In his novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald tells of the death of the “American Dream.” Nick Carraway, a young, seemingly pure man from the west, decides to journey to New York to make his money on the stocks and bonds market. In New York, he is met with a story of love, lust, adultery and murder. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel telling of the death American Dream, and the downfall of those who attempt to reach its illusionary goals.
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F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, the namesake and second cousin three times removed of the author of the National Anthem. His father, Edward, was from Maryland and exhibited an undying allegiance to the Old South and its values. Fitzgerald’s mother, Mary (Mollie) McQuillan, was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who made his fortune as a wholesale grocer in St. Paul.
Edward Fitzgerald failed as a manufacturer of wicker furniture in St. Paul, and he became a salesman for Procter & Gamble in upstate New York. After he was dismissed in 1908, when his son was twelve, the family returned to St. Paul and lived comfortably on Mollie Fitzgerald’s inheritance. Fitzgerald attended the St. Paul Academy; his first writing to appear in print was a detective story in the school newspaper when he was thirteen.
From St. Paul Academy Fitzgerald went on to a higher education at Princeton University.
At Princeton, Fitzgerald neglected his studies for his literary apprenticeship. He wrote the scripts and lyrics for the Princeton Triangle Club musicals and was a contributor to the Princeton Tiger humor magazine and the Nassau Literary Magazine. On academic probation and unlikely to graduate, Fitzgerald joined the army in 1917. During this time he wrote the novel The Romantic Egotist.
After his discharge in 1919, he went to New York City to seek his fortune in order to marry. Unwilling to wait while Fitzgerald succeeded in the advertisement business and unwilling to live on his small salary, his fiancee, Zelda, broke their engagement. Fitzgerald quit his job in July 1919 and returned to St. Paul to write his novel This Side of Paradise. The publication of This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920, made the twenty-four-year-old Fitzgerald famous almost overnight, and a week later he married Zelda in New York.
Literary critics were reluctant to accord Fitzgerald full marks as a serious craftsman. His reputation as a drinker inspired the opinion that he was an irresponsible writer; yet he was a painstaking reviser whose fiction went through layers of drafts. The Fitzgeralds spent the winter of 1924-1925 in Rome, where he revised The Great Gatsby; they were en route to Paris when the novel was published in April.
The Great Gatsby marked what was noted critically as a striking advance in Fitzgerald’s technique, utilizing a complex structure and a controlled narrative point of view. Fitzgerald’s achievement received critical praise, but sales of The Great Gatsby were disappointing. Ironically, F. Scott Fitzgerald died believing himself a failure.
In the novel The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway moves to New York and meets his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Nick learns that Gatsby is madly in love with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, wife of the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Nick agrees to set up a meeting between Daisy and Gatsby and the two rekindle an old love. Meanwhile, Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of George Wilson, a poor, lower-class gas station attendant.
Upon learning of his wife s affair, Wilson locks her in a room and insists that they move far away from his wife s lover. Breaking free from the room, Myrtle rushes into the street to find Tom where she is hit by the car of Gatsby, driven by Daisy. After doing some investigating, and after being misled by Tom, Wilson believes that it is Gatsby that is having the affair with his wife. Before his wife s death, Wilson was simply content to move his wife away; however, after her death, he is out to make her lover pay.
With pistol in hand, Wilson sets out to find Gatsby and kill him. Upon reaching Gatsby s estate, he finds Gatsby alone and shoots and kills him. After killing Gatsby, Wilson feels so terrible that he turns his pistol on himself and takes his own life. After the hustle and bustles dies down, Nick meets Daisy and Tom again. Tom seems very unconcerned and nonchalant about his deliberate and successful attempt on Gatsby s life using Wilson as his tool.
This novel is filled with multiple themes but the predominate one focuses on the death of the American Dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald is stating that the true American Dream is dead and all that it left are distorted values such as greed and materialism. This concept can be explained by how Gatsby came to get his fortune. Gatsby sought to acquire his fortune through any means possible, even through organized crime. Nick also suggests this theme with the manner in which he talks about all the rich characters in the story- the immoral people have all the money.
One of the main beliefs of the American Dream is that hard work is repaid with wealth and fortune. The wealthy people in the novel are all amoral characters. Gatsby s wealth was gained through questionable means and Tom s wealth as well. Contrary to the American Dream, the most scrupulous and hardworking of them all, Nick, lives in what is virtually a small shack overshadowed by the looming mansions and estates of others.
Another aspect of the novel that shows the decline of the American Dream is extreme facetious and materialistic nature of the wealthy characters in the novel. Daisy is the prime example of this materialistic, shallow persona. She understands that Tom is not the best husband for her and truly loves Gatsby, yet she marries Tom because he has the wealth that she feels she needs in order to be happy.
Although all of these things contribute to the theme that the American Dream is dead, no one thing illustrates it more than the character of Jay Gatsby. For Jay, the dream is that through wealth and power, one can acquire happiness. He sets out to acquire money because he believes it will make him happy and look better to others. To get this happiness Jay must reach into the past and relive an old dream and in order to do this he must have wealth and power. This belief shows the decline of the American Dream and its wholesome motivations.
Jay Gatsby is the one character who longs for the past. He devotes most of his adult life trying to recapture it and, finally, dies in its pursuit. In the past, Jay had a love affair with the wealthy Daisy. Knowing he could not marry her because of the difference in their social status, he leaves her to amass wealth to reach her economic standards. Once he acquires this wealth, he moves near to Daisy, “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay (83),” and throws extravagant parties, hoping by chance she might show up at one of them.
Gatsby, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. He puts on a mask of wealth and high-class in order to attract Daisy. When Daisy does not show up at his parties, he asks around casually if anyone knows her. Later, after meeting Nick, Gatsby pursues his dream of meeting Daisy again by having Nick set up a meeting between the two.
Gatsby’s personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want. Yet, his dream, just like the American Dream, is distorted by the need for money and the desire of material things. Gatsby believes that once he has the material goods to prove his worth, Daisy will love him once again. Gatsby cannot accept that the past is gone and done with. He cannot bring himself to believe that his dream is dead.
Gatsby does not rest until his American Dream is finally fulfilled. However, it never becomes truly realized and he ends up paying the ultimate price of his life for it. The American Dream is different for everyone; whether it is love, money, wealth or recognition. With the outcome of the novel, Fitzgerald is showing the reader that the American Dream, symbolized by the death of Gatsby brought on by pursuing his dream, is dead.