The Great Gatsby and the Tainted American Dream

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Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase, "American Dream" during the early infancy of our country, proposing this dream as, "That pursuit of a better existence … [and] a higher quality of life through hard work, determination, and devotion." While this may be what many of the characters in The Great Gatsby believe (Jay Gatsby in particular), one critical ideal is discarded in Fitzgerald's twisted refinement of Franklin's definition: morality. It is apparent that Jay Gatsby achieves his wealth and social status through illegal and immoral means, such as bootlegging alcohol. The irony becomes remarkably stunning when one realizes that the section of Franklin's autobiography, which outlines his method for achieving this dream, is entitled "Moral Perfection". Fitzgerald presents a dark satire by portraying the immoral Jay Gatsby as an icon for the decay of the dream Franklin proposed and promoted so avidly. Fitzgerald masterfully allows the reader watch the evolution of Franklin's American dream from its fertilization in the ambition of James Gatz to its dominance over Gatz's life, eventually spawning Jay Gatsby (Gatz-bye) a self-destructive man holding on to a dream that can never become a reality. In addition to Gatsby's delusional pursuit of happiness, Nick Carraway, our narrator, suffers from the same addiction to a dream, which, if made true, will never live up to its expectations. It is obvious that Nick envies Gatsby, hence the title of the novel. Nick is in awe of Gatsby's wealth, social power and moreover, and most of all, the carefree lifestyle it allows. Nick, at the same time he is completely unaware of the illicit means by which Gatsby has gained his wealth. Following Gatsby's death at the end of the novel, Fitzgerald shows Nick's awakening from his dream to persuade the reader to walk away from his novel understanding the lesson that Nick learns from Gatsby's folly. Fitzgerald strives to expose a striking realization that the American dream that Franklin proposed will never be able to deliver its promise of "a better existence" in a society where morality is tossed aside so casually. Fitzgerald litters the novel with a cast of characters who are struggling to chase either emotionless dreams or impossible ones. All of these other characters suffer from this plague of disillusionment that has come to be known as a staple in modernist writing. Morality seems critical, by Franklin's standards, to the success of his American Dream, but when one looks through the novel, searching for characters that are morally sound, one will find that they are few and far between. We, the readers, are witness to multiple adulterous affairs, murder, illegal alcohol use, as well as a lack of camaraderie between friends. Fitzgerald's diagnosis that decadence is the real killer of the American dream manifests itself in many characters and in many ways throughout The Great Gatsby. The most obvious is Gatsby who's dream is to come back from his time spent in the armed forces, much wealthier than he left, with the hope that his newfound wealth will allow him to win back the heart of Daisy who he left behind. When Gatsby left he didn't have the financial power to secure Daisy's devotion to him, for she became much more interested in the material possessions than love, which made her vulnerable to Tom Buchanan's wealthy appeal. Gatsby sees that the only way he can reclaim her is by impressing her with a fortune . Gatsby becomes so intent on accomplishing this goal that in his mind the ends justify the means, without question. We are never told exactly how Gatsby procures his wealth, except that it most likely from illegal bootlegging and perhaps some ties to the mafia. This is Gatsby's first major deviation, chronologically, from Franklin's American Dream. Next, he turns his back on our narrator, Nick, who offers to help him achieve his goal by arranging a meeting with Daisy. Gatsby, who's self-indulgence blinds him to ignorance, practically...
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