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The Great Gatsby - The Death of the American Dream 

The American Dream is dead. This is the main theme in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. In the novel Fitzgerald gives us a glimpse into the life of the high class during the roaring twenties through the eyes of a moralistic young man named Nick Carraway. It is through the narrator's dealings with high society that readers are shown how modern values have transformed the American Dream's pure ideals into a scheme for materialistic power and further, how the world of high society lacks any sense of morals or consequence. In order to support this message, Fitzgerald presents the original aspects of the American Dream along with its modern face to show that the once impervious dream is now lost forever to the American people.
The main qualities of the American Dream presented in The Great Gatsby are perseverance and hope. Another famous characteristic of the American dream is the idea of success against all odds. This is shown through the life of James Gatz, who focused all his attention to living the dream and becoming an American hero. Ever since he was young, Gatz worked hard on becoming a great man. This is documented in Gatz's copy of the adventures of Hopalong Cassidy, who was another romantic American figure. While showing this journal to Nick, Mr. Gatz professed, "Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that." (Pg. 175) James Gatz connection to the American dream is further illustrated by the fact that his program for self-improvement is right out of Ben Franklin's Autobiography, right down to the smallest details. The content of the schedule and what it was written on sho! ws two more of the qualities that are part of being an American hero: hard-working ambition and a thirst for adventure.

The product of all of James Gatz's hard work is the longing Jay Gatsby, who epitomizes one of the main characteristics of the American dream: everlasting hope. Gatsby desire to win Daisy's love is his version of the old American dream: an incredible goal and a constant search for the opportunity to reach this goal. This is shown when Gatsby is first introduced into the novel. It is late at night and we find him "with his hands in his pockets… out to determine what share was his of our local heavens." While Nick continues to watch Gatsby's movements he says: "-he [Gatsby] stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward-and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock" (Pg. 21-22) The green light that Gatsby reaches out for symbolizes his longing; his longing for Daisy, for money, for acceptance and no matter how much he has he never feels complete. This green light is part of the American Dream. It symbolizes our constant searching for a way to reach that goal just of in the distance, as Nick described it, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…. And one fine morning-" (Pg. 182) Gatsby's goal gave him a purpose in life, which sets him apart from the rest of the upper class. He is constantly chasing his dream of being with Daisy, from the moment he stretches toward her house to his finial days of life when he patiently waits for hours outside her house even though she has already abandoned her affair with him. Gatsby is a man who has all of the purest traits of the old American hero, hope, perseverance, hard working ambition, and a thirst for adventure, but he loses them by wearing the dream's modern face.

F. Scott Fitzgerald credits the destruction of the American Dream to wealth, privilege, and the lack of humanity that those aspects create. Money is clearly identified as the main culprit in the dream's death. It becomes easily entangled with hope and success and replacing their positions in the American Dream with materialism. This is shown through Gatsby's use of illegal practices and underground connections to make money. His lavish parties, huge mansion, and giant collection of clothing all represent his corruption. His use of status and privilege is demonstrated when his traffic violation is ignored by the police officer. But the worst qualities of the dream's modern face are evident in Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who live without any hopes or regrets because the foundation of their character is money and wealth. Nick describes the Buchanan's as such: "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 had made…" (Pg. 180-181) An example of the Buchanan's carelessness and lack of regret comes when Nicks runs into Tom one last time. When confronted with Gatsby's death Tom merely responds "I told him the truth…What If I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him" (Pg. 187) Even though Tom admits to the fact that he is responsible for Gatsby's murder and Wilson's suicide, he continues to claim innocence because he has never known guilt or shame as a member of the established elite. This upper class is shown to be made-up of heartless citizens who have achieved success at the cost of dehumanization and the selling of their souls.

There is a sense of hopelessness at the end of the novel to prove that the purity of the American dream is dead with Daisy's baby, Gatsby's death, and Wilson's suicide all examples. The first hint of tragedy begins at the introduction of the Buchanan's daughter. When the girl is brought into the salon Nick observes an obvious disturbance in Gatsby's attitude and thinking, "Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before." (Pg. 117) Daisy then calls her child an "absolute little dream", crushing all of Gatsby's hopes of recreating the past. Then the replacement of the American dream with materialism is pointed out moments later when Nick and Gatsby try to discern the charm in Daisy's voice. At that moment Gatsby says, "Her voice is full of money", and Nicks reaches a revelation about society: "That was it. I'd never understood it before. It was full of money-that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it…. High in a white palace the golden girl…." (Pg. 120) With this revelation all of Daisy's charm and beauty is stripped away and only money is left to be admired. Gatsby then realizes that his dream he has been pursing is not that of love but of money hidden behind a human face. Afterwards, When Gatsby dies, any chance of the old American Dream of surviving in the dehumanized modern world id destroyed with him. All of the hopes and dreams that strengthened and uplifted Gatsby are shattered as he lies in his pool, dazed and confused about the world he is living in and about to leave. After shooting Gatsby, George Wilson, the symbol of the common man who is trying to achieve his own success in the modern dream, commits suicide. The deaths of both the rich and poor man trying to achieve their goals symbolize the death of the old American Dream. The dream is now completely lost and can never be restored. Through the tragic story of Jay Gatsby and his failed attempt to reach his dream, F. Scott Fitzgerald also describes the tragic death of American values. The characters in The Great Gatsby are mere examples of Fitzgerald's message- the old American dream and all of its pure ideals have been replaced with money, greed, and materialism. Nick Carraway conveys this message as an outsider, an honest man from the mid-west who witnessed the whole affair as an observer. The Great Gatsby is not about the life and death of James Gatz, but about what James Gatz stood for. It is about the life and death of the old American Dream.

 

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