The American Dream
During the 20s America experienced a lot of changes, especially after the First World War. America was known as a very developed country, and had a strong economy, politics, technology, and was becoming very advanced in other industries as well. With this development and growth, many people considered America as the land of possibilities, freedom, and a place where they could realize their dreams. The American Dream was also related to the immigrants who went to America in hope to achieve success and fortune in their lives.
The idea behind the “American Dream” was that by working hard, everyone no matter their social status can accomplish wealth and prosperity. But this changed over the time, instead of obtaining wealth from working hard with honesty, people were driven by greed and tried to do everything for wealth, which eventually led to the corruption of their dreams (Sandeer, n.d.).
“For Fitzgerald himself, the dream was quite literally about the quality of greatness. It meant displaying in private life those daring unselfish qualities that had made America possible” (Prigozy, 2002).
All of this is best demonstrated in The Great Gatsby. The American Dream is one of the main themes in this novel. In the novel the author introduces the 1920s as a period where the social and moral values are corrupted by the vulgar pursuit of wealth, thus leading to the corruption of the American Dream. Fitzgerald, by describing the characters he includes their version of the American Dream and their attempts in realizing it. The way how he presents it through the characters is used to criticize the American society.
Beginning with the protagonist of the novel, Jay Gatsby, he is a man who comes from a poor family and spends all of his life to forget his past. He wants to forget it because of the relationship that he had with Daisy when they were younger. Both of them were in love with each other, but their social statuses divided them.
According to Pumphrey (2011), Gatsby had always dreamed of becoming someone better even before he met Daisy. He was going towards the right path of achieving it by working hard until he met Daisy. She became his dream, he was enchanted by her and her wealthy lifestyle. From that moment, Gatsby knew that he lacked the past and family in order to be a right suitor for Daisy. His dream was changed, and he knew that he couldn’t achieve it by hard work and determination. Gatsby transformed himself into a self-made wealthy person. His luxurious mansion, parties, and everything were all for Daisy. From the outside, he is seen as a rich and famous person, but underneath the façade, he is broken by the society’s standards. Everything that Gatsby owns is a display of consumerism. Also, many times through the novel his wealth is questionable. He is considered to be a German spy (Fitzgerald, 1925, p.44), and Tom also claims that his wealth is illegal “I picked him as a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong” (Fitzgerald, 1925, p.133).
Despite his fake personality and illegal wealth, Fitzgerald tries to portray Gatsby as a sympathetic person. The only person who can see this side of Gatsby is Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story. Nick is the one who recognizes the greatness of Gatsby’s dream. Ironically, society was one of the reasons that Gatsby became a bootlegger because America didn’t offer any other possible option. The circumstances during that period of time prevented people from accomplishing a high social status through hard work, therefore, they had to seek other resources. However, Jay Gatsby, it’s an interesting character because he shows both features the corrupted wealth and his pure love towards Daisy (Pumphrey, 2011).
Gatsby isn’t destroyed by his dream, but by the conditions that corrupted his dream and the society around him. He couldn’t achieve his dream because of the destroyed values of the American Dream.
According to Devi (2017), Gatsby’s dream leads to his fall. His dream and idealism blind him from understanding that happiness and love don’t come from wealth.
In the end, Gatsby dies alone, all the people that used to go to his lavish parties don’t attend his funeral because he didn’t have any friendship with them. Only his father and Nick mourn him, because at the end wealth and possession win over the humanity.
On the other hand, Daisy shows another side of the American Dream. She is a self-centered woman, who wants to enjoy both the feeling of being secure and wealthy with her husband Tom and Gatsby’s attention. Although she possesses many materialistic things such as a house, car and expensive clothing, she lacks happiness and spiritual fulfillment. Both Daisy and Tom are careless and reckless people who don’t care about the people around them. They hide behind their money, instead of facing their responsibilities.
According to Person (1978), Daisy is not as corrupted as Tom, she’s more like a victim of a life shaped by Tom’s corrupted money. Her character serves as an example that happiness doesn’t come from materialistic things (as paraphrased in Lindberg, pg. 12).
Through Daisy, the author states that without personal fulfillment wealth and materialistic things lose their importance.
Fitzgerald was aware of the obsession with consumerism and the rise of it in America. He stands against this phenomenon by letting his characters be consumed by it and warns the readers of the consequences of consumerism. He states that the American Dream is misunderstood, that now it’s related only to wealth by corrupting the authentic effort for self-improvement.