The Effects of a Dream in The Great Gatsby
The American 1920s was an epoch marked by declining moral standards and extravagantly pretentious shows of wealth. The luxurious parties, artificial palaces, and irresponsible alcohol consumption of the ‘20s were all visible in the changing concept of the American Dream. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s symbolic novel, The Great Gatsby, James Gatz is consumed by his desire to obtain this materialistic American Dream. Gatz, the ambitious son of shiftless farm people, escapes his disappointing life by conceiving his own reality in which he is the opulent and popular Jay Gatsby. Along the path to attaining his goals, Gatsby falls for Daisy, a physical manifestation of his aspirations, and lets her represent all that he yearns for. In his plot to regain Daisy, Gatsby commits innumerable vices, loses his true self, and embeds in Daisy more value than she can ever sustain. Despite surface similarities between Gatsby and other morally sordid east-eggers, the narrator, Nick, is correct when he proclaims that Gatsby was all right in the end; Gatsby’s sins were a result of his materialistic 1920s American dream, and not his moral character, which remains intact throughout the novel. Furthermore, Fitzgerald conveys Gatsby’s purity through contrast with other characters and through the voice of a trustable narrator. Gatsby’s unwavering dedication to a decaying American dream is what captures Nick’s “unaffected scorn” (2), forces Gatsby to partake in sin, and disguises his real values. Gatz humbly grew up on a small farm in North Dakota, a state in the Midwest dictated by more traditional views of the American dream founded on family. For Gatz, the failure of his parents serves as a reason to leave this conservative dream behind, and adopt the popular, rising dream of success. In the 1920s, the American dream was disgustingly corrupted by notions of opulent, careless, big-city folk, and Gatsby becomes a victim of this idea. When Gatsby goes to Daisy’s house for the first time, he is swept off his feet, not by love, but by sheer astonishment at her wealth and upper class status. He falls in love with everything that Daisy is and represents. For Gatsby, even “her voice is full of money” (120). Gatsby knew “that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (110). The poor, ambitious farm boy thinks that if he intertwines his fantasies with Daisy, then he will be committed to her forever and his desires will be satiated. Unfortunately, while he is forever committed to her, his longings are never fulfilled. It is Gatsby’s commitment to Daisy, the embodiment of his material aspirations, that drives him to partake in so much justified wickedness. Knowing that the only way to win over Daisy is to feign old-wealth, Gatsby develops an intricate series of lies and establishes himself among the Long Island elite. The “foul dust that floated in the wake of his [Gatsby’s] dreams” (2), that Nick mentions, is the series of sins that Gatsby commits to achieve his vision. Every meeting he has with Wolfsheim, every fake bond he sells, and every bottle of alcohol he bootlegs is to gain money to impress Daisy. Every immoral party that Gatsby hosts that summer is for the purpose of possibly luring in his long-lost sweetheart. Gatsby lived entirely for his dream, and thus all the immoralities he perpetrated were not a reflection of his moral character, but rather the necessary sins for achieving his goal. In reality, Gatsby is a good person. Fitzgerald gives glimpses of the true Gatsby in various scenes such as in the library where Owl-Eyes notes that Gatsby’s library is real and unread: “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism!” (46). Furthermore, in a novel where alcohol is presented as the elixir of the sinful, Gatsby is the...
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