What are the goals or dreams of the characters in The Great Gatsby?

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Students studying The Great Gatsby are often asked whether the word "great" in the title is intended ironically. What is so great about Gatsby? One might answer "his dream," but the love or, more cynically, the possession of a woman is not a great or original dream. Perhaps what is great about Gatsby is that he achieves the "rags to riches" American dream incidentally, almost without noticing it.

Gatsby's dream is to win the love of Daisy. To achieve this, he rapidly acquires large amounts of money. This is itself the goal of most of those who surround him, including Nick Carraway, who has come to New York and become a bond trader in search of "the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew." Nick, and all Gatsby's shady, less successful business associates, aspire to his wealth, which to him is only a means to a greater end.

Daisy and Tom, of course, are already very wealthy. More imaginative, less selfish people might have come up with aspirations of their own, but the novel is pervaded by the sense that everyone dreams the hollow dream of wealth except the rich, who are alone in failing to enjoy the luxury of dreams. Tom and Daisy have no goals beyond the gratification of their selfish whims. Nick eventually tells Gatsby that Tom, Daisy, and their acolytes are "a rotten crowd," adding that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together." He says that he was "always glad [he] said that," and that "it was the only compliment [he] ever gave him, because [he] disapproved of him from beginning to end."

The reader probably disapproves of Gatsby, too, but we also see that Gatsby is better than those around him. They are either devoid of dreams or dream of gold, while Gatsby dreams of romance. It is a futile dream, based on an illusion about a selfish woman, but it redeems him from being as sordid as the crowd that surrounds him.

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Jay Gatsby's goals and dreams are to get Daisy to divorce Tom and have her eventually become his wife. Gatsby has been obsessed with the idea of being with Daisy since he dated her five years ago. Gatsby attains the American Dream by becoming an extremely wealthy bootlegger and hopes that his magnificent wealth is enough to win Daisy's heart.

Nick Carraway's goal at the beginning of the novel is to gain wealth in the bond business. Following his turbulent summer with Gatsby, Nick Carraway's goal is to leave the East Coast and live among down-to-earth, honest individuals.

Tom Buchanan's goals and dreams are to earn the admiration and respect of his peers. He also wishes to control his wife and carry on his affairs in peace. Tom is an extremely superficial individual with selfish motives and desires to have any woman he pleases.

Jordan Baker is depicted as a dishonest, cynical woman, who is also a talented professional golfer. Jordan Baker's goals are to win her professional golf matches and tournaments. She dreams of being a successful golfer and wishes to be in a stable relationship, unlike her friend Daisy.

Myrtle Wilson's goal is to leave her poor, timid husband and marry Tom Buchanan, where she will enjoy a life of luxury and wealth.

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Gatsby is the only character in the novel with an articulated and specified goal that drives him. He hopes to use his wealth to lure Daisy away from Tom and, in this way, to fulfill a destiny that he has identified for himself. 

He achieved more than his parents had and felt he was pursuing a perfect dream, Daisy, who for him embodied the elements of success.

For the other characters, due to a lack of direct statement or to the obscurity or duplicity of their personalities, we have to interpret their desires. 

Daisy seems to be looking for true love. She cries when she looks at Gatsby's "beautiful shirts", perhaps because she realizes that she did not have to compromise. She did not have to marry Tom, but could have been successful and had true love in her marriage if she had waited for Gatsby. 

Jordan Baker, an athlete and a cheater, seems to be looking for achievement, but also is driven to gain a privileged distance from the social events that consume those around her. She stands in the spotlight of athletic popularity, but at every opportunity Jordan distances herself from the dramas of her social circle. 

Nick communicates the hopes that he brought east with him at the opening of the novel, saying that he had wanted to become somewhat of an intellectual; a sophisticate. In this, he fails and fails utterly, but he discovers a new desire as he relates (in telling and in identifying with) Gatsby's story. 

Gatsby teaches Nick that who you are, as a person, is defined ultimately by the values you hold, not the money in your bank account or the way that money was made. Beyond values, a person's quality can be described by the dreams he holds to. 

Gatsby's greatness lies in his capacity for illusion.

Though Nick enters the world of Gatsby and Daisy with a sense that honesty is the epitome of virtue, he learns that "truth of self" and honesty are not always one and the same. 

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