“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald revolves around the actions taken by a young millionaire in his quest to pursue a young woman. Jay Gatsby, the main character, views wealth as the solution to all his problems and uses all the means available to accumulate it in order to impress Daisy. The American dream entails a set of ideas formulated in the minds of American about prosperity, success, equality, and access to a better life. Most Americans view this dream as having a good paying job, a nice house, driving a luxurious car, having a family, and other forms of wealth. A historian, James Truslow Adams, in his book “The Epic of America” published in 1931, popularized the American dream concept. He believed that a life filled with richness and opportunities for everyone was what every American wished for the country. Fitzgerald explores the theme of the American dream through his characters by showing the challenges they go through to improve their lives.
Through Myrtle’s character, Fitzgerald shows how she seeks a better life by becoming a mistress. Although she is married to George, who is poor and cannot offer her the life she desires, she tries to fulfill her American dream through the wealthy Tom Buchanan who rents for her a lavish apartment and buys for her gifts. They had been living in a garage with George for eleven years and nothing had changed. She complains to her friends about the suit George borrowed during their wedding and views it as a sign that George would never be able to fulfill her American dream for her. Her complaints show how materialistic and ungrateful she was to George and the sacrifices he had made in their marriage. Myrtle uses the gifts she got from Tom to demonstrate her position in the society. By giving them her dresses and bragging about how she would get new ones, she is living her version of the American dream (Fitzgerald 39-40). Fitzgerald uses Myrtle character to show how most Americans base their ideologies of the American dream on materialistic possessions rather than things that actually matter such as family.
Myrtle’s actions of infidelity lead her to her death. Her desires to live like wealthy people and enjoy the fame associated with that kind of life contributed to her infidelity. She envied the lives of famous people whose lives were all over the gossip magazines. Those magazines represented her hopes for the future and the American dream she hoped to achieve. For her, a better life was characterized by wealth, glamor, and access to all sorts of luxuries. Tom represents the American dream, wealth and fame that Myrtle covets. She remembers how enchanted he had been with George when he was courting her and the hopes that she had of living a perfect life with him. When considering the luxuries that Tom provides her, she views her earlier fascination with Tom as being crazy stating that marrying him was a mistake (Fitzgerald 38). While she considers life with George as being a mistake, Fitzgerald shows how her only mistake was getting involved with Tom Buchanan because it led to her death.
She brags about the different things that she will purchase which are commonly associated with the rich in the society. Catherine and Mrs. McKees use Myrtle relationship with Tom Buchanan as a way of living their American dream and climb their way out of poverty. They are hanging on Myrtle’s coattail waiting for her to give them the things she obtains from Tom (Fitzgerald 39-40). Even her friends see Tom as the escape that Myrtle needed to get away from her miserable life.
Fitzgerald demonstrates the theme of the American dream through Daisy. Although she thought that by getting married to Tom Buchanan she would achieve her American dream, she is forced to face her reality when his mistress calls him while they are having dinner (Fitzgerald 19). Miss Baker informs Daisy about Tom’s mistress and suggests that the woman calling him was his lover. While Daisy thought she was living the American dream with Tom, the revelation makes her wonder whether she would be living a better life had she chosen Gatsby instead of Tom.
Fitzgerald uses the character of Gatsby to illustrate Americans desire to access the American dream. Gatsby obtained his wealth through illegal means and is not bothered by the moral consequences of his actions. In his quest to become the perfect man, he reinvents himself and changes his name from Jimmy Gatz to Jay Gatsby. His actions led him to his death. Instead of enjoying the wealth that he had accumulated, he was constantly thinking of the next move that he would take to achieve a higher class in the society. For instance, he was planning to get the membership of the elite club in New York that comprised on the richest people in the city. Accessing that membership would earn him respect and acceptance among the elites. He is the ideal personification of the American dream. Although he got Daisy back, he still wanted to accumulate more wealth. His pursuit for happiness seems unrealistic like the green light at the end of the book (Fitzgerald 193). The green light symbolizes the unattainable American dream that eludes people although they continue pursuing it daily.
The author illustrates the American dream through the valley of ashes, which consists of a large piece of land that is unused and covered with wastes from industries. The industrial wastes on the land represent the poverty and hopelessness that affects most people. It can also be viewed as an illustration of the challenges faced by poor people. Aside from that, this valley also represents the corruptness of the rich who use illegal means to acquire their wealth and dump their waste industries on this valley without considering the effects it would have on the people living in the nearby areas (Fitzgerald 27). Although the American dream is based on equality and quality lives for all, the state of the valley reduces the chances of the poor in attaining this dream.
“The Great Gatsby” shows how most Americans only value worldly wealth and possessions. They rarely consider peace and family as an attainment of the American dream. For most people, accumulation of wealth and fame is the most important thing. The novel portrays the moral decay that characterized the 1920s and the greed to pursue pleasure. The decisions made by the various characters showed what they valued in life. The pursuit of this dream in the novel only led to destruction, death, and infidelity. Fitzgerald effectively captured the theme of the American dream in his novel.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1995. <https://www.planetebook.com/free-ebooks/the-great-gatsby.pdf>.