How is the American Dream portrayed in The Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fitzgerald connects the American Dream to Gatsby's quest to regain Daisy. In both cases, Fitzgerald says, the dream is to start over again and remake the past. As Nick states near the end of the novel, he can understand how the new continent must have looked to the first settlers: "a fresh, green breast of the new world." They were tantalized by the dream of leaving the mistakes of Europe behind and beginning again, this time getting it right, setting history straight.

Gatsby looks like he has achieved the American dream of wealth and success, but that is not what he cares about (and he is scorned anyway by old money people like Tom): Gatsby's dream is to recapture the past through Daisy.

Gatsby, separated from Daisy for five years, wants nothing more than to go back and pick up where they left off, as if the intervening five years never happened. Of course, as Nick tries to tell him, that's impossible—too much has happened. Gatsby, however, refuses to hear that. He wants to set history straight and get it right this time with Daisy.

Likewise, the American Dream of going back to the beginning and building a paradise in "a fresh, green" new world can't happen. Too much has happened, and we carry too much baggage, yet we are tantalized by the dream of starting over. We race towards the future, thinking that one day we can achieve the dream of paradise. Instead:

the orgastic future . . . year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The American Dream (the belief that one can win fulfillment by working hard) is central to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsbyand it's portrayed in a variety of ways. On the one hand, the American Dream can be seen in Gatsby's pursuit of wealth. A self-made man, Gatsby claws his way out of poverty by earning money any way that he can, and it's suggested that he employs certain illegal means to acquire his wealth. Additionally, the American Dream can be seen in Gatsby's desire to win Daisy's love. Gatsby only acquires his vast fortune to win her affection, as a woman as wealthy Daisy would never have been able to marry a man as poor as the young Gatsby, and it's suggested that Gatsby believes acquiring Daisy will make him happy. In short, the American Dream is shown to be the pursuit of possessions, including material possessions, such as Gatsby's fortune, and less concrete possessions, such as Daisy's affection.

Ultimately, the novel portrays the American Dream as hollow and empty. Gatsby fails to win Daisy, he dies alone, and his life's work is proved to be a failure. In the end, Fitzgerald questions the material lust that drives the American Dream, and he ultimately concludes that the whole enterprise is shallow and misguided.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial