The Great Gatsby
by Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby" by Scott Fitzgerald embodies many themes; the most salient one relates to the corruption of the American Dream. The American Dream had always been based on the idea that each person no matter who he or she is can become successful in life by his or her own hard work. The dream also embodied the idea of a self-sufficient man, an entrepreneur making it successful for himself. The Great Gatsby is about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a time period when the dream had been corrupted by the avaricious pursuit of wealth. The pursuit of the American dream is the sublime motivation for accomplishing ones goals and producing achievements, however when tainted with wealth the dream becomes devoid and hollow. When the American dream was pure, motivation and ambition were the driving forces. "He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way...and distinguished nothing except a single green light" (Fitzgerald, 26). This shows how Gatsby was striving for his goal, trying to accomplish it but not finding it to be within realistic reach. This quote relates to Gatsby's daily agenda and how in his earlier days he upheld the pure American Dream: "No wasting time at Shafters, No more smoking or chewing, Read one improving book or magazine per week, Save $3.00 per week, Be better to parents" (Fitzgerald, 181-182). Nick says "I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes-a fresh green breast of the new world" (Fitzgerald, 189). This quote shows the pristine goals of individuals whose possibilities were endless; one could accomplish anything through hard work. These were the times of the 'roaring twenties'. Cars were the things to have and a party was the place to be. Everybody wanted something. Scott Fitzgerald's book, The Great Gatsby, describes the events that happen to eight people during the summer of 1922. In the book, people went from west to east because something they desired was in the east; unfortunately in the end those 'somethings' were unattainable. Nick went to the east to make money. He was from the Midwest, and even though his family was doing quite well in the money department, Nick wanted to make his own money. By going from the Midwest to the east, Fitzgerald shows Nick's desire to become self-sufficient, one of the aspects of the American Dream. After spending the summer in the east, and seeing how money affects people, he decides to go back west. "I see now that this has been a story of the west, after all-Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all westerners and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to eastern life." In other words, after finding out what the east was really like, Nick lost his interest in being in the east and returned to his roots in the west. Gatsby came east looking for another type of wealth - Daisy's Love. Gatsby and Daisy had last seen each other about five years before, when they were dating. Then Gatsby had to go to fight in the Great War. While Gatsby was away in the war, Daisy met Tom and then married Tom. Daisy had always been rich and Gatsby thought that in order to get Daisy back, he needs to have money so that he would be able to give Daisy anything she wanted. He found out that Daisy was in the east so he followed her there to get her back. "...I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He 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." The green light is of great significance in the novel, Great Gatsby. This symbol is depicted throughout the novel. It is first mentioned in the first chapter of the novel. At first, it was no more than a green light. When it is further examined in chapters four and five it becomes more evident that this green light is not Daisy, but a symbol representing Gatsby's dream of having Daisy. The fact that Daisy falls short of Gatsby's expectations is obvious. Knowing this, one can see that no matter how hard Gatsby tries to live his fantasy, he will never be able to achieve it. Through close examination of the green light, one may learn that the force that empowers Gatsby to follow his lifelong aspiration is that of the "American Dream." Nick realized what Gatsby did not. Right after he spoke of Gatsby seeing the light on the dock, he said: "...He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." Fitzgerald uses the green light as a symbol of hope, money, and jealousy. Hope signifies the center of the dream, but jealousy and the lure of money pollute it. Gatsby is a noble man whose vision is fouled by his dream because he remains in a "wonder" at Daisy's presence throughout the novel. The loose morality of Dan Cody, Gatsby's unfortunate role model, and the superficial people who flock to Gatsby's parties contribute to Gatsby's downfall. Their example encourages Gatsby's interpretation of The American Dream: his naive belief is that money and social standing are all that matter in his quest for Daisy. The self-absorbed debutantes and their drunken escorts are among those who "crash" his extravagant soirees. As Nick Carroway tells us, "People were not invited- they went there." (Fitzgerald, 40) Shallow, corrupt people like Jordan Baker gossip with reckless abandon about their mysterious host. Their careless, superficial attitudes and wanton behavior represent Fitzgerald's depiction of the corrupt American Dream. Gatsby is indeed morally superior to the other characters in the book, but this superiority is another factor which contributes to his ultimate misfortune. No matter what we think of Gatsby or of his dream, we are drawn to him by the sad apprehension that dreams themselves are often more beautiful than dreams fulfilled. Nick realizes this, too, when he says: "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -nor through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything." What Gatsby and Daisy have is so much more than an endeavor; it's beautiful, more intense, and, finally, more painful in the end. There is both a joy and a sadness in a love as great as theirs. In some ways Gatsby is morally superior than the society at the time, but this moral superiority is the cause of Gatsby's disillusioned dream, and inevitable fate. Gatsby's character is probably the single most important factor in the story of his life and death, but Daisy and a society which rewards corruption play a part as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald's depiction of the soured American Dream dramatizes the internal and external forces at work in a modern tragedy about human potential for corruption. The American dream became corrupted and its main aims became wealth and power. Gatsby became corrupted because his main goal was to have Daisy, at all costs; this is the way a man should love a woman, except when that love sacrifices his morality. Gatsby sacrificed his own soul in order to please the lost soul of Daisy. Perhaps the poverty in which James Gatz found himself was partly responsible for his obsession with a rich girl like Daisy. "Her voice is full of money" (Fitzgerald, 127). Gatsby needed to have an enormous mansion so he could feel confident enough to win Daisy. " 'That huge place over there?' 