Explore Fitzgerald’s Presentation of the Decline of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby. How Does Your Reading of the Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories Illuminate Your Understanding of the Core Text?

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The Great Gatsby is set in post-war America: a time when the brutality of war had left veterans desensitised, ridding them of their pre-combat morality. This disillusionment is personified in the character Jay Gatsby, an ex-soldier who turns to organised crime to achieve the American dream, running “side-street drug-stores” and “[selling] grain alcohol over the counter”. Fitzgerald chooses criminality as his characters’ route for prosperity to capture the desperation for the American dream at the time the novel was set. This loss of integrity for material gain is shown through characters Rose and Key in another Fitzgerald text: May Day from The Diamond as Big as the Ritz. They drunkenly break a journalist’s leg when they storm a newspaper’s headquarters, despite being described as “darn good guy[s]”. Another contribution to the vastly increasing accessibility of the American dream was the ascension of the post-war stock market. This increased national wealth, in turn encouraging materialism throughout the country. Newfound prosperity gave birth to an age where ordinary men could achieve the American dream if only they “run faster” and “stretch out [their] arms farther”. However, these self-made men were the ‘nouveau riche’ and caused a clash between themselves and established old money, which is portrayed in the geography of TGG. The East Egg holds the superior aristocracy, like Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and is “condescending to West Egg”, “the less fashionable of the two” and home to the nouveau riche like Gatsby.

The American dream Fitzgerald’s characters embody is the desire for something greater, which is exactly what the previously ordinary but presently ‘great’ Gatsby achieves. He began life as James Gatz, the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”, whose dreams of “ineffable gaudiness” spurred him to become the “Platonic conception of himself”. One critic notes that “this talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of greatness” [1]. His transformation reflects that of the American dream: comes from humble beginnings, like the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island seeking refuge, but ends in materialism. Fitzgerald represents the original, untarnished American dream by contrasting the “green of the light on a dock” that Gatsby sees with the immigrants seeing the green statue of Liberty on their arrival. Although both see green as something representative of hope, the immigrants strived for a new beginning, whereas Gatsby strives after Daisy Buchanan.

The green light, symbolic of “the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”, has more simplistic interpretations. One is that Fitzgerald uses the green light to convey the character’s desperation; finding hope in insignificant objects. The light being green could also be construed as displaying Gatsby’s jealously over Daisy’s husband, Tom; the social context of green being the colour of envy. Another interpretation of the choice of green is as symbolising the green dollar: money. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as longing after Daisy, the personification of money. Her shallowness depicts her as a caricature of affluence; Fitzgerald even writes that “her voice is full of money”. This brings fresh connotations to Gatsby’s desire for Daisy, showing he longs after money, like the other characters in the text. Fitzgerald does this to exaggerate the problems posed by a Capitalist society; the characters are so busy pursuing wealth, they don’t care who they “[smash] up” on their way.

However, like money, Daisy never truly fulfils his desire to “fix everything just the way it was before”. Although he achieves Daisy’s love, she only loves him for his money. Her superficial interest in him is echoed by his friends. Despite throwing parties for them, they take no real interest in him. Instead, they indulge in scandals that surround him - like “he was a German spy during the war” - which are spread by other ‘friends’. This lavish lifestyle is...
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