The Deception of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald’s magnum opus The Great Gatsby raises an important question about the legitimacy of the American Dream. The novel centers on Jay Gatsby, a millionaire who came from humble beginnings and spends his time trying to reunite with his former lover, Daisy. Gatsby’s warped perception of success makes him see Daisy as a trophy, who he has to win over with his wealth. This way Gatsby’s American Dream does not stop at gaining a large amount of money, thereby extending the point of achieving it. Even though Gatsby attains all the amenities of luxurious life, his inability to place Daisy on the list of his countless possessions demonstrates the dehumanization of one while reaching for the American Dream.

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The American Dream Reflected in Jay Gatsby’s Lifestyle

From the very first pages of the novel, the reader catches a glimpse of how differently Gatsby lives in comparison with other characters. Gatsby does not just live an ostentatiously costly life – he broadcasts it. All of his possessions are always on display: an enormous mansion, countless cars, and pompous parties with people he does not know. When Nick, the narrator, rents a house at west Egg, he ends up becoming a neighbor to Jay Gatsby himself. The novel describes the palace in great detail:

The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard – it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion.

(Fitzgerald, 2001/1925, p. 5).

The mansion is designed to catch attention. It is not just a massive block of stone that protects the owner from the prying eyes; it is meant to attract and lure newcomers. Nick even compares it to a hotel, meaning, the house does look welcoming for the quests. The construction of the house is artsy and complex, and everything is on the display, including the pool and the garden. It is difficult to imagine how does the palace manages to show all of its architectural features just from one side; however, the reader can guess that Gatsby intended it to be this way.

Gatsby’s wealth is immeasurable; he has so much that he cannot possibly spend all of his money in a single lifetime. Most of his possessions are ridiculous and unnecessary – he admits to Nick that he does not swim in his giant pool, “You know, old sport, I’ve never used that pool all summer” (Fitzgerald, 2001/1925, p. 97). It suggests that Gatsby’s excessive consumerism is just for show; by organizing huge parties where everyone can see how wealthy he is, he establishes his status as an achiever of the American Dream. Hodo (2017) explains that this establishment of oneself as “somebody” is central to the concept of the Dream (p. 304). Indeed, the theme of identity plays one of the important roles in the novel. Gatsby has to prove to himself that he achieved the Dream, before proving it to Daisy and others. His status as a self-made man has to be adamant and indisputable because this is what Gatsby thinks will bring Daisy back. However, this makes all of his possessions worthless because they are treated not as ends but as means to win over Daisy, while the American Dream implies that prosperity is the end goal.

Daisy as a Part of Gatsby’s American Dream

Gatsby fails to see Daisy as an independent person, believing that she will be happy when she reunites with him. He trivializes the complexities of her human nature and his understanding of her comes off as oversimplified: Gatsby thinks Daisy’s interest in men lies only in their ability to provide for her. Gatsby does not seem to notice the fallacy in his reasoning: if all money in the world could not make him happy, why would it be different for Daisy? Hauhart (2016) compares Gatsby’s unsuccessful attempt to “earn” love from Daisy to the never-ending wants and needs of the consumerist society – the American Dream can never be reached because it has no definitive goal (p. 147). Daisy cannot be seen as a goal because she is a human being, and cannot be “earned”.

Green Color as a Failed Attempt to Achieve Daisy

The distance between him Gatsby and Daisy, which he is desperately trying to close, appears in a symbolic form over the course of the novel. One of these symbols is the green light hanging from Daisy’s dock that Gatsby watches every night. The novel ends with Gatsby seeing the light:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

(Fitzgerald, 2001/1925, p. 115).

Gatsby stretches his arms towards the light in attempt to reach Daisy for the very last time. The yearning for a better life with Daisy as his wife dies with him. Ghiotto and Wijanarka analyze how the green color symbolizes the American Dream for Gatsby (2016, p. 60). Scholars explain that green is how Gatsby is longing for Daisy and that it represents his optimism about their shared future. The American Dream promises that hard work will leads success; therefore, it is the hope and constant self-reliance that lie in the basis of this concept. Gatsby spends his whole life hoping to be with Daisy, so the color of his American Dream is green. However, he never reaches this green light; it is always distant, just as distant as Daisy’s love. This what makes the American Dream unachievable, financial success does not guarantee success in other spheres of life.

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Loss of Moral Values as Proof of the Failed Theory

Gatsby’s path to success was not so innocent and shiny as everyone around seems to think. Throughout the novel, it is implied that Gatsby acquired such wealth by illegally selling bonds and participating in other criminal activities. At one point, the characters mention that Gatsby has murdered a person: “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once” (Fitzgerald, 2001/1925, p. 29). This makes the reader question the legitimacy of the American Dream. For the outsiders, Gatsby represents a perfect example of a self-made man; however, for the reader and for the people who know him, Gatsby’s American Dream becomes corrupted. Therefore, the warped version of the Dream infects the reader’s perception of Gatsby’s love for Daisy – if the Dream cannot be achieved without resorting to other measures, love from Daisy cannot be achieved either.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the hope of reaching the American Dream is false, and the constant strive for success deprives one of their human qualities. Gatsby does not know any other way to get attention from Daisy except for bragging about his excessive wealth. The public demonstration of financial success suggests that Gatsby does this to not only impress other people or Daisy but also to prove to himself that he, indeed, has achieved the American Dream. Gatsby fails to see a human being in Daisy, and the reader fails to see a human being in Gatsby. Despite being surrounded by people and money, Gatsby is lonely, which shows the fallacy in the concept of the Dream.

References

Fitzgerald, F. S. (2001). The Great Gatsby. Wordsworth Editions. (Original work published 1925).

Ghiotto, M. F., & Wijanarka, H. (2016). American Dreams represented through the color in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Journal of Language and Literature, 16(1), 55-62.

Hauhart, R. C. (2016). Seeking the American Dream: A sociological inquiry. Springer Nature.

Hodo, Z. (2017). The failure of the American Dream in “The Great Gatsby” – Fitzgerald. European Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, 2(7), 299-305.

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