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