In The Great Gatsby, what argument is F. Scott Fitzgerald making about the American Dream, based on the desires and fates of the characters?

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athenaia86 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The essence of the American Dream is the rags-to-riches tale where someone achieves greatness through their own hard work. In this story, Gatsby comes from extremely humble origins but has managed, by the time he is a young man, to make a modest success of himself. He wins Daisy's love, even though she is his social better, but even at this point he still feels that she is too good for him and feels a sense of conquest in achieving her. His feeling that she will not stay with him, however, seems borne out by the fact that when he is away at war, she does not wait for him, but marries someone of her own social class. This is the end of Gatsby's first American Dream: he's been taught that making a success of oneself does not actually enable someone to become equal with people who were born rich.

After this knockback, then, instead of abandoning the American Dream, Gatsby simply doubles down in his pursuit of it. Having found that honest hard work has not allowed Gatsby access to the upper echelons of society as promised, he instead sets out to make himself phenomenally wealthy through illegal pursuits and lying about his upbringing. When everyone believes that Gatsby is an Oxford graduate from a rich family, he is then able to become the center of social activity in the area, but he still cannot have Daisy. The difference between Gatsby, "new money," and Daisy, "old money," is symbolized by the space between West Egg and East Egg. Gatsby has done all of this to make himself someone Daisy might be willing to be with in public, but he still does not achieve what he wanted; he has put in a huge amount of hard work but he still does not win Daisy.

When, at the end of the novel, Gatsby is revealed to have come from humble origins, he loses everything in the eyes of the shallow, "old money" crowd of East Egg. Thus, being a self-made man has not enabled him to make his own destiny: he is still distanced from those who were born into money because they do not actually respect him, knowing that he has come from nothing. In this novel, then, it seems that the argument Fitzgerald is ultimately making is that the American Dream is hollow, or else that Gatsby himself has misunderstood the dream.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fitzgerald examines the vain pursuit of the American Dream throughout the novel The Great Gatsby. The idea of the American Dream revolves around the assumption that individuals can attain social status and wealth by working hard. Jay Gatsby embodies the idea of the American Dream throughout the novel. His quick ascension to the upper class and extraordinary wealth is the result of his hard work and dedication. However, his dream of marrying Daisy is unfulfilled because he lacks the ability to provide a secure relationship due to his illegal occupation as a bootlegger. As a result, Gatsby's amassed wealth means nothing. His emphasis on superficial items was not enough to win Daisy's heart. Even though he attained what many consider to be the American Dream, he died lonely and unappreciated. Other characters who also attained the American Dream through financial freedom and social status live fruitless, superficial lives. Both Tom and Daisy have attained the American Dream, but they are not happily married and continually cheat on one another. Myrtle Wilson is another character who attempts to climb the social ladder in hopes of attaining the American Dream. Unfortunately, she dies in a fatal accident and never achieves her goal of living a wealthy, secure life with Tom. Once again, Fitzgerald illustrates how the vain pursuit of money and social status, the preeminent characteristics of the American Dream, is unfulfilling and empty.

gkopf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea of the American Dream is a huge theme in The Great Gatsby. Each character is searching for his/ her version of the American Dream. Typically, the American Dream refers to the belief that one can start with nothing and ultimately succeed through hard work. For Jay Gatsby, this belief is extremely important. He started with nothing, and through hard work was able to amass a great deal of wealth. Gatsby is considered "new money," while other main characters (Tom and Daisy) are "old money." Gatsby wants to be on Daisy's level, and he tries to show off his wealth to her every chance he gets with lavish parties and his collection of custom shirts. His American Dream is to prove his worth to and win over Daisy, by proving he can provide for her.

Fitzgerald seems to be warning his audience about the pitfalls of pursuing the American Dream. Gatsby is never truly accepted by Tom and Daisy, and in the end, Daisy chooses not to be with Gatsby despite his wealth. Gatsby ultimately dies in pursuit of his American Dream—shot and left for dead in his swimming pool. His attempt to achieve the American Dream was unsuccessful.

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The Great Gatsby

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