The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald’s explanation of an American Reality which contradicts the American Dream That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy’s school; a poor boy in a rich man’s club at Princeton…
. However, I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works. ” —F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed.
Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Scribners, 1994. pg. 352. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been celebrated as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – American works of fiction.Of course, one could convincingly argue that Gatsby barely qualified as fiction, as it is the culmination of a trio of Fitzgerald’s work that traces his own experiences and emotions.
Perhaps guided by his early life – in which the family lived a hard working life for many years before settling down to live from his mother’s inheritance – ( Prigozy, 13) Fitzgerald at once both idolized and despised the lavish lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald’s conflicting thoughts can be seen in the contrast between the novel’s hero, Jay Gatsby, and its narrator, Nick Carraway.Gatsby represents the naive Midwesterner dazzled by the possibilities of the American dream. Much the same can be said about Fitzgerald – a dreamer who came from upstate New York, and Minnesota. Carraway represents the Ivy League gentleman who casts a suspicious eye on that notion – and who eventually heads back to his native Minnesota. Carraway – literally and figuratively – provides commentary on Gatsby’s elusive American Dream.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further..
. And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Gatsby. 149-151) The Great Gatsby can be described as the most American novel of its time: a chronicle of the highest achievements of the so called American Dream. But it is also a cautionary tale about failed expectations.
Fitzgerald knew both all too well. While painting a vivid picture of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald is actually condemning those roaring times as the death – not the zenith – of the American Dream On the face of it, The Great Gatsby may appear to merely be a novel about the tragic relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.Such a plot has historical roots in the passionate relationship of a young F Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King. Much like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald – as a very young man – became infatuated with a young woman from a distinctly different background. In Gatsby’s case, it is the realization that Daisy is looking for something more, that drive him to obtain material wealth. Fitzgerald’s romance was soon extinguished, though, by Charles King, her father. His words surely were etched in Fitzgeralds mind, as they are, essentially, an eight word synopsis of The Great Gatsby: “Poor boys shouldn’t think about marrying rich girls. (Smith) But the major theme of the novel has much less to do with love then with the culture of the Roaring Twenties.
The Industrial Revolution had provided Americans with a chance that their ancestors never had. During the 1920s, the perception of the American Dream was that an individual can achieve success in life regardless of family history or social status if they only work hard enough. Jay Gatsby is the picture of the self made man. He is successful financially and socially. He actually created an entirely new persona for himself, in order to gain distance from his somewhat unsavory past.The culture of the wealthy Americans represented in The Great Gatsby was defined mainly by consumerism and excessive material wealth.
Wherever given the opportunity, Jay Gatsby went over the top, as shown in his flamboyant style of dress and his huge mansion where he throws lavish parties. This is actually not all that different from Fitzgerald’s life. After his first work was published to great fanfare, Fitzgerald was the talk of the town. As was the case with Gatzby, many of those around him did not – and never would – actually know Fitzgerald. They wished merely to be close to someone famous.
Fitzgerald shunned all the attention, eventually moving to France. It was there that he looked at the supposed American Dream from a different perspective. To Fitzgerald, it was clear that the sudden wealth that many Americans began to acquire caused leisure and idleness to replace traditional ethics like hard work as qualities that were admired.
(Decker, 28) Certainly the Buchanans and Gatsby cared little about hard work once they had achieved their material goals. Gatsby believed that in order to fulfill his own concept of the American Dream he needed to win Daisy’s love, and to do that he would need to “establish himself as Somebody. Although he loves Daisy, he also sees her as more of a goal – a step toward the perfect life promised by the American Dream. In a way, Gatsby views Daisy much the way he views his home – a prize possession. Donaldson writes in “Possessions in the Great Gatsby,” “…he [Fitzgerald] was persuaded that capitalism was a corrupt and dying economic system. ” (Donaldson, 3) Fitzgerald felt that capitalism and it’s offshoots— the excessive homes, cars, etcetera were the demise of the American Dream.So by portraying Gatsby as a very conspicuous consumer, Fitzgerald was actually painting Gatsby with the colors of what was bad about blindly chasing those material goals. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is much more subtle in his displays of wealth, the effects of generations of wealth.
To Tom and the East Egg set, having money was one thing, but being wealthy was an entirely different thing. Jay Gatsby is naive; he fails to realize that no matter how many over the top cars or fancy parties he throws, Daisy will not leave the old money lifestyle of the East Eggers.It seems that she, too, thinks that poor boys shouldn’t think about marrying rich girls. It is ironic, then, that the ultimate manifestation of Jay Gatsby’s American Dream – Daisy Buchanan – turned out to be far less valuable than he thought. Fitzgerald – through Nick Carraway, condemns Daisy and her set. We shook hands and I started away.
Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around. “They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together. ” I’ve always been glad I said that.
It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. (Gatsby 8. 44-48) Though not to the excessive extent of his protagonist, Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald chased his version of the American Dream – a chase which was as flawed as the dream itself. Years after The Great Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald embraced Marxism, and its general disdain for material wealth.
( Callahan, 42) Fitzgerald was convinced that all of these things- the consumerism, materialism, the cars, parties, and houses – led to an inaccurate perception of the relationship between money and happiness.This idea had been embodied in Jay Gatsby. All of the wealth and status which Gatsby acquired, that while on the surface made his life appear to be the precise definition of the American Dream were actually elements which led to its demise.
Gatsby’s quest for happiness through superficial means ultimately is the cause of his death, and therefore the collapse of his American Dream. Fitzgerald clearly thought that the very notion of the American Dream had died, as symbolized by Gatsby’s pool shooting. America provided for the ultimate Cinderella story – that social mobility and ultimate happiness were available to all.
The social reality, in Fitzgerald’s eyes, was far less ideal. Because of the pretense and decadence, the American dream was lost. Fitzgerald voices this through Nick Carraway’s honest and aloof observation. Nick’s narration of the tragedies of the hard working Wilsons and the hard dreaming Gatsby reflect The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald’s social commentary about the ash filled American Reality. Callahan, John F.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Evolving American Dream: The ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon. ” Twentieth Century Literature42.Cervo, Nathan A. “Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. ” Explicator 63. Decker, Jeffrey L. “Gatsby’s Pristine Dream: The Diminishment of the Self-Made Man in the Tribal Twenties.
”Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28. Donaldson, Scott. “Possessions in the Great Gatsby. ” Southern Review 37. Prigozy, Ruth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to F.
Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. Smith, Dinitia. “Love Notes Drenched In Moonlight; Hints of Future Novels In Letters To Fitzgerald”. – The New York Times – September 8, 2003