The Great Gatsby: Distortion Of The American Dream Essay, Research Paper
The American Dream as it is Portrayed in The Great Gatsby
Picture this, a person graduates from high school with honors, goes to college and graduates at the top of his/her class. After college, he/she is offered a job in the field he/she wants with an annual salary of about $400,000 a year. He/she marries the person of his/her dreams, has two children and moves into a large, elegant house. Forty years later that person retires with a pension and lives the rest of his/her life in luxury. This is the American Dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald had this dream and worked his entire life to fulfill it, with no avail. Fitzgerald was a sensitive young man who idolized wealth and luxury. He fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Zelda while stationed at a military camp in the South. Several years after meeting Zelda, he reached a high enough social standard that she agreed to marry him. Shortly after the wedding, Fitzgerald published his first big novel. He became a celebrity and fell into a wild, reckless lifestyle of parties and decadence. Fitzgerald thought he had achieved his dream. Unfortunately, his beautiful wife was the first part of his dream to crumble. In 1930, Zelda had her first of many mental breakdowns. Soon after Zelda?s breakdowns began, Fitzgerald published his novel Tender is the Night. When this novel was not a success Fitzgerald also started to have mental problems. When his novels started failing, he retreated to Hollywood where he began writing screenplays. On December 21, 1940, Fitzgerald died as a drunk in his lover?s Hollywood apartment. Throughout his career, Fitzgerald published many books, but The Great Gatsby is the one that became a classic. The fourth paragraph from Encarta?s Encyclopedia on F. Scott Fitzgerald best summarizes his novel:
Written in crisp, concise prose and told by Nick Carraway, it is the story of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby becomes a bootlegger in order to attain the wealth and lavish way of life he feels are necessary to win the love of Daisy Buchanan, a married, upper-class woman who had once rejected him. The story ends tragically with Gatsby?s destruction. Although the narrator ultimately denounces Daisy and others who confuse the American dream with the pursuit of wealth and power, he sympathizes with those like Gatsby who pursue the dream for a redeeming end such as love.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald?s novel The Great Gatsby, the upper class?s carelessness with their money, the myth that hard work always equals success, and the lack of true love in marriage all show a distortion of the American Dream.
One would think that people with money should know how to use it properly. Unfortunately this is not so of the upper class characters in The Great Gatsby. The following paragraph from the novel is an excellent example of how Gatsby wasted money on his upper class friends.
There was music from my neighbor?s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. On Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before. (Fitzgerald 89)
The previous quote shows how Gatsby went through much turmoil just to make it seem as though he had enough money to do as he wished. In the upper class, one person would try to outdo another by buying gifts that are more lavish and by throwing parties that are more extravagant than their friends last one. Robert Douglass wrote an article in 1938 about society at that time. In it, he described how people took so much for granted. The following is an excerpt from his article:
The people living in the little town have a richer life than their parents did. They can reach a motion-picture theater by a twenty-minute drive, they have radios, and they think nothing of jaunts to Atlantic City, Boston or Canada that many of the old residents never made in an entire lifetime. (19)
As one can see, people throughout the Twentieth Century have thought nothing of the modern day conveniences they now have. The same is still true in today?s society, but people seem to be more aware of luxuries than people of the ?20?s.
One of the largest and most talked about parts of the American Dream, is that when one enters the real world he/she will enter the workforce as an employee in his/her desired career. In this career, he/she believes that if he/she works hard, he/she will earn great success. Sadly, in the novel The Great Gatsby and in the 1920?s this is, and was almost a myth. George Wilson is a mechanic, and in the novel it is unclear if that is what he always wanted to be. For the sake of this paper, one can assume that being a mechanic is his dream job. Unfortunately, George Wilson?s business seems to be on the brink of bankruptcy. One can also assume that his business has been like this for a long time and that he and his wife Myrtle have been saving every cent they earned just to get by. The following quote is from The Great Gatsby and it gives Nick Caraway?s view of George Wilson?s business:
The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford, which crouched, in a dim corner. The proprietor himself appeared in the door of an office, wiping his hands on a piece of waste. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes. (Fitzgerald 25)
From the above quote, one should notice the bareness of the garage, and how eager George is, as he sees potential customers approaching. Although George does not receive much business from Tom Buchanan, he is very courteous to him. He believes Tom might send his ?rich? friends to become clients of his. Stanley Lebergott of Wesleyan University explains in the book, Americans: An Economic Record, the distribution of wealth in the 1920s.
