In The Great Gatsby, what does F. Scott Fitzgerald suggest about the state of the American Dream in terms of the people who pursue it?

Expert Answers
davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Great Gatsby is an extended critique of the American Dream. And this critique is made all the more effective for being personified by the people who pursue that dream. For a dream is precisely all that it is. No one truly achieves fulfilment, try as they might. Their lives are shallow and meaningless. Jay Gatsby's fortune is built on the proceeds of crime, and though he appears to enjoy immense popularity, hardly anyone turns up to his funeral. His whole life, like the American Dream itself, is just a mirage, one that holds out the prospect of untold riches, but ultimately destroys those who pursue it.

The pursuit of the Dream is inherently corrupting; it forces people to do things they don't really want to do. Human relationships are commodified, with people treated like property. Observe how Tom treats Myrtle Wilson. To him, she's just a plaything, an object to bolster his macho self-image. The way he looks at Daisy's not much better. She's little more than a trophy wife, a glittering trinket to parade before the whole world.

But Daisy's as corrupted by the American Dream as much as anyone. Her relationship with Gatsby is shallow in the extreme. She's swept away by his wealth and charm, but there's no real depth to her feelings. She shows more emotion over his collection of shirts than she does towards him.

And it's not just the East Eggers who are suckered into this delusional fantasy. The denizens of the valley of ashes also go along for the ride. Myrtle Wilson is using her affair with Tom Buchanan as an entree to a better life. She's tired of being married to someone she regards as a loser. She wants to have fancy clothes and attend high-class parties. But she too is corrupted. In the party scene at Tom's love-nest apartment, she starts lording it over everyone, putting on airs and graces while still betraying her invincible vulgarity. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fitzgerald's statement about the American Dream and the people pursuing it rests in hollowness when such visions are rooted in material temporality as opposed to something more real and lasting.  One can see this in the characters.  Jordan's pursuit of her dream is one of fame and cheating, revealing how the temporal condition of being can make consciousness a shallow experience.  Tom and Daisy seem to live their dream only at the cost of other people and how they can benefit their own states in life.  Their pursuit is material in how it uses people as a means to an end as opposed to an end in its own right.  Even Gatsby's own ignorance about what is real and endless faith in his ability to "win" Daisy for himself and not accept real and valid limitations are reflective of a temporal state of being.  In these examples, Fitzgerald is suggesting that there is something hollow in the pursuit of the American Dream when it is so driven by the contingent need of satisfying "the now."  There is little in terms of the substantive and a sense of the grounded that exists in these visions, and for this, Fitzgerald's ultimate comment is how such dreams and their pursuits reflect shallowness and eventual unhappiness.  The characters fail to realize this and with this is what contributes to their tragic state of being.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald condemns and criticizes the vain pursuit of the American Dream. Fitzgerald critiques the pursuit of materialism and social status by illustrating the tragic deaths of Jay Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson, as well as the hollow relationship between Tom and Daisy Buchanan. He suggests that the American Dream is artificial and slowly decaying throughout the novel. Those who pursue material wealth and status are superficial and live unfulfilled lives. The Valley of Ashes represents the social and moral decay of those who pursue the empty American Dream by seeking pleasure at all times. The citizens of the East and West Egg are more concerned with their appearances than they are with their spiritual well-being. Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream of becoming wealthy and famous is essentially futile because those in pursuit end up both unhappy, unfulfilled, and spiritually dead. 

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question