Living the American Dream: the Self-Made Man of the Great Gatsby

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The ideal of a self-made man is quite American. It is the idea that someone from a humble background can become someone of great importance and wealth through sheer willpower and hard work. The self-made man’s success is not based off his background or the help of others but his own intrinsic values and qualities. It is this idea that allows James Gatz to become Jay Gatsby, and it is this idea that also ironically becomes his downfall. Gatsby is a self-made man, the embodiment of the American dream, and undergoes a reinvention of himself in order to achieve his goals. In chapter six of The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald figuratively expresses Jay Gatsby’s transformation, ambition and ascension in social class.

Gatsby is self-made in more than one sense. He represents the American ideal of a self-made man, but he also discards his old identity of James Gatz and remakes himself into Jay Gatsby. This reinvented self “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God...” (92). The phrase “platonic conception” indicates that Gatsby’s identity was the product of only himself and his imagination and involved no other person. This idea of being conceived from only one person parallels with the comparison of Gatsby to the “son of God,” who was also conceived from only one person. By posing Gatsby as a Jesus figure, Fitzgerald reveals Gatsby as a paragon with noble characteristics. This comparison emphasizes the transformation of Gatsby or in a sense, his resurrection. James Gatz’s life was leading nowhere except his unhappy death. However, Jay Gatsby has the opportunity to succeed and live happily if not for unfortunate circumstances. As a part of his transformation under Dan Cody’s guidance, “he was left with his singularly appropriate education; the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man” (93). Gatsby never quite finished a formal education, so working with Dan Cody gave him the “singularly appropriate education”...
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