October 16, 2012
The Impossibility of the American Dream in
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
During their lifetime, most people strive to achieve the American Dream. Each individual's idea of this dream is varied slightly, although most have a common ground where wealth, romance, and freedom is wanted. However, as one gets closer to achieving one's American Dream, more is desired. F. Scott Fitzgerald shows this impossibility of the American Dream through Jay Gatsby's obsession with money and love in The Great Gatsby.
Money is a major part of the American Dream. The famous saying "Money cannot buy happiness", is not entirely true, and some people would even say that money does buy happiness; "Attainment of the gold was to be attainment of the golden moment" (Stern). Being economically independent is something that is viewed as part of the American Dream (Verderame). The clever but not so astute, Jay Gatsby strongly believes that this money will bring him happiness. He becomes wealthy and owns a lot of material possessions to try to emphasize that money (Verderame). In order to obtain this wealth and rich status so that he may be accepted into the crowd he wants to be in, Gatsby has held several jobs from collecting oysters as James Gatz, to yachting, to being part of the drug business, then the oil business, and currently being a bootlegger. Gatsby is so rich and benevolent that at his extravagant and frequent parties he can afford to supply two suppers to so many people that "the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone" is the cocktail table (Fitzgerald 42). He is very happy that he has achieved this wealthy status and points out everything in his house, even his clothes, to Daisy Buchanan and Nick Carraway. Gatsby knows that Daisy likes to associate more with a higher class, so in an attempt to win her over, he beguiles her about his riches.
Romance and/or love is a classical part of the American Dream. Romance leads to love, which leads to a husband/wife, which leads to a family and children, which leads to happiness, each of which is a part of the American Dream. To have a romance, you must first need a boy and a girl. Most people think of an American boy or girl to be down to Earth, blonde, popular as a child, and to grow up to be a successful adult. Gatsby is no different. He wants the romance and the love that he once had with Daisy Fay (now married as Daisy Buchanan). The young Daisy was described by her best friend Jordan as being "by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville . . . all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers . . . demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night" (Fitzgerald 74). She is the image of a perfect American girl, and she is on Gatsby's "want" list. He wants to recreate the past and have Daisy be his girl again, like they were in 1917 before Gatsby had to go to war. He becomes so obsessed and engrossed in trying to make the past come alive again, that he collects newspaper and magazine clippings that mention her and moves across the bay from her to live close by. When he looks outside he can see a green light coming from the end of her dock, he has moved so close to her to try to get her back. He finally gets her to his house and "stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real" (Fitzgerald 91). Even though he has achieved reconnecting with her, Gatsby will never be able to rekindle the love they once shared since Daisy now has a husband, Tom, and a daughter, Pam. But Gatsby does not seem to care about any of those things standing in the way of his dream girl and of him reaching his version of the American Dream.
The American Dream, though held by most people, is very probably impossible to achieve. Americans never get enough. Once they have what they want, they simply want more and will never be satisfied. That is simply human nature. Fitzgerald seems to realize this by focusing on "possibilities but also its limitations" of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby (Verderame). No matter how hard Gatsby got to having that American Dream or how close he got, he just could not do it. He ends up dead, mistaken as a lover of Myrtle, a woman killed by a car Gatsby was in. He is a victim, "Daisy's victim, and a victim of the elusive American Dream . . . a victim of the greed, apathy, and indifference that corrupts dreams, betrays promises, and destroys possibilities" (Emin Tunc). Gatsby did gain the wealth he desired, though it was dirty money, but he did not get the girl of his dreams, and could not fulfill his American Dream. Some might say he simply had held onto an dream of the past, one that was "elusive" and "outlived" and that he died trying to make that past dream possible (Emin Tunc). Whether the dream was too much of a past dream or still a current dream for Gatsby is a matter of opinion, but he died before he could achieve it.
There are three main parts to the classic American Dream. Those parts are wealth, romance, and happiness. Happiness can be gained through the wealth and romance of the dream. Jay Gatsby tries extremely hard to get these things and to achieve his own American Dream - being wealthy enough to win and keep the heart of Daisy - but cannot achieve it. He becomes extremely close, but close only counts in horseshoes, not life. The American Dream is nearly impossible to achieve and Gatsby "cannot go back in time and relive those lost years. His dream comes to a bitter end" (Emin Tunc). His life was full of great depravity because of this eclectic dream, and it, along with his need to emulate the past and his audacious attempts to win over Daisy, ultimately led to his demise. Not capriciously, he dies wealthy, but alone and unhappy without Daisy.
Emin Tunc, Tanfer. “The Great Gatsby: The Tragedy of the American Dream on Long Island’s Gold Coast.” In Bloom, Harold, ed. The American Dream, Bloom’s Literary Themes. New York: Chelsea Publishing House, 2009. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. http://www.fofweb.com
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004.
Stern, Milton R. From The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald: 170–173. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970. Quoted as “On the American Dream and Fitzgerald’s Romantic Excesses.” in Bloom, Harold, ed. The Great Gatsby, Bloom’s Guides. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2006. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. http://www.fofweb.com.
Verderame, Carla. “The American Dream in The Great Gatsby.” McClinton-Temple, Jennifer ed. Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. http://www.fofweb.com.