The Death of the American Dream in the Great Gatsby
World War I brought out the deepest, darkest, most malignant tendencies of human nature. Young men died in the thousands on the battlefield, martyrs of a wanton cause. 1920’s American society mirrored the Great War’s atmosphere of excess. The newly wealthy class, in onslaught, threw lavish parties and indulged in sexual promiscuity as exorbitance became the new state religion. Traditional values, including that of the American Dream, seemed to crumble; no longer did hard work, ambition, and hope guarantee success, whether wealth or happiness. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the zeitgeist of this era, characterized by wealth and meaningless. In the novel, Midwesterner Nick Carraway comes to New York where he meets Jay Gatsby, a Long Islander seeking to rekindle lost love with his paramour Daisy Buchanan, who lives carefree with her husband Tom and friend Jordan Baker. Tom meanwhile harbors a secret affair with the vivacious Myrtle Wilson, who lives meekly with her humble husband George. The deaths of Gatsby, Myrtle, and George contrast the survival of Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, symbolizing the moral death of the American Dream.
Myrtle, George, and Gatsby, each of whom ultimately dies, attempt to realize the American Dream through their own determination and singularity of purpose. On Nick's first journey to New York City by train with Tom, the two stop off at a shoddy repair garage to meet Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson. She lives with her humble husband George, owner of the garage, and successfully hides the affair from him. As she comes down the stairs, Nick awes at her appearance, "Her face...contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering" (30). Myrtle’s best trait, perhaps the trait Tom is most attracted to, is her vitality, her singular desire to live and rise to prominence. She...
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