Alexis De Tocqueville claims, "It is odd to watch with what feverish ardour Americans pursue prosperity, ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they might not have chosen the shortest route...

Alexis De Tocqueville claims, "It is odd to watch with what feverish ardour Americans pursue prosperity, ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they might not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach, as if they expected to stop living before relishing them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them, before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them."

How do quotations from The Great Gatsby support DeTocqueville's claim?   

Expert Answers
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. The first phrase from Alexis DeToqueville's statement illustrates Nick's perplexity resulting from his observations of Gatsby's party-goers and Gatsby himself. At the beginning of Chapter Four, Nick notes that all of Gatsby's guests "accepted Gatsby's hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him" (Chapter Four). The party-goers love the excess of the parties and care nothing for creating intangible relationships.

Similarly, Nick observes the same materialism in Gatsby as he rides into the city with Gatsby. The millionaire recounts his life story for Nick; Nick notes that Gatsby's focus--to the point of being obsessive--is on Nick's knowing how wealthy he is. He talks about his "wealthy family" and then solemnly states that his "family all died" so he "came into a good deal of money" (Chapter Four). Gatsby pauses to connote grief, but the brevity of the statement and its immediate link to prosperity add to the eccentricity that Nick associates with Gatsby. 

2. Gatsby also embodies DeToqueville's observation of Americans second guessing their routes to success and their apparent inability to enjoy any of the fruits of their prosperity because they are always relentlessly pursuing their next goal. When Gatsby sets up his meeting with Daisy at Nick's cottage, he questions whether he has everything just right to "obtain" his ultimate goal. He is in love with the idea of Daisy and believes that he has to "possess" someone from Old Money society in order to be truly successful. Even after he and Daisy lock eyes, Gatsby is not satisfied with his path to Daisy. He privately confesses to Nick, "'This is a terrible mistake' . . .'a terrible, terrible mistake'" (Chapter Five).

Gatsby never enjoys his prosperity because all his trappings of wealth are to acquire Daisy. When she asks him how he can live in such a big house all alone, he tells her, "'I keep it always full of interesting people, night and day. People who do interesting things. Celebrated people'" (Chapter 5). He views the guests at his parties as mere parts of his prosperity. In the same chapter, when Gatsby shows Daisy his shirt collection, it is obvious that it is simply that, a collection, another possession meant to impress Daisy.

3. The final portion of DeToqueville's observation about death stepping in before Americans have a chance to grow weary of their relentless pursuit applies to Myrtle Wilson and Gatsby. Myrtle is attracted to all that Tom Buchanan can offer her--a life so different from her dreary existence in the Valley of Ashes, and yet because of her literal pursuit of the swanky car which she believes contains Tom, "her life [is] violently extinguished, . . . her thick dark blood [mingling] with the dust" (Chapter Eight). Myrtle does not even have a chance to know that her quest has ended.

In the end, Gatsby futilely believes that he will achieve his goal of possessing Daisy. As he tries to convince himself and Nick that his pursuit of Daisy--and, thus, prosperity--is not dead, he tells Nick that "'Of course she might have loved [Tom] just for a minute, when they were first married-and loved me more even then, do you see?'" (Chapter Nine). Before Gatsby discovers that his years of pursuing Daisy and social status have all been in vain and that Daisy is not worth his obsession, George Wilson snuffs out his life. 

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The Great Gatsby

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