“Jay Gatsby Is a Man for Our Times”

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“We talk about the American Dream, and want to tell the world about the American Dream, but what is the dream, in most cases, but the dream of material things? I sometimes think that the United States for this reason is the greatest failure the world has ever seen.”-Eugene O’Neil

Through various pieces of literature, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the words of Eugene O’Neil are undeniably and vividly illustrated valid on innumerable occasions. The American Dream, dissected to its bare skin and bones, is all about prosperity and the relentless pursuit of happiness through material possessions. However, what does the dream evolve into once the ideals and goals have been fulfilled? The protagonist of Fitzgerald’s novel, Jay Gatsby, receives a first hand lesson that the fulfillment of those ideologies rarely leads to inner happiness. A strive for fulfillment may parallel directly to a never ending cycle, in which greed overtakes happiness, and one where an individual reaches for a dream that results in little satisfaction. Eric Liu depicts this idea in his piece “A Chinaman’s Chance”: “The poet Robert Browning once wrote that ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp- else what’s a heaven for” So it is in America.” These various works of literature depict exactly what the once admirable American Dream, turned to materialistic greed, ultimately leads to; that being failure.

The American Dream, specifically portrayed in Fitzgerald’s work, was dramatically affected and altered by the time period and the events that surrounded the work while it was written. The 1920’s, known to many as the “Jazz Age” or the “Roarin 20’s”, was a period in which the dream decayed and truly centered on material happiness, especially through wealth. World War I had swept the nation and essentially created a disillusioned society, in which America saw the decline of social and moral values. The economic boom after the war only led to an even greater desire for...
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