F. Scott Fitzgerald epitomizes his disappointment with the failure of the American Dream in his breakthrough novel, The Great Gatsby. The theme of the withering of the American dream is personified through many of its characters. There is a strong contrast between the wealthy and the poor, as the contrast of those pursuing the American dream and the ones that have reached it. Fitzgerald makes a heavy point, though, in exaggerating the dissatisfaction and unhappiness of all characters, rich or poor, primarily in the characters of Tom, Gatsby, and George.
Through hard work and self-determination, Gatsby comes to wealth and embodies the American dream. But this embodiment is superficial, because superior morality is part of the dream, and is something Gatsby lacks. Much of his wealth is achieved by the illegal sale of alcohol in a time of prohibition. The most prominent aspect of the American dream is happiness, which is Gatsby s greatest disappointment. Although he is rich and can buy anything his mind desires, Gatsby remains restless and indecisive about his own needs. For months, he has parties almost every week, which are attended by much of New York’s high society. But he never enjoys himself, because his only true goal is to be with his life long love. Fitzgerald used the death of Gatsby without ever reaching his goal as a model for the naivete of hope.
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Tom Buchanan illustrates the indirect murderer of the American dream. Tom s morals are tarnished by racism, adultery, and a sense of superiority. Accompanying his immorality, Tom is unhappy with himself and others. Nick states, “Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart” (128). Illustrating the high society of America as having short temper and a gift for gaining revenge. Once, he lost his temper with Myrtle Wilson, his mistress, and without a thought broke her nose. Also, after Myrtle s tragic death, Tom tells George that Gatsby was the one that killed his wife, knowing that George will kill Gatsby. This symbolizes the conflict between new and old money. This is the state that old money is not accepted in high society the state that even hard work and success is no reason to have hope, and the state the American dream is dead.
Perhaps the most honest and hard-working character in the novel is George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband. Every day, he works at his garage, trying to scrape out a living and to achieve the American dream. Near the beginning of the novel, one finds out that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle. She is unhappy with her simple and honest life with her husband, so she attempts to find something better in Tom. When George finds out about it, he is shattered because he truly cares about his wife. Tom takes advantage of George and uses him to exact revenge on Gatsby. When Myrtle is killed, George is distraught and mentally unstable. Tom tells George that Gatsby was the one who killed Myrtle, knowing that George would kill him. The only reason Tom told George was because he wanted to see Gatsby dead, so he let George take the blame. Instead of accomplishing the American dream, George only becomes tired, used, and betrayed. Both George’s life and death can be looked upon as the withering of the American dream.
It is through these characters that Fitzgerald personifies the American dream. To him, America has turned into melting pot of dissatisfaction and no hope. The wealthy will only destroy the poor. In this battle of good and evil, Fitzgerald believes that the evil has won by killing the aspirations of the honest. In this new America, the only way to achieve happiness is through cheating and deceit. Through the novel, Fitzgerald announced to the optimistic world that hope has died.