and aspirations. He is constantly drawn to characters who are at the margins, rather than the centre, of social classes,” (Bowen, 2019). Social class plays a large role in the novel as well as in today’s society. As a 21st century-female Myrtle Wilson, struggled to reconsider herself, her class, and escape a marriage that she believed did not reflect her place within the social ranking. In contrast Bowen describes people and their differences through looks and reality, as myrtle illustrates during the novel.

Moving to the big city is a mission of many people in this world today. The lights and the life of Los Angeles, New York, Paris etc. really intrigues individuals. The American Dream is drastically different now because of the development of big cities and society, but that doesn’t stop generations from contrasting expectations. In 1922 in Long Island, New York City with a comparison between the ‘West Egg’ and the ‘East Egg’, each are different classes of wealth, “I lived at West Egg, the well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. my house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season…Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water,” (Fitzgerald, 1925). Gatsby is a young, charming, attractive adult with a dark background “Precisely at that point it vanished and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd” (Fitzgerald, 1925). He is very popular within the city because of his constant elaborate parties and enticing mansion.  An article written by Susan T. Fiske, she states: “ It emerges that people are constantly and keenly aware of their ranking and that those at the top of the social ladder think, feel, and act differently from those on the lower rungs. This appears to happen, whether one’s superior position is objectively anchored with resources and status, subjectively experienced or manifest through power and influence.” (Fiske, 2018 ).  Susan describes how higher class people usually have a higher sense of themselves, independence from others and the need to have a lot of attention around them. Jay Gatsby’s monetary success is the result of his own hard work, work that is questionable from a legal viewpoint. This earns him designation of nouveau riche, and there is no extent of wealth that can buy his entry into the highest social class. In contrast, he pursued the american dream with hard work, and dedication to his wealth . Unlike Nick Carraway, who narrates the novel, he also comes from a privileged background. This gives him the opportunity to begin a new career in finance. He does not, however, live a life of richness. His family’s help is only used to start his career. “Whenever you feel like criticising any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” (Fitzgerald, 1925).  Today, many people work hard for their success, as accomplishing many of your goals has become much harder, the american dream in today’s society through work has increased much more, than in the novel.

 Lastly, the aspect of money creates an urge in human nature to obtain it and have an access of it. When people come onto topics relating to wealth and begin rising on the social ladder, they usually become corrupted, and can alter their personal values. What most people enjoy is what Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and Jordan all possess. “All of the players in Gatsby are in one way or another posing, always striving to maintain an image” (Heims, 2010). Jay Gatsby was a man fascinated with a dream of love and wealth. In his head, Gatsby created an unapproachable illusion of happiness and joy with Daisy Buchanan. Towards the end of the book they fell back in love and were happy again, until death occurred. Devoted to pursuing Daisy no matter the price, Gatsby illegally retrieved riches in an attempt to gain Daisy’s heart. Although Gatsby was a kind-hearted, loving man, he became distracted by the drag of the world, eventually resulting in his death. “She wanted her life shaped now, immediately- and the decision must be made by some force- of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality- that was close at hand,” (Fitzgerald, 1925). Gatsby created himself with an image as a prosperous man with everything he could ever want. From the popular parties to the way he carried himself, Gatsby mislead not only those around him, but Gatsby also mislead himself into believing the lie, which took over his life. Hoping for a future of joy and perfection with Daisy as his one true love, Gatsby developed an obsession for making his dream become common in his daily life. In reality daisy only loved Gatsby for his money and wealth. People create such a high image of themselves for example wealth, that Daisy never really saw Jay Gatsby for who he really was. The american dream for Jay has always been high, but people become blind to wealth. This is common in today’s world, when people see money they head straight for it. An article by Paul Watchel, from the University of Guelph further dove into this idea “The idea of one’s self living a life much better than the one they reside can force your brain to make you accomplish and do things that you may see unimaginable” (Watchel, 2019).

In The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald the power and drive the American Dream creates  is present through wealth, social class, and the realities of the characters. The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic, or social level, and working hard to achieve wealth and prosperity. Amongst the reading and understanding of this story it’s evident that the American dream has changed much since the time in which the book takes place in, to the time in which we live in now. The story taught us a very important lesson that should be easily interpreted into our society in which money can’t buy you happiness.

Work Cited

  • Fitzgerald, F.Scott. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Books, 1950.
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