The Great Gatsby and the American Dream Essay

This essay has a total of 1336 words and 6 pages.


The Great Gatsby and the American Dream





Jay Gatsby and the American Dream

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is a glimpse into the elite social circles of
Long Island society during the prosperous period of the 1920’s. In this decade a class of
"new rich" was born, and the class of "old rich" enjoyed continued prosperity. Gatsby
showcases the conflict between the two groups, as the newly rich tried to carve a place
for themselves in the exclusive social circles of those who inherited their wealth. The
book concerns itself with Jay Gatsby’s attempt to transcend social boundaries and enter
this exclusive circle, to live the American dream of betterment. Fitzgerald shows that
this dream has been made corrupt and unattainable by the hunger for power and insecurities
of the often immoral old rich. Despite living in such a prosperous time, it is impossible
for Gatsby, originally a poor man from North Dakota, to be accepted in privileged society.

In the first chapter of the novel the reader is introduced to the narrator Nick Carraway
and to many of the story’s central characters, all of which come from privileged
backgrounds. It is only at the end of the chapter that we meet Jay Gatsby. Nick observes
him walking alone in the early evening:

Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn
suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our
local heavens…he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way…I glanced
seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away…
(Fitzgerald 25-26)


This passage is extremely symbolic of Gatsby’s character, and his fated inability to have
what he wants most. His expansive mansion makes it clear that financially, Gatsby is very
well off. He throws lavish parties every weekend, and his wealth appears limitless. As
he strolls through his property he seems to have an air of confidence, until he spies the
distant green light across the bay. The light is from the dock of Daisy Buchanan, and
symbolizes everything that is unattainable to Gatsby, despite his financial rise.

Daisy and her husband Tom are both from privileged families, much like Nick. Daisy is a
former love interest of Gatsby’s from the war that he has spent years trying to find
again. Daisy represents not only love, but also the key Gatsby needs to enter the elite
social circle he has spent his life aspiring to. "Her voice is full of money" (127) he
tells Nick, illustrating the difference between working for one’s fortune, and inheriting
it. Gatsby has spent the majority of his life bettering himself, as is seen in his daily
schedule found by Nick and Gatsby’s father later in the novel. "Jimmy was bound to get
ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got
about improving his mind? He was always great for that" lamented Mr. Gatz (182). He has
become very wealthy on his own account, rising from almost nothing, to a level of
extravagant affluence. Gatsby loves Daisy, but it seems her ability to progress him
socially that is most attractive to him. Gatsby believes in his dream, and will follow it
at any cost.


The inability of Gatsby to fulfill his dream of climbing the social ladder is chiefly due
to the contempt held by the old rich towards the new rich. Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan
represents the attitudes of many of the old rich at the time. He is constantly worried
about losing power, of losing dominance, as is demonstrated by his reading of "The Rise of
Colored Empires" (17). Tom feels threatened by Gatsby, and insists on investigating his
background hoping to prove him a fraud. The same investigation occurs at Gatsby’s
parties, where his own guests gossip and make monstrous assumptions on how he built his
fortune, even while they are enjoying his hospitality. Two girls prattle on about whether
or not he was a German spy and whether he has killed in cold blood before, while others
are surprised to find that his vast library is not for appearance only (48). When Tom and
Daisy arrive at one of Gatsby’s parties Tom is immediately condescending. "Who is this
Gatsby anyhow…Some big bootlegger? A lot of these newly rich people are just big
bootleggers, you know" (114). Tom’s view of Gatsby, and thus the new rich is very evident
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