Gatsby’s Pursuit of the American Dream The Great Gatsby, a novel by Scott Fitzgerald, is about the American Dream, and the downfall of those who attempt to reach its illusionary goals. The attempt to capture the American Dream is central to many novels. This dream is different for different people; but, in The Great Gatsby, for Jay, the dream is that through wealth and power, one can acquire happiness. To get this happiness James must reach into the past and relive an old dream; and, in order to do this, he must have wealth and power. The American Dream had always been based on the idea that each person no matter who he or she is can become successful in life by his or her hard work. The dream also embodied the idea of a self-sufficient man, an entrepreneur making it successful for himself. The Great Gatsby is about what happened to the American Dream in the 1920s, a time period when the dream had been corrupted by the avaricious pursuit of wealth. The pursuit of the American Dream is the sublime motivation for accomplishing one’s goals and producing achievements, however when tainted with wealth the dream becomes devoid and hollow. Jay Gatsby, the central figure of the story, is one character who longs for the past. Surprisingly, he devotes most of his adult life trying to recapture it and, finally, dies in its pursuit. In the past, Gatsby had a love affair with the affluent 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 wealth, he moves near to Daisy, “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay (p83),” and throws extravagant parties, hoping by chance she might show up at one of them. He, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. When this dream does not happen, he asks around casually if anyone knows her. Soon, he meets Nick Carraway, a cousin of Daisy, who agrees to set up a meeting, “He wants to know…if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over (p83).” Gatsby’s personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want. Later, as we see in the Plaza Hotel, Jay still believes that Daisy loves him. He is convinced of this as is shown when he takes the blame for Myrtle’s death. “Was Daisy driving?” “Yes…. But of course I’ll say I was (p151).” He also watches and protects Daisy as she returns home. “How long are you going to wait?” “All night if necessary (p152)”. Gatsby cannot accept that the past is gone and done with. He is sure that he can capture his dream with wealth and influence. He believes that he acted for a good beyond his personal interest that should guarantee success. Nick attempts to show Jay the folly of his dream, but Gatsby innocently replies to Nick’s assertion that the past cannot be relived by saying, “Yes you can, old sport (p141)”. This shows the confidence that Jay has in fulfilling his American Dream. For Jay, his American Dream is not material possessions, 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. Gatsby’s own characteristics, especially his willful obsessions, contribute to his fate. Despite his naivete about Daisy and her friends who “are rich and play polo together,” he, too, has been seduced by the lure of money and fame. Unable to control his obsessive desire to have daisy, he cares little about the means by which he acquires the money to marry her. He associates with known criminals such as Myer Wolfsheim, appears to be involved with bootlegging, and is rumored to have killed a man. Finally, he lies about himself and his family to enlist Nick’s support of his grand quest. The means he uses to achieve his goal pervert his sacred dream. He prefers the pretty illusions he concocts to the harsh reality of the obsession he allows to corrupt his life. The result of this corruption is that the motivation and ambition vanished and the dream was left with the pursuit of an empty goal. The idea of the American Dream still holds true in today’s time, be it wealth, love, or fame. But one thing never changes about the American Dream; everyone desires something in life, and everyone, somehow, strives to get it. Gatsby is a prime example of pursuing the American Dream. .
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