What is the “American Dream”? How does the characterization of Gatsby in the Great Gatsby represent and undermine it?
Although “The Great Gatsby” is filled with multiple themes such as love, money, order, reality, illusion and immorality, no one would probably deny that the predominate one focuses on the American Dream and the downfall of those who attempt to reach its illusionary goals. The attempt to capture the American Dream is the central of this novel. This can be explained by how Gatsby came to get his fortune. By studying the process of how Gatsby tried to achieve his own so-called American Dream, we could have a better understanding of what American dream is all about, in those down-to-earth Americans’ point of view. The characterization of Gatsby is a representative figure among Americans as he devoted his whole life to achieve his dream. However, pathetically he failed to make it came true at the end, just like most of the Americans, who misunderstood what the real meaning of American Dream is, did.
The Great Gatsby, written by Scott Fittzgerald, is a portrayal of the withering of American Dream. The American Dream promises prosperity and self-fulfillment as rewards for hard work and self-reliance. A product of the frontier and the west, the American Dream challenges people to have dreams and strive to make them real. Historically, the dream represents the image of believing in the goodness nature. However, the American Dream can be interpreted in many different ways. While some may strive for spiritual goodness and excellence, other take the dream to represent purely materialistic values, which the majority perceive at that time. This is also the case of Jay Gatsby. We will later discover such a materialistic interpretation of the American Dream is the main cause of Gatsby’s downfall.
Gatsby himself indeed is a complex symbol of the corruption of the American Dream. He is a romantic dreamer who seeks to fulfill his life by earning his wealth as a gangster. Gatsby does not change much in the course of the novel because his whole life is devoted to the fulfillment of a romantic dream created that is inconsistent with the realities of society. At a very early age Gatsby vowed to love and to marry Daisy. His lack of wealth led Daisy into the arms of another more prosperous man, Tom. Gatsby believed that he could win Daisy back with money, and that he could get the life she wanted if he is willing to pay for it.. He wanted to do away with time in order to obliterate the years Tom and Daisy had together. Gatsby wanted to repeat the past, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before. She’ll see . . .”(p.110) Gatsby’s romantic disregard for reality changes the American Dream with his dream that love can be recaptured if one can make enough money. The corruption of Gatsby’s dream by adopting materialism as its means and love, beauty and youth as its goal is due to the corruption of the American Dream.
Another example of the corrupt American Dream is the automobile, a classic symbol of material wealth in America at that time. Gatsby owns a remarkable automobile whose appearance is envied by many. “It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and super-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns” (p.64) Gatsby’s car in an overblown item created by wealth to fulfill the American Dream of personal material success. It is, however, Gatsby’s car that kills Myrtle Wilson when Daisy runs her over. This indirectly leads to Gatsby’s own death and portrays Fitzgerald’s theme that basing the Dream on materialism alone is undoubtedly destructive.
Fitzgerald presents clearly that a life based on materialism alone is a corruption rather than a fulfillment of the American Dream. Gatsby’s destruction shows that those who try to maintain a lifestyle based purely on materialistic values are doomed by their self-delusion. Thus, by analyzing Fitzgerald’s presentation, Gatsby’s dream, the novel suggests, is also that of America, with its emphasis on the inherent goodness within nature, on healthy living, youth, vitality, romance, a dream of the East which has been dreamed up in the West. In this sense the novel becomes various things, an exploration of the American Dream, or perhaps a savage criticism of that dream. Gatsby, lured on by Daisy, who is no more than a symbol for him, pursues the Green Light, the dream of progress and material possessions, and is eventually destroyed.
Gatsby’s personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want. For Gatsby, his American Deam is not material possessions in fact, although it may seem that way. He only comes into riches so that he can fulfill his true American Dream, Daisy. Gatsby does not rest until his American Dream is finally fulfilled. However, it never comes about and he ends up paying the ultimate price for it.
In the Great Gatsby, the idea of the American Dream still holds true. One thing never changes about the American Dream which is everyone desires something in life and everyone somehow strives to get it. Gatsby is a prime example of pursuing the American Dream.