How are the issues in The Great Gatsby pertinent in today's society?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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 Chapter Seven of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby opens,

It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night--and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.

Like the mythological Roman who gave lavish parties, Gatsby's misdirected sincerity is an ethereal dream tainted by the immoral materialism of the Jazz Age.  In the end, it is the avarice of Daisy and Tom Buchanan that succeeds and the idealistic Jay Gatsby who tragically dies. Indeed, it is Daisy and Tom 's avarice that is the American reality and Gatsby's idealism that is no more than an illusionary dream. 

This "grotesque reality" exists in modern times as society still equates morality with social status.  With the goal of the acquisition of wealth, any means is justified for many.  Perhaps, this is the origin of the phrase "filthy rich." Business entrepreneurs, pop singers and actors and professional athletes have those among them who represent this state of mind exemplified in the Buchanans.  The renowned director Oliver Stone once remarked, "We worship fame and honor money."

The American Dream of self-reliance, self-determination, and the pursuit of happiness is yet in the state of deterioration that it was in the Jazz Age. Corrupted to the pursuit of wealth and material possession with reduced social values, American Dreams are little more than immoral dreams of money and pleasure. Nowadays, social position does not carry the weight that it did in the 1920s, nor does the "Oxford education," or impeccable manners; however, business success, fame, and wealth are still the measurements of high positions in American society as they were beginning to be with the moral corruption of the wealthy on the East Coast of the United States.

In his essay, "A Note on The Great Gatsby," David F. Trask writes of the original American Dream, 

Americans easily assumed that spiritual satisfaction would automatically accompany material success. The dream was to be realized in an agrarian civilization, a way of life presumed better—far better—than the urban alternative. Thomas Jefferson firmly established the myth of the garden—the concept of agrarian virtue and the urban vice—in American minds.

Jay Gatsby follows  a list of resolves, not unlike those of Benjamin Franklin, he creates a "Platonic conception of himself," and perceives himself as one of "the anointed"--"he was the son of God." Clearly, the tragic Gatsby believes in the idealized American dream of Jefferson.  But, Gatsby's dream is  one of "meretricious beauty" as it is for the jaded Daisy. Americans today pursue a tawdry dream, as well.  It is often for fame--American Idol, Dancing with the Stars-- or it is for financial success as a pro athlete, a financier, an inventor of a new technology, etc.





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