At its core, The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American Dream. The American Dream refers to the widespread belief that anyone in America can, through hard work and perseverance, attain success, prosperity, and happiness. The Great Gatsby' s take on this national myth is undoubtably controversial, as it...
At its core, The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American Dream. The American Dream refers to the widespread belief that anyone in America can, through hard work and perseverance, attain success, prosperity, and happiness. The Great Gatsby's take on this national myth is undoubtably controversial, as it suggests that, for many, the American Dream is forever out of reach. Whether or not The Great Gatsby represents a wholesale rejection of the American Dream is debatable; however, there can be no doubt whatsoever that, at the very least, it presents readers with a less-than-flattering view of it.
Take Jay Gatsby, for example. Born to a family of poor farmers in North Dakota, Gatsby has been pursuing the American Dream practically his whole adult life. Fascinated by the luxurious and ostentatious lifestyles of the wealthy upper-classes, Gatsby obsessively pursues wealth and privilege. Daisy, Gatsby's old flame, becomes the object of his quest, and the ever-optimistic Gatsby is sure that if he can acquire the trappings of success, he will win back Daisy and finally achieve perfect happiness. Against all odds, Gatsby does manage to accumulate a massive fortune, though he does so through illegal means. In the end, however, Gatsby's ill-begotten wealth is not enough to persuade Daisy to abandon her husband Tom and their lavish life together. Gatsby's story illuminates the illusory nature of the American Dream: although he's acquired phenomenal wealth, Gatsby's "new money" status is still perceived as "lesser than" by those, like Daisy and Tom, who were born into money.
Another example of the destructive power of the American Dream comes in the shape of Myrtle Wilson. Tired of her difficult and dreary life in the Valley of Ashes with her unsuccessful husband, Myrtle sees an affair with the wealthyTom Buchanan as her ticket to a better life. In reality, however, she's nowhere nearer to what she wants in life than Gatsby, and Tom appears to regard her as nothing more than a sexual plaything.
In the end, the pursuit of the "better life" promised by the American Dream leads both Myrtle and Gatsby to their deaths. What's controversial about Fitzgerald's complicated and pessimistic portrayal of the American Dream, therefore, is that it challenges the validity of a cherished American myth.