A Comparison of ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ and The Great Gatsby

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Fitzgerald wrote his short story ‘‘Winter Dreams’’ while he was drafting The Great Gatsby, which became one of the most celebrated novels of all time. The two works share several thematic and stylistic elements as they each center on a young man from a modest background who strives to be a part of the exclusive world inhabited by the woman he loves. A close comparison of the two works will reveal that while The Great Gatsby becomes a more complex and penetrating critique of the pursuit of the wealth and status, the short story stands on its own as a compelling portrait of a man who is forced to face the illusory nature of his ‘‘winter dreams.’’

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There are strong similarities between Jay Gatsby and Dexter Green. Although Dexter, unlike Gatsby, came from a middle-class background, (his father owned the ‘‘second-best’’ grocery-store in his town), he subscribes to the same American dream as does Gatsby, who grew up in poverty. Both spent their childhood in the Midwest, and from an early age, were determined to gain entry into the glittering and glamorous world of the rich. Through a combination of ambition and hard work, they achieve their goal and become successful businessmen who are accepted into this exclusive world.

The process by which they rise to the top, however, is quite different. Fitzgerald clearly outlines the steps Dexter takes to become successful: he attends a prestigious Eastern university and upon graduation learns everything he can about the laundry business. The knowledge he gains, coupled with his confidence and a small financial investment, guarantees his prosperity. Fitzgerald is not as straightforward about Gatsby's rise. There are suggestions that he may have been involved in a cheating scandal and a bootlegging operation with some shady New York entrepreneurs. Fitzgerald's inclusion of the possibility that Gatsby may have prospered by his involvement in illegal activities highlights the sense of corruption he finds at the heart of American materialism, a theme he develops more completely in his searing portrait of Tom Buchanan, Daisy's fabulously rich and morally corrupt husband.

While both of Fitzgerald's protagonists start out wanting only the status and power that wealth will afford, they shift their focus to a beautiful woman who embodies their dream and with whom they fall in love. Eventually, each finds little satisfaction in purely materialistic gain. Initially Dexter, like Gatsby, is not a snob; he does not want ‘‘association with glittering things and glittering people,’’ but he does want ‘‘the glittering things themselves.’’ Both men amass fortunes, but their wealth ultimately does not fulfill their dream, which focuses on gaining the love of a beautiful woman who expresses the glamour and promise of that exclusive world. At Gatsby's extravagant parties, for example, the host retreats to the study, waiting for Daisy to appear, refusing to participate in the hedonistic atmosphere of the gathering. Likewise, Dexter has no social aspirations and ‘‘rather despised the dancing men who were always on tap for the Thursday or Saturday parties and who filled in at dinners with the younger married set.’’ Neither man is affected by the attitudes of others in his pursuit of his dreams, nor does either bear any malice toward the women who repeatedly scorn them.

Daisy and Judy also are quite similar in character. Each is a shallow, ultimately cold-hearted woman who is entertained, as Fitzgerald describes Judy, ‘‘only by the gratification of her desires and by the direct exercise of her own charm.’’ Like Judy, Daisy enjoys ‘‘the mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes ... gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.’’ The two male characters...

(The entire section contains 8400 words.)

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