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"The Death of the American Dream"

            Within F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece The Great Gatsby, there exist numerous reoccurring themes that relate to the events of the United States during the 1920s as well as the problems we may face today. One of the most outright themes Fitzgerald tries to convey is the loss of the American dream that was occurring during the 1920s. This theme, centered on Gatsby himself, remains one of the strongest themes throughout the novel as it is called upon several times, and is finally expressed with Gatsby’s death and the story’s conclusion. Fitzgerald’s theme of the loss of the American dream is played out throughout the novel, as Gatsby looks to gain Daisy’s love through wealth and parties that are rooted in corruption. However, the theme surpasses even Gatsby’s death, as evidenced in chapter nine during his funeral, where Gatsby is left to die alone despite the “companionship” he experienced during his life. Fitzgerald’s theme of the loss of the American dream is evidenced not only throughout the novel as Gatsby searches for Daisy’s love but also during his death as high society abandons his memory in search for the next party.

             In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, different characters in different walks of life portray the death of the American dream. As early as Chapter Two, we learn that Tom and Myrtle have broken ethical boundaries by having an affair. Tom is unhappy with his wealth, though he is a member of the elite rich that all Americans strive to be, despite not having to earn his own money. Myrtle is also a representation of the death of the American dream, as she attempts to become part of high society despite her lowly upbringings. However, the epitome of the death of the American dream is portrayed in the life of James Gatsby. Gatsby does not long for social status or fame, but solely for the love of a woman, Daisy. After returning from World War I, the young James Gatz has his eyes set on earning the love to Daisy. He tracks her east, to Long Island, and works from rags to riches to earn her respect. Gatsby hopes that in achieving the American dream of wealth, prosperity, and popularity, that he can earn the love and respect of Daisy. Even more deeply interwoven into the fabric of the novel is Gatsby’s “belief in life’s possibilities” (Gatsby 1), a typical ideal held in the American dream of prosperity and success. In his life, Gatsby has achieved everything he has striven for: a nice house, popularity, success; all except the love of Daisy. On this note, Gatsby’s nearness to success, with a house within view of Daisy’s, shows just how close one can come in the novel but still fail in their efforts. In Nick’s words, “[Gatsby] had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (Fitzgerald 182). Such success with subtle failure by Gatsby illustrates the death of the American dream that is portrayed in The Great Gatsby, but this theme is also evident in the means Gatsby used to achieve his success.

            The loss and death of the American dream is not only played out in Gatsby’s failure to achieve the dream, but also in the means he took to gain his success and fame. As Nick finds out from Meyer Wolfsheim in Chapter Nine, Gatsby was involved in the gambling and gang life that was running rampant in the United States during the 1920s. Nick’s doubts about Gatsby are cleared up by a call he receives that tells of the capture of a gang member in Chicago, the hotspot at the time for corruption. In trying to achieve the American dream of success, Gatsby exploits the American value system and involves himself in corruption, as a means to achieve the wealth he hopes will bring Daisy’s love. However, it is not only the corruption in business that captivates Gatsby, but he is also enthralled in the social corruption of the period. By hosting parties, Gatsby hoped to bring Daisy to his house and rekindle their previous love, however he only supported the drunkenness and moral corruption through his parties, as Daisy never made an appearance. Again, despite good intentions, Gatsby shows the death of the American dream by exploiting moral and ethical values as a means to achieve his ultimate goal.

As Fitzgerald illustrates the death of the American dream in Gatsby’s life, he also uses Gatsby’s death to reiterate the power of the theme within the novel. Gatsby, the center of parties, rumors, and even press attention during his life, is completely abandoned in his death. After Gatsby’s death, Nick searches to find another person who shares his remorse and loss in the death of Gatsby. Instead, Nick only finds Gatsby’s once-friends too busy to attend his funeral, and all his companions from the parties have moved on in search of their next social experience. A man so popular and financially successful, Gatsby only has three cars partake in his funeral procession, one of which is filled with his servants. This theme can best be seen in the contrasting thoughts of Owl-Eyes on page 176 as he looks back on Gatsby’s life saying “Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds.” The following remark, calling Gatsby a “…poor son-of-a-bitch” (Fitzgerald 176) sums the life of Gatsby as he achieved so much during his life, but fell short in his death, but ultimately in his expectations as he failed to gain Daisy’s love.

            The theme of the death of the American dream is a powerful one throughout Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as it reoccurs in various situations and multiple stages of life. As evidenced in the life, actions, and death of Gatsby, as well as in the actions of other characters such as Tom and Myrtle, the American dream truly dies to immorality and corruption in The Great Gatsby as Gatsby himself dies.

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                                                                      Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: MacMillan, 1980. p. 164-182.

“The Great Gatsby’s Theme”. Available 25 Jan 2004: http://www.uni-ulm.de/schulen/gym/sgu/gatsb/klaus2.htm

 

Analysis Written By J. Cope