The Great Gatsby Loss of the American Dream
“The deepest American dream is not the hunger for money or fame; it is the dream of settling down, in peace and freedom and cooperation, in the promised land.” If only this quote by Scott Russell Sanders was true. However were it true and astute, we would be deprived of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Throughout Gatsby, Fitzgerald provides a clear-cut message and theme, which the story revolves around. His claim is that the American dream is indeed corrupted and irretrievably lost, that no man can any longer take hope and find solace in that dream. In the roaring 20′s, the new American dream is deemed lost and adrift. The dream has lost all positive connotation and value, and is no longer a dream of the moral citizen but of the corrupt. Nick encounters this supposed reality when he moves east after having grown in the mid-west. The theme manifests itself in several instances, varying in cause and circumstance.
A large part of Fitzgerald’s observation he communicates in his use of the class corruption. Highlighted in the novel are two distinct classes – the rich and the newly rich. To represent the rich, Fitzgerald includes in the story one Tom Buchanan. The rich in America are the ones who really run the country, who aren’t seen in the spotlight. Tom was born into this class of people. “His family were enormously wealthy…now he’d left Chicago and come east in a fashion that rather took you breath away: for instance, he’d brought down a string of polo ponies form Lake Forest.” (p. 10) Daisy married into this class when she and Tom were wed. All throughout the novel, constant reminders are shown of their lack of spirit or care, and blatant disregard for other individuals. After Gatsby absorbs the blame for Myrtle’s death, Tom and Daisy do not thank him. Or even acknowledge him. They do not attend pay respects at his funeral, but instead retreat to Europe. Gatsby and the guests at his lavish parties are the example of the newly rich. All those people who attended Gatsby’s lavish summer gatherings had no regard for the man, but instead used him and his residence as means to attempt to show off their grandiose wealth and new found pomposity. Again, none of his many guests show up at his funeral, or extend a hand of thanks. Both of these classes represent achievement of what Fitzgerald perceives as the American dream, and through this assumption he shows that if achievement of the dream is corrupt, then the dream itself must be corrupt as well.
The next pattern that Fitzgerald lays down is tied in with the one discussed above. In Gatsby, money and corruption go hand in hand. This is displayed by the two classes that were aptly represented in the novel. Old money and new money is still money, and Fitzgerald ties the fact that in this new America, money is power, and power breeds corruption. Probably the largest display of this is found in the life of Daisy. Although we don’t learn of Daisy’s life directly from the source, it is pieced together as the book progresses. Daisy and Gatsby had been young lovers years before. But Gatsby went off to war in Europe, and Daisy wasn’t allowed to see him off. From here, she drifts until she ends up marrying Tom, not on account of love but for his money and status. Her corruption begins here. The reason for marriage, in principal is for love, not for money or social standing or power. But the alcohol, her family, and her “friend” pushed Daisy into marriage for the wrong reasons. From here, she is corrupted. Her loss of innocence coincides with her move from the west, to the east as noted by Nick when he summarily notes that “this has been a story of the West, after all – Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners…” (p 184). Daisy loses her innocence and her soul when she marries Tom. Although she may have improved her class socially and joined the ranks of the old money, she sacrificed her decency.
The last instrument that Fitzgerald uses to push this point is Gatsby himself. Daisy becomes Gatsby’s own dream, one that he would and did pursue to no end. Thought Gatsby’s dream itself isn’t corrupt, the striving for the love of another can never be corrupt, his method of attempting to reach his dream distinctly is. When Gatsby returns from Europe after the war and his tenure at Oxford, he knows Daisy has married Tom. She dominates his thoughts and becomes his obsession, his dream. Gatsby decides to compete for her again, he needs to become rich and powerful like Tom. He turns to bootlegging to get the funds, and associates with men like Meyer Wolfsheim. Wolfsheim’s incidence in the story is yet another tool used by Fitzgerald to spell corruption. Wolfsheim was involved in the fixing of “America’s pastime’s” greatest series, the World Series. The scandal rocked the nation, and resulted in the banishment of some of the game’s great players from the sport. The reality that a presumably upstanding man like Gatsby who was decorated in war would turn to illegal activity and associate himself with men like Wolfsheim is used by Fitzgerald to further emphasize his theme.
Fitzgerald’s belief is left all over every aspect of the story. The instances and patterns recounted above are only a part of how Fitzgerald wishes to push his theme across. However, even after reading Gatsby, I am still not convinced Fitzgerald was completely correct. This does not detract from the achievements of Gatsby, an incredible novel and the best of its time, but the generality that he attempts to make does not. The story was a great vehicle that Fitzgerald used to drive in his theme but does leave the door open for doubt. When Fitzgerald wrote his book, it was the age of the Roaring 20′s. Of Jazz, flappers, and the Harlem Renaissance. Decade of the lost generation. The 20′s was indeed the time where the classes emerged. Instead of giving to the poor, the rich began to exploit and take from what little they had. Big business began to exploit the residents of New York. Over speculation of the stock market had begun, money pouring out of savings and into bonds and stocks. Noblese oblige had begun to lose its meaning. Scandal and greed had tainted the World Series, the most sacred games of America’s most sacred sport. Coming from this time of change and noticeable decline in American moral values, one can see how Fitzgerald was left to generalize in this manner. Many of us would do the same. But to say the dream is forever corrupt, that nobody can no longer have or achieve is ludicrous.
The title `American Dream’ in of itself is a misnomer. It would be more aptly titled `Dreams of Americans,’ because the dream itself belongs to those individuals who dreamt it. The American Dream is defined as success, but success is quantified differently by different people. Sure, most people would associate success with money and large financial gain, which would tie their dream into Fitzgerald’s observation. But for many others, simple financial pursuit is not what helps them to fulfill their dreams. The dream cannot be some inanimate, universal dream that all people share. It is agreed that every individual is different and unique. So their dream is unique as well. To everyone who has a dream, to that person his or her dream isn’t corrupt. It simply would not be a dream. Society may cause the dream itself to seem corrupt, but to the individual it can never be corrupt. While the dreams of many may and probably most likely involve money and power, there is still a portion that does not. Do the immigrants that pour into America do so with the dream of making a pile of money and languishing in power? No, they do not. They come with the premise of hope and making a better life for themselves and their children. Corrupted? No. Positive moral values? Yes. As long as there is this hope, the dream will live on uncorrupted.
Gatsby is an incredible work. The flowing language, incredible story, and sentences that seemed to be built letter by letter by a master craftsman make it so, even without the symbolism and message of Fitzgerald, which only add onto the ample pile. The use of class and people as illustrations of corruption are clear. As a generality, Fitzgerald is astutely correct in saying the traditional American dream is irretrievably lost. But you cannot absolutely suggest that the dreams and hopes of all Americans are lost and gone. The dreams of men are fickle, but the hope they bear is eternal.