The American Dream
After World War I, America seemed to guarantee unlimited financial and social opportunities for anyone willing to work hard – the American Dream. For some, however, striving for and realizing that dream corrupted them, as they acquired wealth only to seek pleasure. Even though the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby appear to adore the freedom of the 1920s, their lives reveal the decline of happiness that results when wealth and pleasure swallow them. Specifically, through the wealth-greedy lives of three characters, Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, and Daisy Buchanan, Fitzgerald portrays that a materialistic lifestyle does not lead to happiness and causes a decline of the American Dream. A character who holds firmly to an illusion of the American Dream is Jay Gatsby. Gatsby pursues wealth in order to win Daisy Buchanan’s love. He is dishonest with Daisy from the start by persuading her into thinking he is rich. The two have an affair before he goes back to war and he is shocked that she has moved on when he returns. "As a seventeen-year-old he transformed himself from plain James Gatz, to Jay Gatsby for whom anything is possible” (Telgen par.56). Gatsby decides to follow a new model of himself that converts reality into possibility. "We see how the focus has become blurred: how the possibilities of life are conceived of in material terms. But in that heroic list of the vaster luxury items - motor-boats, aquaplanes, private beaches, Rolls-Royces, diving towers - Gatsby’s vision maintains its gigantic unreal stature” (Bewley par.12). Although he has all his materialistic possessions, he has not hoarded his wealth for himself. Everything he has done in life has been done to fulfill his dream which is to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her. In fact, Gatsby pursues in illegal activity to get rich quick and win Daisy’s heart. “He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn‘t far wrong" (Fitzgerald 133-134). He is oblivious to how reality works because he declares to Nick Carraway, his neighbor and Daisy’s cousin, "Can’t repeat the past? ... Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before…She’ll see" (Fitzgerald 110). He believes that his possessions will convince her to forget the past five years of her life and marry him. When Gatsby takes Daisy into his house and shows her his belongings, he values each item according to the worth that she places on it. When she shatters his dream by accepting Tom over him, Gatsby has no further need for any of his possessions. No longer searching for his dream, the house, the clothes, and the cars mean nothing. Gatsby’s desire to have it all - money, class, power, and Daisy, no matter the cost - has corrupted his soul. Tom Buchanan’s American Dream is to stay wealthy. He wants everything that an important person would have in the 1920s. Coming from a wealthy background, his life has little to no purpose. With no real career, his life is centered around polo ponies and fancy cars. Daisy, his wife, is nothing but an accessory to him, and also his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, which he has on the side, is only used for his pleasure. He rents Myrtle an apartment in New York and orders her to go there for his enjoyment whenever he wants. Unfortunately, Tom mistreats Myrtle by violently punching her in the nose in front of her sister and Nick when she teases him by chanting Daisy's name. “The overall impression the reader has of this character is his physical power and brute strength” (Telgen par.20). Tom is portrayed as a coarse, aggressive, and short-tempered character of the novel because he lashes out numerously and uncontrollably. Daisy Buchanan, born and married to wealth, has no values and no purpose in life. She finds her existence to be boring as she floats from one social event to...
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