The Great Gatsby - Corruption of the American Dream

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'The Great Gatsby is a novel about the corruption of the American Dream.' How far would you agree with this statement?

The American Dream is fundamentally the idea that anyone in America can accomplish through hard work and can achieve success and happiness. It has been expanded on through the years and now incorporates ideas of attaining freedom, wealth and power. In the 1920s when 'The Great Gatsby' was written the Jazz Age was taking hold and the American Dream became more about material possessions being used to show a person's wealth and status and to indicate that they have been successful in life. The materialism of this period of time in America corrupted the American Dream by the intense focus on gaining wealth and power and the loss of morals, and this is demonstrated throughout 'The Great Gatsby'. However, 'The Great Gatsby' is not simply about the American Dream as there are several other themes running through it, such as the emptiness behind the glamour of the Jazz Age, time and the past and morality.

The relationship between two very prominent characters in the novel is used to show the corruption of the American Dream. The title character, Gatsby, lives by the American Dream, desiring wealth, status and power. He strives to achieve these things because he started life with none of them. He had to pay his way through college by doing “the janitor's work”, which he was “despising” so much that he only stayed two weeks. It is possibly from this point in his life that the need to succeed arose. Eventually, Gatsby does achieve the wealth and success that he always wanted, but the manner in which he did so – Tom Buchanan accuses him of being “a bootlegger” - was illegal and immoral, showing the corruption behind Gatsby's success. All that Gatsby strives for is symbolised by Daisy, as she has wealth and social standing, and Gatsby idealises her in his mind to represent all that he wants in the world. Gatsby dreams of loving and being with Daisy, but this cannot happen because of their different social classes. Social classes were supposed to be eradicated with the American Dream, as people were supposed to be able to make their own success. The American Dream was an idealised, perfected vision of what life could be like, and similarly Gatsy idealises Daisy – he is enthralled by her “actual and astounding presence” and “consumed with wonder” by her. Gatsby also “shaded his eyes” when Daisy brushed her hair, suggesting that she was too bright and pure to look directly at. When he was first reunited with Daisy he was so infatuated “he hardly knew what he was saying”. This is all despite her marriage to Tom Buchanan. The rest of Gatsby's short life in centred around trying to impress Daisy, and she is Gatsby's dream. He thinks her voice is “full of money”, suggesting that, to him, she means wealth. Daisy is perfect in Gatsby's mind, but eventually she proves to have the same flaws as the American Dream itself; the things that are desired, both money and Daisy, are unworthy of the meaning and desire invested in them. The is shown concisely through Nick's thought “what a grotesque thing a rose is” - which is a metaphor for Daisy's character, as a rose is supposed to be a beautiful thing of perfection, like Gatsby's idea of Daisy, but in reality her character is repulsive. Daisy is very materialistic, and expensive possessions are extremely important to her. This is shown by her reaction to Gatsby's “beautiful shirts” - throughout their reunion she does not cry until she sees his shirts. When she is being shown around Gatsby's house there is a semantic field of luxury used to show that Gatsby is trying to impress Daisy with his extravagant belongings, and adjectives such as “gold”, “rich” and “silk” are used. Daisy's materialism shows that she is not really the perfect, idealised being that Gatsby has imagined, and the same is true of money; even when the characters are very wealthy, they are not necessarily happy....
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