The protagonist of the novel is Jay Gatsby, a wealthy young man from the Midwest, who has moved to the New York in the East to pursue his dream. As a younger man, he meets Daisy and falls in love with her. Unlike Gatsby, she is from a wealthy ‘old money’ family and Gatsby misrepresents himself as being wealthy in his own right to win her heart. They fall in love, and when he leaves to go to the army, she promises to wait for him. However, before he returns she marries Tom Buchanan and Gatsby’s dream is to recapture her heart. He realises he has to be wealthy to do this and resorts to various illegal ways of making money, including bootlegging and trading in stolen securities. He associates with known criminals like Meyer Wolfshiem, “who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.” (71). His naïve belief that wealth and social standing is all he requires to win back Daisy is an echo of the failure of the American Dream. In effect, Gatsby sacrifices his soul to keep his dream alive. He never establishes real relationships, but rather uses people in general, and Nick specifically to pursue his dream
Gatsby’s belief that the end justifies the means is echoed by the Great American Dream. The singleminded pursuit of economic and material success in the 1920’s leads to the corruption of people. Even those who achieve their dreams labour under the belief that there is always something bigger and better to attain, hence Nick’s observation at the end of the novel that “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning - “ (171).
Gatsby’s dream becomes so all-encompassing that he is unable to live in the present, or enjoy his wealth. Daisy is the sole component of his vision of “the orgiastic future.” (171). He has massive parties every weekend for people he doesn’t know, taking no part in them, preferring to stand on the sidelines as an observer. They are solely a means to crossing paths with Daisy again. Even the title of the novel – The Great Gatsby – seems to allude to the illusion of the self-created Gatsby. The emptiness of this existence is echoed by the people who attend these parties, as well as the superficiality of Daisy and Tom. Nick observes that 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... (170).
The pursuit of pleasure is the overriding motivation of the wealthy, yet they seem bored by these very activities. Again, this illustrates the fallacy of the American dream; the pursuit and attainment of money and pleasure does not bring happiness, leading to the never-ending search for more pleasure and wealth.
The illusion of the American dream is that anyone can achieve their dreams through hard work, regardless of their origins. The flaw is that there are enormous class divides between the rich and the poor, as well as within the wealthy themselves. This is clear from the disdain with which the people living on East Egg regard the residents of West Egg, who they consider to be upstarts with ‘new money’. This is one of the reasons that Gatsby will never attain his dream – Daisy herself subscribes to this class divide. No matter how wealthy Gatsby becomes, he will never be of the same...