The American Dream, And All It

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The 1920s were a decade of rebirth characterised by the founding of the “American

Dream” — the belief that anyone can, and should, achieve material success. The defining

writer of the 1920s was F. Scott Fitzgerald whose most famous novel, The Great Gatsby,

has become required reading for present-day high school students. We study Fitzgerald’s

novel for the same reason we study Shakespeare. The literature composed by both authors

contains themes and morals that continue to be relevant to modern society. As a result,

this novel could have easily been written in modern times. In his novel, Fitzgerald criticises

the American Dream by describing its negative characteristics: class struggles between the

rich and the poor, the carelessness of the rich, and the false relationship between money

and happiness.

The Great Gatsby … describes the failure of the American dream, from the point of

view that American political ideals conflict with the actual social conditions that exist. For

whereas American democracy is based on the idea of equality among people, the truth is

that social discrimination still exists and the divisions among the classes cannot be

overcome (Internet 1). It is impossible for all people to become rich, since wealth is

based largely on social position, and classes prevent the poor from becoming successful.

One things sure and nothings surer / The rich get richer and the poor get — children

(Fitzgerald 101). Myrtles attempt to break into the class which the Buchanans belong to

is doomed from the start. She enters into an affair with Tom, takes on all the negative

qualities of his social group, and not only becomes corrupt and immoral, but she scorns

people from her own class. I thought he knew something about breeding but he wasnt fit

to lick my shoe (Fitzgerald 39). The adulterous behaviour of Myrtle and Tom, as well as

the carelessness of Daisy and Jordan, illustrates the corruptibility of the rich.

Both Tom and Daisy are morally corrupt, having little concern for how they treat the

people around them. Daisy and her husband display their indifference to human values in

episodes involving sexual exploitation and careless violence (Fahey 72). The Buchanans

are not the only shallow ones, Jordan is incurably dishonest and her opinion that It

takes two to make an accident,(Fitzgerald 63) is an attempt to justify of her

thoughtlessness. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things

and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or

whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had

made,(Fitzgerald 187) says Nick. Since the wealthy social class which they belong to is

immoral, they can get away with being corrupt; a corruption that comes from a false sense

of security in their money, and the belief they have achived the american dream.

One of the faults in the American dream is that it equates material wealth and

possessions with happiness. However, not everything, nor everyone, can be bought. Nick,

for example, refuses Gatsbys business preposition. But, because the offer was obviously

and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there

(Fitzgerald 87). Also, the owners of the Gatsbys neighbouring houses refused to have

their roofs thatched with straw when the late owner of the mansion offered to pay five

years taxes on their cottages (Fitzgerald 93). On top of that, Gatsby innocently expects

that he can buy anything — especially Daisy. She is for sale, but he doesnt have the right

currency (Fitzgerald xi). His failure to obtain her is Fitzgeralds ultimate criticism of the

unrealistic dream of happiness found in material wealth.

A novel is considered to be good literature not because of the visual impact it makes,

but because of the impact of its themes. The American Dream critiqued in The Great

Gatsby still prevails today as the basis for a successful nation. Thus, while the 1920s

background makes the novel more interesting and certainly more relevant to Fitzgerald’s

audience, it is true that the story could take place at any given moment in time. By

revealing the results of materialism, such as class struggles, the shallowness of the

wealthy, and the false notion that money brings happiness, Fitzgerald shows that the

American Dream of success and money is nothing more than a morally corrupt fantasy.

Works Cited

Fahey, William A. F. Scott Fitzgerald and The American Dream. Toronto: Fitzhenry &

Whiteside Limited, 1973.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. Toronto: Simon &

Schuster Inc, 1995.

Internet 1. http://www.uni-ulm.de/schulen/gym/sgu/gatsb/klaus2.htm. F. Scott

Fitzgerald Centenary Home Page. The Great Gatsbys Theme. Board of Trustees of

the University of South Carolina, 1997.

Internet 2. http://www.clunet.edu/engdept/ad/gatsby2.html. Works of F. Scott

Fitzgerald. Great Gatsby: Chapters 5 – 9. Infonautics Corporation, 1998.

Internet 3. http://www.clunet.edu/engdept/ad/gatsby3.html. Works of F. Scott

Fitzgerald. The Structure of The Great Gatsby. Infonautics Corporation, 1998.

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