Analyze the presentation of the American dream in The Great Gatsby. Does the novel portray the death of the American Dream? How does this idea of a perfect world shape the lives of all characters within the novel?
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F. Scott Fitzgerald's magnum opus, The Great Gatsby, is a satire on the ideal of the American Dream, the promise of the achievement of anything through hard work. Disillusioned in his own search for this illusive Dream, Fitzgerald incorporates in his narrative his experiences of living among the materialistic Easterners that he met as a young man when he and his socialite wife moved from the South. In his narrative, then, the American dream is depicted as an aspiration for the acquisition of wealth and material possessions with little regard for the ethics of life; it is, therefore, a corrupted dream, sordid and wasteful.
The illusionary ideal of materialism as the formula for success finds Jay Gatsby--a derivative of his real name, James Gatz, the "great Gatsby" much like those men of the Vaudeville acts the 1920s--reinventing himself as an archetypal image, a Trimalchio, who from "rags to riches" lives in a mansion that resembles a French hôtel de ville where he arranges ostentatious parties at which crowds flock, but he himself does not attend. Those who do attend are vulgar and shallow in character, impressed only with the show of wealth, the "deathless song" of the charm of money in a voice such as that of Daisy Buchanan.
Lured by this charm of money in the corrupted American Dream, Mrytle Wilson equates love and happiness with material values and loses herself. Daisy virtually sells herself to her husband for a pearl necklace worth $350,000, and Jordan Baker cheats at golf tournaments and becomes "a bad driver," one who lies and deceives oneself. The young James Gatz, who so carefully charted his character development in a notebook as a youth, becomes corrupted in his dream of wealth, working in the criminal underworld with the likes of Meyer Wolfschiem [sic]. Yet, he perceives himself as springing from a "Platonic conception of himself," a conception to which he is, romantically, faithful to the end, standing in the rain outside the window of Daisy Buchanan in the moonlight--"watching over nothing" because Daisy and Tom Buchanan are "careless people" who allow others to take the blame for their transgressions, insulating themselves with their money and social position as Daisy may well ask again, "What'll we plan? What do people plan?...What do we do with ourselves this afternoon...and the next thirty years?" in her voice "full of money,...the inexhaustible charm" that is but an illusion.
Certainly, the American Dream, the striving for materialism as an end and a measure or worth, is a blue dream of illusion that drives those who pursue it to despair and death. One critic writes,
Fitzgerald's ending indicates that his diagnosis of America's immoral materialism in incurable. To him Daisy and Tom's avarice is the American reality and Gatsby's misdirected sincerity is no more than an American Dream. [not a reality]
. But, his American Dream is also a myth, an illusionary ideal of materialism as the formula for success.
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