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The idea of the American ideal is heavily discussed in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925). This strategy was established soon after the Civil War concluded when many wanted to gain stability. The author's use of the word "American dream" conjured up an idea of a world that will have unlimited opportunity for all individuals, regardless of social status or birth circumstances. As a result, Fitzgerald's philosophies reveal facts of why the American dream collapsed, disappointing countless people. This bleak examination delves into the life of Jay Gatsby, a young man who struggles to attract the love of his life. Precisely, Fitzgerald succeeds in painting the 1920s as a period characterized by decayed moral and social values, as portrayed by the high rate of greed, cynicism, and a baseless pursuit of pleasure. Despite the initial anticipations of the American dream, the pursuers end up getting disappointed, while at the same time experiencing more challenges than before.
State of the American Dream
Despite the society's hope for a better future characterized by wealth and prosperity, it remains unachievable to the evident constraints. The initial concept of the American dream was that of a society where people could prosper in life due to their hard work. However, the author critiques the idea of America being a meritocracy where anyone can develop economically. He also portrays the dream as a failure since the lower class did not manage to amass wealth and prosperity like high-class individuals. Thus, the novel portrays the permanence of class differences since both the low and high classes fail to coexist with each other. Although the vast majority of Americans seek change, another section comprising of established individuals poses resistance. The failure of the American dream is as a result of the people's inability to address the challenges that would be experienced along the way (Fitzgerald 3). To be precise, issues such as xenophobia, income inequalities, systemic racism, and misogyny were not addressed. Thus, the young generation could not achieve their economic goals and developments with ease.
The state of the American dream is that of an aspiration that may never be achieved even in the future. For instance, Jay Gatsby overcomes poverty to the point to becoming a wealthy and recognized person in the society. However, Fitzgerald introduces the affluent group called 'old money' that is not ready to accommodate Jay and other poor people. Due to these constraints, the efforts made by low-class people do not count. To be precise, the resistance they meet thwarts all their hopes, sending them back to poverty and suffering.
Fitzgerald portrays the division in society as one factor that hindered the American dream's achievement. For example, East Egg is occupied by wealthy people, while the poor occupy West Egg. Fitzgerald argues that 'the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe - so I decided to go East and learn the bond business' (4). Realizing the American dream is next to impossible since these unethical and immoral practices have kept on piling up. In the midst of the story, the author introduces a green light that signifies the hopes held by Americans to achieve a prosperous future. However, the green light is located across the bay, an indication that there exists a barrier in between. In this case, the American dream stands out as an unachievable objective.
Pursuers of the Dream
The pursuers of the American dream are forced to stagnate at one level by societal constraints that are fully ingrained into the system. They experience numerous predicaments that cause tremendous harm to their lives. These challenges bar them from prospering, hence making their lives difficult. Using the character of Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald highlights how the lives of many Americans failed to change (Fitzgerald 15). For example, Gatsby is a newly wealthy man who aspires to reunite with Daisy Buchanan, a lover he lost five years ago. Despite becoming a wealthy man, the prosperous society cannot accommodate him, thereby preventing him from enjoying his American dream. Also, he fails to win Daisy's heart since she elopes with Tom Buchanan.
Tom, who emanates from an old wealthy family from Chicago is proud, and he embraces racist behaviors to draw attention. He is also a violent man who assaults his mistress Myrtle, once she requests him to divorce Daisy. Fitzgerald states 'making a short deft movement; Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand' (37). Tom's marriage with Daisy after all the efforts made by Gatsby showcases the power and influence held by the old money group. Thus, to Gatsby, Daisy can be likened to the American dream that he never enjoyed. On a broader perspective, the author presented her as a status symbol that Gatsby needed to affirm his realization of the dream. Gatsby is not the only person who has problems achieving the American dream. Fitzgerald introduces Nick Carraway's vision in which he stretches his hand to touch the green light on the other side of the bay. Being Daisy's cousin, he also works hard to facilitate her reunion with Gatsby. As such, her idea of abandoning Gatsby for Tom leaves bars him from achieving his interests.
With Gatsby being the protagonist, the American dream results in his death. He dies as a result of mingling with the wealthy elite that disfavors any interference from lower-class individuals. As depicted by the author, the American dream causes desperation and numerous deaths, and the victims are low-class individuals. This aspect is represented when Wilson's wife Myrtle, who is Tom's mistress dies in a car accident. Although Daisy was the driver, her husband Tom blames Gatsby, hence being killed by Wilson. At this point, the novel portrays a high depression among the lower class individuals, and the passion by the rich to protect themselves (Fitzgerald 40). In this case, the American dream appears to be an aspiration that increased the suffering of poor Americans instead of improving their lives.
Impacts of the Pursuit
The pursuit of the American dream causes various negative issues in the society. Apart from causing social and moral decay, it also increases the gap between the East and West Egg residents. The behaviors of both the rich and poor change for the worse as each side seeks to accomplish its goals. Precisely, the poor embrace any practice regardless of its effects just to attain wealth and fame. On the other hand, the rich accommodate racism and killings to safeguard their property and status from the intrusion of the lower-class. All people, regardless of their genders opt to be aggressive in pursuit of better lives. For example, Nick's lover Jordan cheats to secure her first golf tournament win. Despite being an active and competitive woman, the pressure to achieve the new dream is so high that she engages in unethical activities (Fitzgerald 64). The desire to achieve the American dream attracts all sorts of moral decay since all that matters is being wealthy, and not the process.
The American dream pushed the society to engage in various types of organized crimes. Gatsby stands out as one individual who engages in bootlegging to create more wealth. In 1920, the government enacted the Volstead Act, which closed saloons, bars, and taverns, hence illegalizing the sale of intoxicating liquors. In this case, his interest to achieve the American dream is not executed appropriately, but through an unethical and illegal practice. The worst aspect is that the bootlegged liquor is sold in drug stores, contrary to their subject aims. As such, it is evident that achieving the dream was being done through any process regardless of its adverse effects. Thus, with Gatsby leading in this business, he creates the impression that other low-income individuals practiced other illegal businesses. On a different note, Daisy represents women who cannot work hard when they can associate themselves with wealthy men. She declines Gatsby's wooing interests to remain with Tom due to his status quo in both social and economic spectrums. To explain this behavior further, Fitzgerald concludes, 'her voice is full of money' (107). Both Nick and Gatsby also engage in stolen bonds, a practice that increases their wealth tremendously. Also, Meyer Wolfshiem shows off his cufflinks that are made from human molars, an indication that lives were lost for them to be made. Based on all these issues, it is clear that the American dream encouraged people to break the laws to generate wealth and status.
Fitzgerald explores the challenges that emerged in the 1920s America as the people strove to accomplish prosperity dreams. As the main character, Gatsby's life portrays the struggles that poor people had to endure. The high racism and gap between the wealthy and low-class people make it difficult for anyone to achieve positive results. Even after acquiring lots of wealth, Gatsby loses his life after interacting with the rich. Thus, the American dream remains a complex issue that may not be achieved in centuries to come. Despite the positive foundation, the American dream influenced people, especially the young generation to break laws, hence engaging in illegal activities just to make money. In this case, the American dream's outcomes are worse and inappropriate since they complicated the lives of many Americans.
Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1950. Print.
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