The novel 'The Great Gatsby' by Scott Fitzgerald was considered by many to be an icon of its time. Fitzgerald uses the setting of the roaring 1920s in America to develop the theme of the corrupt American dream. He does this through exposing corruption underlying Gatsby’s wealth, desire for constant entertainment and the contrast between rich and poor in this era.
Fitzgerald firstly develops this theme through exposing what happens behind the closed doors of the so called upper class, new money people in the 1920s society. The fraud and illegal business witnessed by Nick is symbolised as the, “Foul dust (which) floated in the wake of (Gatsby’s) dreams” and which led to his downfall. Gatsby’s dream is to win Daisy back but the way in which he gains this wealth through illegal alcohol and financial fraud is very questionable. A further example of this fraud would be when Gatsby almost proudly acclaimed that his friend Wolfsheim, “Fixed the World Series,” in baseball.
Fitzgerald also uses the need for constant entertainment by the people of the 1920's to develop this theme further. In the 1920s outrageous and vulgar parties were thrown by the rich new money upper class in order to gain popularity and to show off to others how they had achieved the American dream. Although many people came to Gatsby’s parties Fitzgerald shows us that the people have no loyalty to the host and are there purely for the entertainment, thus further demonstrating how wrong the corrupt American dream is. For example when Gatsby throws parties a whole crowd of people turn up to use Gatsby for his money, they spread nasty rumours about him being,” German,” and that he,” Killed a man.” Also when Gatsby dies none of them turn up to his funeral because they have no use for him anymore. Through this contrast Fitzgerald suggests that the need for entertainment in the 1920s era overrode the moral values and how the mindless partying actually achieved no true friendships for the hosts.
The final way Fitzgerald uses the 1920s to develop this theme is by exaggerating the gap between the rich, upper class and the poor, working class that was present in the 1920s to get the point of how unfair the era was. This is because most of the upper class living the corrupt American dreams either inherited all their money or earned it through fraud. Because of this fraud and spoilt society it is near impossible for the lower class to chase the original American dream and they are forced to conform to the corrupt version like J.Gatsby. For example Mr Wilson is trying to make an honest living in contrast to J.Gatsby and Wolfsheim, but he finds it very difficult and becomes disillusioned, he is forced to move,” Back west,” to earn a buck. Also because of how large the gap between poor and rich is, it allows arrogant men with, “Cruel,” bodies like Tom Buchanan to take advantage of the poor. For example in the New York apartment Tom hits Myrtle and gets away with it with no penalties because of his social class. This example is further expressed when Nick implies that Tom is insensitive, destructive, clumsy, an “American tourist,” who blunders about, “Smashing up things and creatures,” and leaving a mess for
others to clear up and he is allowed to do this with no consequences because of the corrupt American dream and social superiority that comes with it.
The United States Declaration of Independence encapsulates the American Dream in the statement that all people have the right to the, “Pursuit of happiness,” By exposing the corruption behind new wealth and arrogance associated with much old wealth, the excesses of pleasure seeking and inequalities of the class system, Fitzgerald questions the myth of the American Dream in the novel ‘The Great Gatsby’. It symbolises the,” Foul dust that Nick sees as bringing down people of talent such as Gatsby and Fitzgerald himself, who is, "Worth the whole damn bunch of them.”