How does Gatsby represent the American dream? What does the novel have to say about the condition of the American dream in the 1920s?In what ways do the themes of dreams, wealth and time re,late to each other in the novel's exploration of the idea of America?
In a way, Gatsby represents the American Dream because he came from 'nothing' into wealth, power, and privilege. Of course, we know he earned much of his financial assets from illegal activities. That part of Gatsby cannot be considered the American Dream. Generally, we think of the American Dream as someone with little rising to fame, financial security, or some other powerful position. We also see a different side to this dream in The Great Gatsby. Although many of the characters are popular and wealthy, they are not happy. Even Gatsby is not entirely satisfied with his new position in society. We see in this novel that sometimes when we get what we wished for we find out that it isn't what we wanted it to be.
The characters in the novel, by and large, have achieved what is supposed to be the American Dream, or at least one part of it. They are affluent and financially successful. But they aren't happy. They have discovered that, obviously, money doesn't buy happiness, but also that it doesn't necessarily buy status. The people at Gatsby's parties are scorned by the "old money" on Long Island, and Gatsby, himself a nouveau riche, scrambles to impress Daisy, who comes from an aristocratic background. Ultimately, the novel portrays the material success achieved by its characters as incomplete and hollow.
From one perspective, the novel reveals the shallowness of American materialism in the 1920s. Such shallowness would become fairly widely apparent in the 1930s, with the advent of the Great Depression. Right now I am reading Salman Rushdie's novel Fury, which describes the shallowness of American culture in the year 2000 -- just before the attacks on the World Trade Center and, of course, also before our current economic slump. The events and people the novel depicts seem even shallower now than they must have seemed when the book was originally published. I suspect the same was true for readers of Gatsby who read the book in the 1930s.
I think what it is saying is that the American Dream (at least as it is seen in the '20s) has become corrupted and not worth pursuing. People no longer value honest work and success based on that. Instead, they are shallow and just want money and status and are willing to do whatever they have to to get it.