CORRUPTION AND COMMON FAILURE TO ACHIEVE THE AMERICAN DREAM
Corruption and Common Failure to Achieve the American Dream
Read in high schools and colleges across the nation, “The Great Gatsby” has been called “the great American novel” by a handful of scholars and critics (Hoover, "'The Great Gatsby' Still Challenges Myth of American Dream."). A person can easily find a copy of the book as well as media analysis of “Gatsby” almost anywhere. “The Great Gatsby” examines the luxury of American life in the 1920s as everyone chases their individual interpretation of “the dream”. (2) “The novel is an exploration of the American Dream as it exists in a corrupt period of history. Fitzgerald catches the contradictions and corruptions of the American Dream. “The Great Gatsby”, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, catches the contradictions and corruptions of the American Dream through the lives of Gatsby, Daisy, and other characters by examining the decay of morals and values in the 1920’s. The American Dream
The American Dream is an idea that has existed since the early days of the nation. Even as a cluster of colonies, families, as well as individuals, have endured months of travel and hardships on their voyage to America in pursuit of a dream: a new, improved, improved, and happy life. The first manifestation of the American Dream can be found in the Declaration of Independence where it is states that all man has unalienable rights, “among which are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” (“The American Dream”). Later on in history, poor immigrants voyage to America searching, with hope in their hearts, for opportunities to experience a glimpse of “the dream”. The dreamer typically starts from the bottom of all social classes, and then escalates into fortune, acquiring love, lust, and power as he rises. In “The Great Gatsby”, the character of Jay Gatsby is a man who worked his way up to the height of all luxury, being so rich that he threw parties he would not even attend weekly. Many of these people began to believe that money could buy true love and happiness. Jay Gatsby is an example of one of many people in the 1920s that focused and relied on luxury to get through life. Having successfully reached the epitome of “the dream”, Jay Gatsby is too blinded by his new life to look back at when he was just Jimmy Gatz, a poor and uneducated soldier of World War I. Gatsby’s dream “is a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material possessions are synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty” (Fahey 70). In other words, Gatsby ties fortune to a satisfactory life. Lavish parties become a way for Gatsby to fit in with the class of people he had hoped to one day linger upon since he was a young boy. Despite these grand occasions that would last into the dusk of the next day, he was a lonely person. Spending money to satisfy society was just a way to consume time as he tried to interpret the deep desire within his heart. Gatsby and Daisy
Gatsby continues to use money to help resolve emotional conflicts, this time as a prompt towards winning Daisy Buchanan’s heart. “He has lived not for himself, but for his dream, for his vision of the good life inspired by the beauty of a lovely rich girl” (Fahey 71). Daisy and Jay had met in the military. Her parents had not considered Gatsby as a good candidate to their daughter’s hand in marriage at the time, as he did not have enough money to support her. After five years of separation, Gatsby had never expected to see this beauty again. He loses all interest in his luxurious life in order to impress anyone other than Daisy. As Fitzgerald writes, Gatsby “has lived not for himself, but for his dream, for his vision of the good life inspired by the beauty of a lovely rich girl” (Fahey 71). He believes that Daisy is still the beautiful young lady he fell for five years ago. As a trophy of his wealth, Gatsby can only pursue her “voice full of money” (page127) through none other than money itself. The idea of declining morals in the 1920s shows when Gatsby and Daisy develop an affair on the side of Daisy’s marriage to a rich man named Tom Buchanan. Gatsby sees Daisy’s marriage as merely a small obstacle in his desired future with her, as long as she admits that she never loved her husband. Like most people in their social class, Daisy was a careless, carefree woman. She was delicate on the surface, but cold and self-absorbed inside. She abuses the lives of those around her in order to bring herself into the highest ranks of her class. In the novel, Daisy even treats her daughter, Pammy, as an object to be shown off: "The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother's dress" (Fitzgerald 131). Pammy does not show the comfort a person would see between a mother and its child because she was never given love; she was treated like a trophy, as Daisy spent more time dressing the child in expensive clothes than actually spending time with her. Nick describes Gatsby’s first encounter with the barely mentioned child, "Afterward he kept looking at the child in surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed its existence before"(Fitzgerald 131). Notice the word “it” instead of her. Daisy’s child is an item rather than a human being, further expressing the feeling of immorality during the 1920s.
