The Great Gatsby: The Corruption of the American Dream through Materialism The American dream is an ideal that has been present since American literature’s onset. Typically, the dreamer aspires to rise from rags to riches, while accumulating such things as love, high status, wealth, and power on his way to the top. The dream has had variations throughout different time periods, although it is generally based on ideas of freedom, self-reliance, and a desire for something greater. The early settlers’ dream of traveling out West to find land and start a family has gradually transformed into a materialistic vision of having a big house, a nice car, and a life of ease. In the past century, the American dream has increasingly focused on material items as an indication of attaining success. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a self-made man who started out with no money—only a plan for achieving his dream. He is so blinded by his luxurious possessions that he does not see that money cannot buy love or happiness. Fitzgerald demonstrates how a dream can become corrupted by one’s focus on acquiring wealth, power, and expensive things. Gatsby’s dream “is a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material possessions are synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty” (Fahey 70). His American dream has become corrupted by the culture of wealth and opulence that surrounds him.
Gatsby is a “nouveau riche,” and his romantic view of wealth has not prepared him for the self-interested, snobbish, corrupt group of people with which he comes to associate. He throws lavish parties for countless people, yet he has no real friends. Gatsby buys expensive things and entertains large groups of society because of his incommunicable desire for something greater. Nick Carraway realizes that although Gatsby is involved in underhanded business dealings and is fixated on money, he is a good man at heart. The last time Nick sees Gatsby alive, he tells him, “They’re a rotten crowd…. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (Fitzgerald 162). Gatsby’s romantic view of life may partly be to blame for his inability to achieve his dream. Although he has made his fortune through racketeering and conducting suspicious business deals, his heart seems untouched by the moral evil that is around him. “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). Gatsby’s inspiration comes from the beautiful Daisy (Fay) Buchanan, whom he knew when he was in the military. Daisy’s parents considered Gatsby to be an unsuitable match, because he did not come from a good background and had little money. Nick Carraway, the narrator, sees Daisy as the golden girl—the quintessential rich beauty.
Daisy is the symbol of all that Gatsby strives for; her voice is full of money, as Gatsby describes it. Her voice was “full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song in it” (Fitzgerald 127). She can be interpreted as a twentieth-century siren because she ensnares men with her husky, mysterious voice. Gatsby became so enamored by her voice that he based all of his actions on winning Daisy over. Her voice contains the promise of vast riches. However, Gatsby is too late to realize that money is the only thing her voice promises. There is no compassion in Daisy, just as there is none in cold, hard cash. Gatsby’s idealism is so great that even though Daisy is married and they are having an affair, he assumes that his vision will be realized as long as she will say that she has never loved her husband, Tom. “Not content merely to repeat the past, [Gatsby] must also eradicate the years in which his dream lost its reality” (Bloom 78). Daisy has been the object of Gatsby’s obsession for the past five years, and his romanticism will not allow him to separate the past from the present. He still sees Daisy as the golden girl he knew...
Cited: Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Fahey, William. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1925.
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