What comment is Fitzgerald making about The American Dream in the 1920's through The Great Gatsby?

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merricat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The original American Dream was the idea that one could work hard, stay focused and determined, and ultimately one could achieve the goal sought. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows how the original American Dream has died, replaced by a desire for massive wealth for wealth’s sake, and to use it for personal pleasure, ultimately leading to destruction. Money murders the American Dream by replacing long lasting hope with materialism and greed.

Gatsby himself stands as the prime example of this. In some ways, he personified the hero of the old American Dream. He worked hard toward a deep-seated goal: winning Daisy. He persevered and never lost hope, even when Daisy deserted him. He believed that if he could acquire wealth--by any means, legal or not--he would be able to have Daisy. To this end he worked with Meyer Wolfsheim, bought the gaudy mansion, threw lavish, opulent parties filled with people only looking for an immediate good time, and obsessed over Daisy, staring at the green light at the end of her dock. In the end, he is alone and pays the ultimate sacrifice for his version of the American Dream.

Fitzgerald portrays the new, warped American Dream in many other ways as well. The West Eggers are the recently wealthy, thought to be tacky, less fashionable, and not of as high a social class as the East Eggers. The West Eggers had recently achieved their money; the East Eggers were born into wealth.

Nevertheless, even those of the old-money upper class are not happy. Tom has affairs; he looks down on others because of their skin color or income; he has no real job or purpose. Daisy lives only for the moment, unable to see beyond her immediate need for gratification or to plan for any future. The upper class is shown to be selfish and merciless. Nick aptly sums Tom and Daisy up this way:

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

At one point Gatsby himself sums up the charm in Daisy’s voice with this phrase, “Her voice is full of money.” Daisy does not have a genuine charm or attraction; she has the allure of vast wealth.

Even minor characters show the death of the original dream. George Wilson was a common person just trying to get ahead to move somewhere better than the Valley of Ashes. Myrtle aspired to be upper class. Both relied on Tom to help them: George by selling him a car, and Myrtle by being his mistress and, she hoped, his eventual wife. Both believed his lies and both died because of their dreams. The ability to get ahead by working hard died with George; the pursuit of wealth for happiness did not work for any characters: Gatsby, Myrtle, or even the myriad of guests at Gatsby’s parties. 

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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