Among the many concepts explored in Fitzgeralds’s The Great Gatsby, American Dream is one of the most notable ones. The titular character, with his extravagant lifestyle, acts like its embodiment and manifestation in the hedonistic, consumerist atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties. Yet the author questions this interpretation of the American Dream, as Gatsby’s frantic yet dishonest determination to pursue his goals only leads to death and decay.
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At first sight, the titular character of the novel is the living incarnation of the American Dream – a testimony that anyone can achieve his goals through ingenuity and honest effort. In the Jazz Age, these goals mainly amount to living a luxurious and extravagant lifestyle, and Gatsby certainly qualifies in this respect. His wealth and ability to spend money beyond counting is one of his defining traits, and Gatsby is happy to boast about “like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe” (Fitzgerald 42). This emphasis on Gatsby’s enormous wealth is paralleled by the imagery of his house, which is “a colossal affair by any standard” with a tower, marble swimming pool, and other things (Fitzgerald 5). To an outside observer, Gatsby may indeed seem like a man who achieved his goals and dreams to the fullest in the land of opportunity that is America.
However, this image of the triumphant American Dream swiftly shatters and comes down closer to the end of the book when the people learn about the real source of his wealth. The author gives his audience some hints early on: Gatsby’s guests at one of his fashionable parties suggest he might be a bootlegger and a dangerous criminal (Fitzgerald 39). Originally, this suggestion is merely speculation adding to the mystique of an enigmatic nouveau riche, but it proves closer to the truth than anyone can expect. In Chapter 7, Buchanan reveals that Gatsby and his partner Wolfsheim got their money by selling “grain alcohol over the counter” – a profitable yet unlawful business in the Prohibition ear (Fitzgerald 85). One of the core notions behind the American Dream is that honest work is the path so success, yet Gatsby’s welt homes from illegal alcohol sales. Thus, the lavish lifestyle of the titular character becomes a distorted and ugly version of the American Dream, where only hedonistic ends matter and the means of achieving them are irrelevant.
This disfigured representation of the American Dream comes to an equally unsavory end together with its embodiment. Learning about the death of his wife in a car accident – caused by Gatsby’s mistress Daisy driving – an enraged husband kills first Gatsby and then himself (Fitzgerald 103). One again, the titular character’s fate is paralleled by that of his house. Observing the neighborhood after Gatsby’s death, the narrator can only refer to his once splendid dwelling as a “huge incoherent failure of a house” (Fitzgerald 115). Gatsby’s hedonism based on dishonesty and law-breaking does not bring a happy and for the incarnation of the American Dream of the Roaring Twenties and fails to leave any lasting or meaningful impact.
As on can see, Fitzgeralds’s The Great Gatsby questions the interpretation of the American Dream in the Jazz Age embodied in the novel’s titular character. While Gatsby may initially appear a self-made man in the land of opportunity, he is a fraud and criminal whose wealth does not come from honest work. His fitting end signifies that, while the author does not necessarily distrust the American Dream in general, he does not hold its immoral and hedonistic subversion in high regard.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Wordsworth Classics, 2001.