The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald’s explanation of an American Reality which contradicts the American Dream
That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school; a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton.... However, I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works." —F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Scribners, 1994. pg. 352.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been celebrated as one of the greatest - if not the greatest - American works of fiction. Of course, one could convincingly argue that Gatsby barely qualified as fiction, as it is the culmination of a trio of Fitzgerald’s work that traces his own experiences and emotions. Perhaps guided by his early life – in which the family lived a hard working life for many years before settling down to live from his mother’s inheritance – ( Prigozy, 13) Fitzgerald at once both idolized and despised the lavish lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties. Fitzgerald's conflicting thoughts can be seen in the contrast between the novel's hero, Jay Gatsby, and its narrator, Nick Carraway. Gatsby represents the naive Midwesterner dazzled by the possibilities of the American dream. Much the same can be said about Fitzgerald – a dreamer who came from upstate New York, and Minnesota. Carraway represents the Ivy League gentleman who casts a suspicious eye on that notion – and who eventually heads back to his native Minnesota. Carraway – literally and figuratively – provides commentary on Gatsby’s elusive American Dream.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning -
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (Gatsby. 149-151)
The Great Gatsby can be described as the most American novel of its time: a chronicle of the highest achievements of the so called American Dream. But it is also a cautionary tale about failed expectations. Fitzgerald knew both all too well. While painting a vivid picture of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald is actually condemning those roaring times as the death - not the zenith – of the American Dream
On the face of it, The Great Gatsby may appear to merely be a novel about the tragic relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Such a plot has historical roots in the passionate relationship of a young F Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King. Much like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald – as a very young man – became infatuated with a young woman from a distinctly different background. In Gatsby’s case, it is the realization that Daisy is looking for something more, that drive him to obtain material wealth. Fitzgerald’s romance was soon extinguished, though, by Charles King, her father. His words surely were etched in Fitzgeralds mind, as they are, essentially, an eight word synopsis of The Great Gatsby: “Poor boys shouldn’t think about marrying rich girls.” (Smith)
But the major theme of the novel has much less to do with love then with the culture of the Roaring Twenties. The Industrial Revolution had provided Americans with a chance that their ancestors never had. During the 1920s, the perception of the American Dream was that an individual can achieve success in life regardless of family history or social status if they only work hard enough. Jay Gatsby is...
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