Fitzgerald's novel is a lively work of art, using largely realistic (though sometimes "larger than life") characters to portray a morally bankrupt society populated by wealthy Americans. At the core of the novel, however, is a simplicity of heart. Symbolic, enduring, and thoroughly American, this novel has become one of the nation's most famous and celebrated works of art.
Impostors and poseurs abound. The novel, however, uses this moral context to develop universal themes and manages to draw a picture of innocence in the midst of cynicism and integrity in the midst of corruption.
The character in the story most central to the themes of the work is Jay Gatsby:
His romantic illusions about the power of money to buy respectability and the love of Daisy—the “golden girl” of his dreams—are skillfully and ironically interwoven with episodes that depict what Fitzgerald viewed as the callousness and moral irresponsibility of the affluent American society of the 1920s.
Contrasting the vapid and dishonest members of the upper classes with the impostor and dreamer, Gatsby, the novel presents a compelling and complex view of the American Dream.
This is true as the American Dream is a pursuit and an empty dream in Fitzgerald's novel. Many figures, like Tom, Daisy and Jordan, take their social station for granted along with the wealth, rights and privileges that accompany that status. As Nick meets them, fresh from the Midwest, these people do not fulfill his expectations of what "society people" would or should be.
They have money and, to some extent power, but they are not good people. They certainly have not "bettered themselves" through their wealth.
Only Gatsby, who was relatively unselfish in his life, and whose primary flaw was a naive idealism, could be construed as fulfilling the author's vision of the American Dream.
Reviewers and critics have praised the novel from the date of its publication, but not universally.
Some of the initial reviews in newspapers called the book unsubstantial, since Fitzgerald dealt with unattractive characters in a superficially glittery setting.
Today, the novel is widely-taught and widely-celebrated. It is vivid, entertaining, well-crafted and full of resonant symbolism. As a work of art, the novel has stood the test of time for nearly a century.