American Dream Lost Essay, Research Paper
American Dream Lost
Gatsby as a Social Commentary on American Life
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been celebrated as one of the greatest, if not the greatest American novel. Yet this is ironic for the society which has so hailed the book is precisely that which is criticized throughout it. Politically, the American dream was a foundation of ideals and hopes for any and every American individual. Specifically, one of the ideals was an American dream free of class distinction; that every person has the opportunity to be whomever they hope to be. In a sort of Cinderella-like fashion, it is in essence an ideal of social mobility and freedom. The social reality, however, is far more cruel. Because of the harsh truth of social America, by way of its pretentiousness and decadence, the American dream is lost. Through Nick?s honest and poignant observation, the parallel lives of Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby reflect The Great Gatsby as a social commentary about the polluted American Dream.
Myrtle is that infamous model of how the political and social ideals of America conflict so that the American dream becomes a nightmare. Contrary to the naivete the American dream, there are indeed fine class distinctions. With them comes certain social boundaries. In a sense, it is almost as if there are unspoken sumptuary laws understood by low and high classed individuals alike. Myrtle Wilson is no exception. Instead of abiding by them, