American Dream In The Great Gatsby
Martin Luther King Jr. once said in his speak to his supporter in his campaign of Civil Rights: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Martin) His quote has portrayed the dream of all American to get equal opportunities on education, job and social statuses. The dream they long is politically named “The American Dream”. A Dream which said that one’s prosperity depends upon one’s own abilities and hard work, not on a rigid class structure, had given strength to poor immigrant from Europe to America. American dream becomes symbol of quest for money. They dreamed to achieve wealth in the promising New World by determination and hard work, while some indeed attain wealth through that method. However, in the industrialisation after the world war—year 1920’s, the mindset of American people changed. They became obsessed in pursuing instant wealth. Instead of choosing the traditional way of attaining wealth, many Americans has laid their finger on those activities that can make them rich in a short period of time. Bootlegging and illegal drug trading flourished, creating a materialistic society that lives with only pleasure. This has contributed to the erosion of the good values of American Dream. “Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty.” Ursula K. LeGuin, a famous fiction novel writer quoted in her speech “A Left Handed Commencement Address” which reflects the reality during 1920’s, the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald set his novel “The Great Gatsby”. (Ursula) In 1920’s, the gap between Poor and Rich was massive. The Rich were enjoying their life in pleasure and luxury while Poor were suffering in poverty and torments. This situation had driven the middle class people to achieve wealth through connection with the rich or illegal trading in order to accomplish the quest for money. In “The Great Gatsby”, the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald reveals how the Americans are corrupted in the pursuit for the American Dream through the main character, Jay Gatsby and a minor character, Myrtle Wilson which essentially reflects American Dream as a bad thing.
In The Great Gatsby, the American Dream is described as corrupted fantasy and a blind dream of wealth and pleasure. These negative attributes of American dream make it unworthy to pursue. In 1920’s, Americans particularly those in the east coast was overarching with cynicism, greed, and empty pursuit of pleasure and wealth.
The main character of the novel, Jay Gatsby, was initially introduced as a enigmatic host of a lavish party in his huge castle-like mansion in West Egg. The extravagant feast attracted a vast number of people where most are not invited. The people come to take part in the spectacular luxury, get acquainted with the “interesting” people in the party. Nick Carraway narrated about the night when he was invited to Gatsby’s party. “I believe… I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited.” (Fitzgerald 47) This quote has signified the greed of Americans for false wealthy feeling that can be grabbed in a luxurious party even though they’re not invited.
Their dream of having an extravagant life was temporarily materialized in the sumptuous party. The enjoyment of the guests in the party are portrayed through a scene in the novel “…floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s name.”(Fitzgerald 46) The party symbolises the dream of the common people to be amongst the rich and the well-known one. The illusion of becoming a rich grew so overwhelming that all Americans seemed to after it even if it’s just being rich for a short moment. On the other scenario, Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress, seduced Tom because of a simple reason: greed of wealth. She longed to get a grasp to the wealth which Tom possesses. In a scene where Myrtle is annoyingly repeating Daisy’s name in front of Tom, by “making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” (Fitzgerald 43) This quote demonstrates how Tom treats Myrtle as a mere object to fulfil his desire. However, she doesn’t care. The wish to escape from her current low-standard of living with George Wilson which she regretted to be in enable her to endure Tom’s attitude toward her. The pathetic behaviour exhibited by Myrtle portrays how ridiculous Americans were when it comes to money and wealth. Hence, To the American, nothing seems to be more important than the pleasure from the luxury, lavish party and empty existence with the wealth they have. This all happens when people chase after the corrupted American Dream.
American dream is also portrayed as a one man’s dream—Gatsby’s dream to fulfil his ambition of becoming rich and to seize the love of Daisy, his young time lover which is finally not be realised. Jay Gatsby, who’s originally named, James Gatz, was a ambitious boy who fantasized to be rich. His encounter with Dan Cody, a wealthy miner marked the start of his career. Fitzgerald writes about Gatsby’s work: “He was employed in a vague personal capacity — while he remained with Cody he was in turn steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and even jailor, for Dan Cody sober knew what lavish doings Dan Cody drunk might soon be about…”(Fitzgerald 107) Form Dan Cody, he learnt about the way of life of a rich person and thus helped him in his road to wealth. Furthermore, his desire to become rich is later amplified when he fall in love with a beautiful nurse, Daisy in Army. The fact that Daisy lives in a luxurious life style arouses Gatsby’s interest on lavish assets and accessory. Nick narrates about the past of Gatsby when he went to Daisy’s: “It amazed him — he had never been to such a beautiful house before. But what gave it an air of breathless intensity, was that Daisy lived there—it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out as camp to him.”(Fitzgerald 154) His love to Daisy became a catalyst for his to attain his wealth.
Gatsby’s entanglement with Mr. Meyer Wolfshiem, mafia-related personnel who fixed the 1919 World’s Series demonstrates his involvement in underworld trading activities. According to Tom Buchanan’s “little” investigation about Gatsby, Gatsby and Wolfshiem brought up a lot of side street drug stores and sold grain alcohol over the counter. (Fitzgerald 140) Since the sale of alcohol was banned due to the Eighteen Amendment in 1919, the trading was illegal in United State. This can also be seen as Gatsby take any measure to obtain wealth, legally or illegally. The concept of American dream corrupted to a money-based illusion as Gatsby resorts to crime to make enough money to realize his own dream, which is to impress Daisy.
The ruin of Gatsby’s dream due to the rejection of Daisy ultimately symbolised the failure of pursuing the American dream. To obtain the wealth, Gatsby engaged in a variety of activities: drug business, oil business, and bootlegging. While Gatsby and Nick talked about Gatsby’s huge and gorgeous mansion, he said that “It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it.” (Fitzgerald 97) His hastiness to gain the affluent and wealthy image is due to the urge to impress Daisy in the short period of time. In addition, his original intention of lavish party held on every fortnight was to attract people, make him popular in that area and ultimately attract Daisy to come to his house. Nevertheless, he was unable to foresee the unfruitful future that might occur. Although Gatsby worked for years to achieve success and wealth in his life to impress Daisy and get her back, Daisy’s indirect rejection to his love has made his effort meaningless. His pursuit of a dream had ended in dust. American dream become just a fantasy for him. “ ‘You can’t repeat the past.’ ” (Fitzgerald 117) This warning that Nick given to Gatsby after a party with Daisy foreshadowed his incapability to recreate the past with Daisy. This excruciating reality has proven the fact that it’s impossible to reciprocate the past relationship and affections, thus epitomizes the destruction of American Dream. However, when Gatsby stops running after Daisy, he seemed to have relax from his long term endless quest for wealth and romance. After a long statement about his past with Daisy, he has poured out simple and significant words about his life:” You know, old sport, I’ve never used that pool all summer?” (Fitzgerald 159) “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.” (Fitzgerald 168) This narration by Nick on the hand portrays the exhaustion in Gatsby’s heart for chasing after a dream that ended with rejection. Nevertheless, at least he now takes a rest from his long quest for his fantasy for Daisy. That is why pursuing American dream is evidently negative in the context of “The Great Gatsby” since the long exhausting hard work for a dream that fruits nothing good out of it, is not worth to pursue.
The American Dream was originally about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. However, in the novel, easy money and pleasure-seeking social value corrupted this dream, making it over-materialistic and unworthy to chase after.
The empty pursuit of pleasure, the blind chase for wealth and ambition and the ultimate ruin of dream have signifies one thing: pursuing American dream is not something good and should not be pursued endlessly. This is evident in the character of Jay Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson, and the white community of Egg Villages. A important quote said by Rene de Visme Williamson, a Harvard-trained professor of political theory highlights the unworthiness of American dream. (Rene) “If the American dream is for Americans only, it will remain our dream and never be our destiny.”
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Group, 1994.
Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes. 24 November 2008
Rene de Visme Williamson quotes. 24 November 2008
Ursula K. LeGuin quotes. 24 November 2008
Phillips, Brian. SparkNote on The Great Gatsby. 24 Feb. 2008