Materialism plays a large role in the novel. Cars are a symbol of wealth, as each rich character owns several cars. Cars also cause the death of characters within the book. Jay Gatsby is seen with his large yellow car, which is a sign of his rank in society because it shows his ability to spend money on such flashy possessions. Gatsby also keeps a library of authentic books. This is significant with materialism because he took his ability to flaunt his abundance to another level. Most rich people would have libraries of cardboard books. Instead, Gatsby fills this library with classic books that he probably never touched. The pool in his mansion, which he never actually swam in until the night before his death, served as an exclusive part of his wealth. He used the pool as a “bonus” to joining his party and promoting his popularity. In the previous paragraph, the treatment of Pammy, Daisy’s daughter, emphasizes the usage of humans as mutual objects. Furthermore, Daisy’s relationship with her husband versus Jay Gatsby is materialism. She married Tim because he was a wealthy man who never had to work because his parents had left him all their fortune, contrary to develop real feelings. Likewise, Daisy points out her love for material things when she shows more interest in Gatsby’s expensive shirts than his character. Corruption is “The action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so” (“Corruption”). While Daisy has an affair with Gatsby, Tom is having an affair with another character named Myrtle Wilson, who wishes to take him from Daisy. (Due to Daisy’s careless lifestyle, Myrtle’s life is ended shortly in a car accident.) Through the common occurrence of corruption: “Gatsby gets his fortune through the illegal sale of alcohol ('bootlegging'). The sale of alcohol was prohibited in the United States in the 1920s. Gatsby came from the western United States where there was 'old money.' There he met Dan Cody who taught him how to 'bootleg.' As Gatsby became richer he moved to West Egg in New York.” ("The Great Gatsby and the fall of the American Dream.") The immoral actions of all of these characters show the decline in respect for life in general. As soon as Daisy finds out about Gatsby’s scandalous ways of becoming rich, she leaves his arms and becomes one with the man she married for his money. Although all of these characters have attained the American dream”, they have yet to find true happiness. Fitzgerald shows the change in values during the decade. The carelessness of actions said and done by people in the upper class occur multiple times in the book. Equality is nearly nonexistent as social discrimination occurs in Chapter 2 of “The Great Gatsby”. Tom uses his race to describe his fortune, "The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be - will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved... [us whites] who are the dominant race" (Fitzgerald 18) Tom’s ignorance, which may be tied to the stereotype of the rich white men of the 1920s is depicted on page 18 of the novel: “Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?” which shows Tom’s belief that the colonization of the United States would be a danger to the supreme white race. Tom appears to make himself look more superior to others as well as to Wilson when offered an opportunity to get his car resold. If it were not for Tom’s affair with Wilson’s wife, he would have continued to draw a dark line between their [practically similar] social classes. The gap between the higher and lower class shows when Western and Eastern parts of the country’s culture and wealth are compared and contrasted. East Eggers, which are those who have made it all the way to the top of society, look down on West Eggers, such as Gatsby, who can never seem to fit in with this desired upper class. The “Valley of Ashes” symbolizes the working class, where members of the East Eggers continue to corrupt America. This is where Tom commits adultery and where Daisy kills Myrtle. The American Dream can most nearly be defined as “hope”. Gatsby reunites with Daisy and spends all the time until the end of his life hoping to win her heart. He uses this “extraordinary gift of hope“(Fitzgerald 6) and full devotion to reach his interpretation of “the dream”. He also hopes to fit in with the others in the upper class. He failed to accomplish the American dream and ended up dying, with no one funeral attendees other than his father and Nick Carraway. A materialistic dream can abruptly end all future hopes. Dreamers of the Roaring 20’s
Most of the characters in the novel look forward to fulfilling their dream. Nick Carraway, the speaker of this book, is a man from the mid-west. Unlike other characters, he does not share the dream of ultimate wealth. The money of the upper class is just a tiny bit of his dream together with his admiration for the rich East Eggers. Instead, his interpretation of the dream consists of finding his true self. He focuses on moral values and making himself a better person. “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known” (Fitzgerald 49). Daisy has fulfilled her dream through marrying her rich husband, Tom. As a commonly careless rich person living in New York, she does not have any other lifelong or meaningful goals. As long as she has the money, cars, and clothes, she does not worry about the future. With her social class, she only has enough of an attention span to live in the moment. Unlike Gatsby, and like many of his neighbors, Tom Buchanan did not have to work for his dream. In fact, he did not have to work at all. He received his money from his parents. He shares the same careless mindset as his wife. He was left bigoted and small-minded because of his rich and trouble-free childhood. He does not care for a change or large achievement in life. The only value that Daisy has to her husband is one of possession, just like her feelings towards her daughter. Losing her would be like losing a trophy, which is the only thing that could disrupt his American dream. George Wilson has a dream of luxury, yet it has a deeper meaning than just obtaining enough money to officially claim power. He would like to earn the right amount of money to take his wife, Myrtle Wilson, to a beautiful place and raise a family built on love. Wilson looks to Tom for financial support in order to fulfill his dream. Tom is too egotistic to help Wilson. Unfortunately, his dream does not even begin to rise because his wife is killed. Her death leaves him with a purposeless life. Myrtle also has a dream. She shares a common dream with Gatsby. “They're both trying to rise above their station. Like Gatsby, Myrtle isn't happy with the class she was born to.” (“Myrtle Wilson”) She spends the remainder of her life pretending to belong to the society of rich people. Believing that George is not good enough for her, she chases after Daisy’s husband. Tom is the only way for her to have access to the upper class; therefore, she dedicates her time and eventually, her life, to doing whatever he says. “She hates Daisy, because Daisy is standing in her way, for her marriage with Tom.” Unfortunately, money and power become bridges between achieving these goals.
James Truslow Adams stated that the American dream is,
"That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position." (P.214-215)” ("The American Dream: What Is the American Dream?") The American Dream is often abused by people such as the characters in the novel. The innocent idea of achieving dreams of becoming comfortable in society is corrupted by the selfish, who sin their way to the top. Gatsby failed to reach his interpretation of the American Dream. He could not get Daisy to fall in love with him. In the end, he was never truly satisfied with what they made out of the American Dream. Instead, they caused their own lives to self-destruct. Money can bring a person temporary satisfaction, complete corruption, and blindness to the true American dream: happiness.
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