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The Great Gatsby

By lpsmyth Jun 21, 2014 1130 Words
The Great Gatsby ESSAY: The Fall of the American Dream

The figurative as well as literal death of Jay Gatsby in the novel The Great Gatsby symbolizes a conclusion to the principal theme of the novel. With the end of the life of Jay Gatsby comes the end of what Fitzgerald views as the ultimate American ideal: self-made success. The intense devotion Gatsby has towards his rebirth is evident by the plans set forth in Gatsby's teenage schedule, such as "Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it." Gatsby's death ironically comes about just as he sorrowfully floats in his pool, witnessing the "youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves" (157) come crashing down. The rhetorical devices employed in the above passage illustrate the demise of the American Dream, the central theme of The Great Gatsby. "Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees," (169). Two details in this rather terse paragraph come to the reader's attention: first, Gatsby's decline for assistance in carrying the mattress to the pool; and second, the "yellowing trees." Gatsby's refusal to accept help with the mattress is just another example of Gatsby's life, spent working for his own benefit, without receiving help from anyone. Gatsby even had the opportunity to receive $25,000 in inheritance from Dan Cody, but as Fitzgerald puts it, "He never understood the legal device that was used against him, but...He didn't get it." The yellowing trees tell the reader that autumn is fast approaching; and most people would agree that swimming in New York in autumn is most likely not the best idea. However, Gatsby's choice to swim is an exemplification of Gatsby's refusal to accept the way of life which is dictated to him. Had Gatsby kept along the path of life that was seemingly set for him, he would not have become half of the man he currently was. Ironically, Gatsby's determination to live outside of the realms of conventional judgment is what also leads to his demise. The next few sentences in the passage are sentences that are written with particularly descriptive similes all calling attention to one conclusion, Gatsby's unattainable dream of a relationship with Daisy had come to an end. "[Gatsby] must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream," (169). As Gatsby lay in the pool, he felt forlorn. He was coming to the realization that Daisy had become the one goal he was unable to reach. Gatsby was alone and cold, both figuratively and literally. Gatsby used to envelop himself in the warmth of his wealth, grandeur, and dreams of Daisy; however, as the depressing notion that he could never rekindle what he and Daisy used to have began to sink in, he felt stripped and enervated. "He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass," (169). With his skewed view of life removed, Gatsby was viewing the world through new eyes. Rather than see the world he had grown accustomed to, Gatsby began to see life and the area around him through a much more realistic and pessimistic stance. Gatsby's dismal glance fell upon "an unfamiliar sky," "frightening leaves," a grotesque rose, raw sunlight, and barren grass. "A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about," (169). Gatsby viewed this new world as being full of people who are "poor ghosts," "breathing dreams like air." The simile between dreams and air proposes a very interesting concept, the idea that dreams are essential to life. Just as people need air to live, dreams are necessary as well; and since Gatsby ceased to have his dream of being with Daisy, he ceased to have a way to live. Fitzgerald's choice of the word "fortuitously" fixates a notion of Gatsby's personal character. Always needing to be superior, Gatsby found himself unable to admit defeat in any field, especially that of romance; the idea that these "poor ghosts" drift around by chance signifies that in Gatsby's final defeat, he did not lose because Tom is superior in any way, but rather because Daisy and Tom's romance happened by chance. Throughout the course of the passage, Fitzgerald foreshadows Gatsby's death. Phrases such as "waited for [the phone message] until four o'clock--until long after there was any one to give it to if it came," "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream," and "that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees," all point to Gatsby's impending murder. Even the simile regarding dreams being like air, essential to life, hints that Gatsby's life will soon to come to an end given that he has nothing left to dream for. The last striking bit of irony occurs in the final paragraph of the passage, "The chauffeur--he was one of Wolfshiem's proteges--heard the shots--afterward he could only say that he hadn't thought anything much about them." This sentence says that Gatsby's butler, the one who could have possibly saved Gatsby's life, and caught Wilson, heard the gun shots, but didn't notice them. The irony is this: when Gatsby still saw hope between himself and Daisy, he replaced his original butler staff with assistants from Meyer Wolfshiem, a man who works for the mob. He hired these men so that they would protect Daisy from hearing possible rumors regarding Gatsby's past. In effect, he hired men to shield Daisy from rumors; however, these men were from the mob and thus accustomed to hearing gunshots, so the very men he hired for his benefit also lead him to a great deal of harm. Gatsby's success facilitated his ability to hire these mobsters, however, just as with his infatuation with Daisy, Gatsby's success led to his downfall. The idea that the American Dream is to be successful by one's own devices is the prominent theme of The Great Gatsby, however, through the use of rhetorical devices, the demise of said American Dream is just as vividly illustrated. If Fitzgerald's tale is any insight into the fate of those who dare to rise above the life that was dealt to them, these efforts serve futile. As Fitzgerald says at the conclusion of the novel, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Living too long with one dream leads to inevitable destruction, and without anything to dream for, there is no way to truly live.

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