28 March 2011
The Unachievable Dream
“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" is one of the most influential and famous phrases in the United State’s Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence encapsulates the original conception of the American Dream – the notion that every individual, regardless of their social upbringing, could have the opportunity to reach their full potential and live a comfortable lifestyle. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby takes place during the early 1920s--a time period that demonstrates the pursuit of happiness, opportunity, freedom, equality and finally the American Dream. Myrtle Wilson, a significant character in The Great Gatsby, tries to pursue happiness and her American Dream by satisfying materialistic pleasures on a quest for wealth and status. The protagonist of the novel, Jay Gatsby’s quest for hopeless love, signifies the fallen American Dream. Ultimately Fitzgerald uses symbols such as cars, to represent the American Dream itself, and he uses failed relationships to exemplify the corruption and descent of the American Dream. Through his portrayal of the main characters and symbols, Fitzgerald illustrates the decay of morals and values, exemplifying the underside of the American Dream. Fitzgerald portrays twisted relationships to represent the corrupt American Dream in The Great Gatsby. Emotional intimacy, trust, respect, and mutual goodwill constitute a positive and healthy relationship. To the contrary, the majority of the relationships displayed between the characters are dysfunctional, and diminish the hope of living out a meaningful American Dream with emphasis on a strong family. For example, Tom and Daisy are married, yet Tom has an affair shortly after Tom marries Daisy. Indeed, Daisy is suspicious of Tom’s conduct on a trip they took together to Santa Barbara. If he left the room for a minute she’d look around uneasily and say ‘where’s Tom gone and wore the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming to the door .... This was in August. A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night, and ripped a front wheel off his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken- she was one of the chamber maids in the Santa Barbara. (Fitzgerald 51) In addition to the unfaithful relationship shared by Tom and Daisy, Daisy has a twisted conception of her daughter. Daisy’s early cynicisms towards her daughter’s life are shown just about an hour after the baby is born, as Daisy says, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl could be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald 12). Likewise, as Daisy’s daughter grows older, the girl is treated like a trophy that Daisy uses for show, and the nurse is left with the responsibilities of the child’s care. (Fitzgerald 77). Like Daisy’s relationship with her daughter, another dysfunctional relationship is between Myrtle and her husband George. When George suspects Myrtle of cheating, he locks her away. This becomes evident when Tom exclaims, “I’ve got my wife locked away up there” (Fitzgerald 91). Another example of the decline of morals and values in the novel is Nick’s romantic ideation of Jordan Baker, in spite of his established relationship at home (Fitzgerald 40). Most importantly, though, Gatsby has a tragically hopeless dream of obtaining Daisy’s love. He pursues illegal activities in order to gain wealth and to attract Daisy’s affection. Clearly, the multitude of dysfunctional relationships in Fitzgerald’s novel represents the misconstrual of the American Dream. Much like the portrayal of relationships, Fitzgerald uses cars to represent the disintegration of the American Dream. In the 1920’s, cars were extremely popular, coveted by all, and symbolize the vast opportunities available in the United States. Ironically, Myrtle, who seeks American...