Those in the upper 5 percent of the income distribution increased their share of the national income. Labor?s share of the national income did not rise at all, and workers suffered from unemployment. By implication, then, the decade differed little from earlier ones (431).
This shows why George Wilson and others like him remain in a slump and do not prosper in business, whereas people like Tom Buchanan, have an increase in their yearly earnings. It almost seems that the statement; ?hard work does not always equal success? was a false statement in the 20?s. If a person only looks at the top five percent of the income bracket, they may be right. However, if a person were to look at the other ninety-five percent, this person would see that the statement is true. The only way anyone made money in the ?20s was by participating in ?speakeasies? or by ?bootlegging? and both were illegal.
Another distortion of the American Dream in the novel is through marriage. Generally, when people get married it is because they love one another, but in The Great Gatsby, the upper class?s weddings are mainly for social purposes. In the upper class, weddings are similar to how high school seniors? pair up for prom, they make sure the Prom King and Prom Queen attend the Prom as a couple. Seen as the ?perfect? couple, these two people compliment each other in every way. In the novel, when Nick Caraway is visiting his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan, it is obvious that they are not truly in love but they are married because their social standings make them perfect for one another. While Nick is visiting, Daisy and Tom invite him to stay for dinner. While dinner is going on, Tom receives a telephone call. Daisy knowing who it is becomes very upset and leaves the table. It is then that Jordan Baker, another guest, informs Nick about Tom?s affair. She tells Nick that, ?Tom?s got some woman in New York? (Fitzgerald 15). Tom having a mistress in New York shows how unfaithful he is in marriage. Adversely having an affair was not uncommon in the ?20?s, knowing this one can tell that the morals of the time were not very strong. Shown in the movie Night after Night, are the loose morals of the 20?s.
The once-rich society flapper, with whom Raft falls in love, is roughed up by him and told that she is just ?another dame with a skirt on.? The only difference between her and a cheap girl is how she manicures her nails. (Allen 87)
Throughout the ?20?s, men used and disrespected many women because they felt they women were inferior. Women have long since risen above this and can be very demanding of the respect that they deserve.
Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald is trying to convey that there is more to life than one could possibly understand. He shows that not everyone can be successful, have a happy marriage or even have enough money to survive in life. He is showing that the American Dream is not attainable when one sets it as a dream, but if one sets it as the American Reality, it is possible. One should set realistic goals for life, not ones that are nearly unattainable. Instead of wishing, to be like Bill Gates when one graduates college, one should set his/her goals to becoming an above average worker. One should also never give up his/her goals once they are set. An example of never giving up on your dreams/goals stated in the novel is: ?Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that is no matter ? tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms father?And one fine morning—–? (Fitzgerald 182). Americans today still believe in the Dream to some extent. They believe that if they work hard and apply all of their effort, they can become a great success in life. However, today there is still a distortion of the American Dream. Everyday there is thousands of marriages. These marriages are to symbolize the true love that two people show for each other. In marriage, one promises to stay faithful and to remain with their partner through all experiences. Nevertheless, to counter the bonds of marriage, there are hundreds of divorces each day. According to the Stepfamily Foundation, ?one out of two marriages ends in divorce.? Another distortion of the Dream is peace. The following quote comes from a trivia box in Russell Ash?s book The Top 10 of Everything 1997. ?There are countries with worse murder rates than the United States, but nowhere in the world has as many murders each year? (68). In 1997 there were approximately 24,000 murders, giving the United States a murder rate of nine murders per 100,000 people. Still today, many people are under the impression that the American Dream is unattainable. These people are correct. The American Dream has always been unattainable, thus the word dream. If people would create an ?American Reality? rather than an American Dream many of their goals could and would be achievable. Americans need to understand that not everyone can become a multi-millionaire overnight or even in their entire life. They need to think realistically and set their mind on practical goals. Hopefully, one day, people will understand that impossible goals are impossible to reach and that is why those goals are called the American Dream.
Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday An Informal History of the 1920s. New York: Harper & Row, 1931: 87.
Ash, Russell. The Top 10 Of Everything 1997. New York: DK Publishing Inc., 1996: 68
Douglass, Robert. ?For Granted?. New York Times, 5 March 1938:19
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1986: 18, 25, 89, 182
Lebergott, Stanley. The Americans An Economic Record. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984: 431.
Lofas, Jeannette. The Statistics are Staggering. N.P. Online. 7 Dec. .
Marc, David. ?Fitzgerald, F(rancis) Scott (Key)? Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99. 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation: N.P.