English 101 (1A)
8 November 2013
The Moral Declination of the American Dream as Portrayed in The Great Gatsby
The American dream has long been defined as the notion that anyone, regardless of age or race, can succeed in America due to the country’s social, economic, and political systems. In the early days of the United Sates, the American Dream ensured that people would have the chance to work their way up in business and society through their own labor and ingenuity. In the novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald addresses the shift that American dream undertook as a result of the ten-year party that ensued after the end of World War I in 1918. That party was the 1920’s. A time in which there was unprecedented affluence and material excess. Fitzgerald told of this decade in the novel. He told of how it was the societal separation of the old money and new money that directly led to the materialism and elitism which gave way to the disintegration of the American Dream, which is still present in modern-day America.
The societal change began in the 1920’s when a rift between the old money and new money societies became apparent. It began in 1918 with the conclusion of World War I. The young men who had fought overseas returned to America with disrupted religious beliefs, as they did not understand why the war had happened in the first place. They had lived their lives purely, and had still been punished with the war. This younger generation now realized that, no matter what they do, bad things can still happen. They decided at this point that they should throw caution to the wind and begin living their lives however they pleased. Their noble life goals went out the window, and there was not much else to do then just have fun. People began spending vast amounts of money as a way of defying conventional wisdom, which led to a steady rise in the stock market in the early 1920’s, which also contributed to the changes in society. It led to an increase in wealth amongst almost everybody in America, which meant that now, anybody in the country could, theoretically make a fortune and become a member of the elite upper class. The already established upper class, or old money families did not appreciate this new breed of industrialists, and preferred to stick to themselves. They rudely separated themselves both geographically and socially from the new money members of the upper class, and continued to think of themselves through the entire decade, and long afterwards as, the best of the best. And although they may have been better in some ways, this was exactly the problem back then. The old money families did not just believe that they were better off financially, but that they were better people in general than the new money and the lower and middle classes. Nick explains how pretentious this makes those who believed that sound in chapter one when he says, “I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth” (Fitzgerald, 2). By this, Nick is saying that he believes that it is not just money that is distributed unequally at birth, but that there are other things that can be dispersed unequally, too. He thinks that there are people who are born nicer than others. The members of the old money society believed that you had to be born with money to also possess these fundamental decencies, and if you didn’t, then you deserved to be looked down upon. In chapter one, Fitzgerald writes about Tom; “His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked-- and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts” (Fitzgerald, 7). This is Fitzgerald’s way of showing Tom’s arrogance. Tom believes that since he was born to a rich family, he can act as...
Cited: Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York City: Scribner, 2004.
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