'Do you like it?' ' I love it.' " (Fitzgerald, 95). The tainted dream was so empty that having accouterments of wealth could even incite feelings of love. Jay Gatsby had all the trappings of wealth: a huge mansion, fancy clothes, and expensive cars. His lavish, decadent parties were designed to impress Daisy. But why did Gatsby feel he needed to flaunt his material wealth to win Daisy's love? Why was he so materialistic, and why are we? Are material possessions what we need to be happy? Part of the answer is that people "seek in material possessions fulfillment that is lacking in other areas, especially human relationships" (Schmookler, 18). The very fact that our market society feeds on economic growth like a fetish is a clue that excess consumption does not really satisfy. It is like an addiction. We can never have enough. A famous study done in the early 1970's by Richard Easterlin, entitled "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?" found that "members of wealthy societies do not seem happier than members of poor societies (Easterlin, 119)." Perhaps the poor are better off, for they are more connected in their interpersonal relationships; a wealth of this sort is far more valuable that gold and diamonds. The American Dream became so focused on money that any means of a obtaining it were condoned, even if those means were unscrupulous. Determined to marry Daisy after returning from the war, Gatsby is blind to her shallow, cowardly nature. He is unable to see the corruption which lies beyond her physical beauty, charming manner and playful banter. That she is incapable of leaving her brutal husband, Tom, of committing herself to Gatsby despite his sacrifices, escapes him. As Nick observes, Gatsby's expectation is absurdly simple: "He only wanted her to tell him [Tom] that she never loved him." (Fitzgerald, 91) Daisy is not worthy of the pedestal on which she is placed. Since she is hollow at the core, so is Gatsby's dream which is based on an idea, and not substance. The character of Daisy Buchanan has many instances where her life and love of herself, money, and materialism come into play. Daisy is constantly portrayed as someone who is only happy when things are being given to her and circumstances are going as she has planned them. She is forever looking forward to showing off, and she exhibits such behavior when she parades her daughter around in front of guests like an inanimate object. So intimate in fact, that it seems as if Pammy was not even really wanted. "In June 1922, Nick records Daisy's statement that her daughter is three years old. Daisy married Tom Buchanan in June 1919. If her child is indeed three, then Daisy was nine months pregnant at her wedding. ... The age of the child is a clue, planted by Fitzgerald, to Daisy's premarital promiscuity or even an indication that Pammy is Gatsby's child... It might also be asserted that Daisy's mistake in Pammy's age was intended by Fitzgerald to indicate her indifference to the child." (Bruccoli 38) Daisy seems to be the character that turns Fitzgerald's story from a tale of wayward love to a saga of unhappy lives. Gatsby's own characteristics, especially his willful obsessions, contribute to his fate. Despite his naiveté about Daisy and her friends who "are rich and play polo together," he, too, has been seduced by the lure of money and fame. Unable to control his obsessive desire to have Dasiy, he cares little about the means by which he acquires the money to marry her. He associates with known criminals such as Myer Wolfsheim, appears to be involved with bootlegging, and is rumored to have killed a man. Finally, he lies about himself and his family to enlist Nick's support of his grand quest. The means he uses to achieve his goal pervert his sacred dream. He prefers the pretty illusions he concocts to the harsh reality of the obsession he allows to corrupt his life. The result of this corruption is that the motivation and ambition vanished and the dream was left with the pursuit of an empty goal. This is displayed when Daisy says "Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and miss it." This quote shows the lack of motivation and meaningless life to which the empty rich society had turned to. Another result of this corrupted dream is the dearth of the idea that each person no matter who he or she is can become successful in life by his or her own hard work. The absence of this ideal is shown when Tom says "The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved" (Fitzgerald, 17). Ignorance and the idea of amassing wealth for oneself to show off had become prevalent, whereas in the pure American Dream, striving to accomplish ones' own personal goal was the main focus. The American Dream is about motivation and hope that one can achieve his or her personal goals. The dream should be reasonable, or else its integrity and simplistic moral beauty is lost. "Gatsby's story is a story of failure - the prolongation of the adolescent incapacity to distinguish between dream and reality, between the terms demanded of life and the terms offered."(Troy, 21-22). Gatsby turns to doing things that violate his nature in order to pursue his dream. The Dream should never be centered on money and other materialistic things but on a deeper goal: a goal which transcends the physical realm, and delves into the inner spirit. After all, the physical things in life are merely representations of the spiritual; our bodies are expressions of our inner souls, the means by which we say "I love You". The painting is never as beautiful as the painter.