The Tragic Misinterpretation of the 1920s American Dream
The 1920s exemplified the flaws of the American Dream and the tragic misinterpretation that money outweighed hard work and morals. The Great Gatsby, set in the 1920s, represents the demise of the traditions and values behind the American Dream as the desire to be rich took over. The novel appears to deal with the failed relationship of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, however the overall theme has to do with the culture of the 1920s and the cultural elements that led to the downfall of the American Dream. The new meaning of the American Dream combined with its altered results created the idea that money equated to happiness in the 1920s. This change was the eventual demise of what the American Dream was as well as the demise of the country as well. During the 1920s, the American Dream was perceived as attainable by anyone, regardless of family history or social status, if they worked hard enough. In the book titled “Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity”, the author Roland Marchand’s definition of a twenties man living the American Dream and Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby, who has risen from a poor childhood to being a millionaire with servants, a huge house, and dozens of friends, presents a resemblance that is impossible to deny. While Gatsby does not solely represent the 1920s man living the American Dream, Fitzgerald created a character that resembled the corruption and misinterpretations surrounding the values and ideas behind the American Dream during the time period. The elements of Gatsby’s rise to the upper class and the way his life embodied what the American Dream was actually led it’s demise. In Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” he writes, “…to gain and hold the esteem of men is not sufficient merely to hold wealth and power. The wealth and power must be put into evidence.” Thorstein Veblen, who made known the term “conspicuous consumption” - a term that describes what was happening in The Great Gatsby - was trying expose the way those who rose from nothing to riches and wealth flaunted it in an attempt to gain respect and recognition of their hard work by showing it off. It was not enough anymore to obtain the life of the American Dream without outdoing your neighbor and advertising your success. The hard work success story became overshadowed by the outcome of the success, allowing society to lose sight of what the American Dream really was. Men like Gatsby overlooked all aspects of the American Dream other than money, and focused on becoming wealthy over all else. Originally, the American Dream was the act of rising through social and economic standings through hard work that was rewarded solely by the satisfaction of having accomplished something. However, men in the 1920s like Gatsby shed away from this tradition and instead flaunted their excessive wealth through materialism. The houses in The Great Gatsby indicated the relentless competition to prove one’s status, as all of the newly rich attempted to outdo one another. The size and the amenities of their homes, their parties and connections, were all a measure of one’s social status. Gatsby achieved from the outside what looked like the American Dream, and although he had obtained the material status necessary to give that impression, it still wasn’t enough for him. Gatsby had to seek reassurance from others to prove not only to everyone else, but also to himself that he had accomplished something impressive. Because of this insecurity, Gatsby spent every weekend throwing extravagant, lavish, drunken parties as the host of hundreds of people he did not know. It was not about creating actual relationships, but creating the illusion of his popularity and social status. For Gatsby, the American Dream held no morals or values involving hard work paying off. It was not the reward of achievement and success that drove him to rise in wealth, but the promise...
Cited: "Introduction to Are America 's Wealthy Too Powerful?: At Issue." Are America 's Wealthy Too Powerful? Ronald D. Lankford, Jr. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. At Issue. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 17 June 2013.
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