At first glance, Netherland and The Great Gatsby may seem like novels that explore the concept (or rather the myth) of the American dream as a positive and powerful force that motivates people to achieve great things; however, both novels actually depict the corruption of the American dream and portray how the pursuit of it impacted American society during the Great Depression and post-9/11.
In both novels, the American dream means to live a comfortable life—to have a decent job, to be financially stable, to have a respectable family, to live life to the fullest, which in turn would bring happiness and success. It is a dream equal of opportunity—attainable for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, or social class; immigrants can adapt to American culture, get a good education and a good job and ensure their comfort, and those who come from the lower social classes can slowly rise to the top, as long as they're hardworking, determined, and focused.
The main point of the novels, however, is to showcase that this is far from the truth—the American dream is, for the most part, nothing more than a dream and mostly available to the wealthy and privileged.
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a prime example of this—he succeeds, yes, by working hard (and illegally and dishonestly) and never giving up; however, Fitzgerald points out that even those who manage to turn the American dream into reality (by any means necessary), ultimately realize that they're still unhappy and unfulfilled, because materialistic possessions and money do not, in fact, bring happiness.
Gatsby is nothing more than a product of a consumerist system that poisons him with false values and turns his pursuit of happiness into a mad quest for money and power, which ultimately destroys him in the end, both spiritually and physically.
In Netherland, Hans van der Broek is a Dutch financial analyst who meets the charming and ambitious West Indian from Trinidad—Chuck Ramkissoon, who has big optimistic plans for the future and tries to turn cricket into a prosperous business. Similar to Gatsby, both Chuck and Hans chase the American dream—a dream that has inherently remained unchanged in definition since the 1920s; if Chuck is the contemporary Gatsby, then Hans is the modern Nick Carraway.
In fact, Netherland begins where The Great Gatsby ends—with the main protagonist dead and forgotten; two unconventional antiheroes, Gatsby and Chuck, essentially lose their lives for trusting the hypocritical system and chasing the American dream.
Unlike Gatsby and Chuck, however, who remain visionaries to the very end, Hans realizes that the American dream is simply an unreachable ideal and perhaps even an illusion. After witnessing the way society changes after 9/11 and how both the socioeconomic and cultural climate shift drastically, Hans decides to no longer pursue what he originally believed would bring him happiness and fulfillment; he realizes that the only way to attain the American dream is to wake up.