Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s Criticism of The American Dream Essay

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Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald’s Criticism of The American Dream

The American Dream, as it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the

nineteenth century, was based on the assumption that each person, no matter what

his origins, could succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and

effort. The dream was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was

embodied in Fitzgerald’s own family by his grandfather, P. F. McQuillan.

Fitzgerald’s novel takes its place among other novels whose insights into the

nature of the American dream have not affected the artistic form of the novel

itself. The Great Gatsby serves as Fitzgerald’s critique of the American dream.

The Great Gatsby embodies a criticism of America and the American

experience, more radical than any other author has attempted. The theme of the

novel is the destruction of the American dream during the 1920s, a period when

the vulgar pursuit of material happiness has corrupted the old values that gave

substance to the dream. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in

pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom

and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in Europe.

Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident enough to

try to win Daisy.Fitzgerald does not criticize the American dream itself but

the corruption of that dream. What was once for Ben Franklin or Thomas

Jefferson a belief in self-reliance and hard work has become what Nick Carraway

calls ” . . . the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.” The

energy that might have gone into the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled

into the pursuit of power and pleasure, and a very showy, but fundamentally

empty form of success.

Fitzgerald’s critique of the American dream is developed through certain

dominant images and symbols. Fitzgerald uses the green light as a symbol of

hope, money, and jealousy. Hope signifies the center of the dream, but jealousy

and lure of money pollute it. Gatsby is a noble man whose vision is fouled by

his dream because he remains in a “wonder” at Daisy’s presence throughout the

novel. He is unable to see the carelessness and self-centeredness of Daisy

whose “foul dust” destroys him. Fitzgerald also uses the contrasting images of

the East and Midwest to develop his critique. The East denotes the place where

the corruption of the American dream has occurred. Finally, at the end of the

novel, Nick decides to move back West. Nick learns that this place of

dishonesty, lack or morale, and lack of values is not the place for him.

In the novel, The Great Gatsby, Scott F. Fitzgerald gives some severest

criticism of the American dream ever written. That dream has been destroyed and

polluted by the pursuit of material success. Fitzgerald is successfully able to

identify the deficiencies of the American vision itself. Fitzgerald shows that

the secret of life happiness is to fulfill the American dream purely and


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