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In The Great Gatsby, how does Gatsby represent the American dream and what does the...

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user523322 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 20, 2013 at 4:11 AM via web

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In The Great Gatsby, how does Gatsby represent the American dream and what does the novel have to say about the condition of the American dream in the 1920s? 

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 27, 2013 at 1:47 PM (Answer #2)

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Fitzgerald's novel is often seen as a commentary on the corruption of the American Dream. Immorality, superficiality and bad behavior are all characteristics of the upper classes in the novel yet the aspiration to be upper class - to have everything and have fun too - is not directly questioned by the characters in the novel (with the partial exception of Nick). 

It may be helpful here to note that the novel was written as a satire, loosely based on the Roman satirical figure Trimalchio, a man who dresses up to be rich. 

Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the form of a satire, a criticism of society's foibles through humor. The elements of satire in the book include the depiction of the nouveau riche (“newly rich”), the sense of vulgarity of the people, the parties intended to draw Daisy over, the grotesque quality of the name “Great” Gatsby in the title. (eNotes)

Jay Gatsby in particular can be seen as a representative of the corruption of the American Dream. As a young man he believed in the commonly held views that "character" was essential for success. We can see this clearly in the notebook that he kept as a young man, filled with self-improvement plans, most of which focus on building "good character".

Gatsby’s day began at an early 6:00 for exercise, study, work, sports, elocution, and poise as well as general resolves such as “saving $3.00 per week”.

The irony, of course, is that Gatsby grows up to be a criminal. Gatsby succeeds in attaining great wealth (part of the "Dream") but he becomes a corrupted figure morally. The element of self-improvement that is integral to the American Dream becomes highly ironic in Gatsby as his character does not improve as his bank account grows.

We can see a similar moral dynamic represented in the figures of Jordan, Daisy, and Tom - all people who have the means to be satisfied with their lives yet who cheat in one way or another. Money does not "improve" people but seems to corrupt them instead. Thus the American Dream becomes an aspiration to material wealth and no more, losing the moral aspect of its promise of "the good life".

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amysor | Student , Grade 10 | Valedictorian

Posted September 24, 2013 at 10:08 PM (Answer #1)

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Gatsby represents the American dream because he had nothing, and wanted to make is life sucessful and worthwhile. He put so much work into the dream, although, only a few actually make it. He didn't make it because his dream was the be rich and marry Daisy. The american dream in the 1920s was filled with hard work, but in the end, filled with the glamour of the roaring 20s.

Gatsby represents the American dream of self-made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to make something of one's self despite one's origins. -enotes.com study guide

This novel is based on the theme dreams, as everyone had a dream, but could not achieve, even in the freedom filled America. Since there is so much freedom, not everyone is taken care of, so only the very few, like those of west egg who are the 'new money' make it, or those of 'west egg' who already had the resources to fufill their dreams. At this time in American history, these dreams were a lot more realistic. With wall st. and stocks booming, your dreams seemed like you could be able to touch them. A decade later, circumstances were different. The great depression hit and a lot of people had nothing, no money at all. Their dreams were too far away, and they knew they would never achieve it.

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