Explore the concept of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby.

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The American Dream, as F. Scott Fitzgerald envisions it in his novel, is probably best expressed on the last page. Nick Carraway, the novel's narrator and moral conscience, is leaving his home on West Egg and goes once more to visit the now dead Gatsby's mansion. He "[wanders] down to the beach and [sprawls] out on the sand:"

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green beast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent . . . face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

The "old island flowered" asserts that, at least at one time, this was a place of renewal and rejuvenation—a "fresh, green beast of the new world." On the other hand, its description as a "beast" signifies the dangers it presented. Now, however, it is an "old island" and its freshness is now characterized by "vanished trees." The dream of America, as Fitzgerald tells it, was a broad, but transitory one—not unlike Gatsby's dreams for himself.

The dream is also out of reach. For Gatsby, it is symbolized by "the green light at the end of Daisy's dock," something that forever eludes him, no matter how intently he sought after it or how far he stretched his arms toward it, so to speak. The problem, according to Carraway (and Fitzgerald), is that the dream is not exclusively for a better future, but is one borne of the past. The American Dream in this novel is the fantasy of correcting the past, of starting over. This is a fool's errand, for it makes us "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

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The Great Gatsby

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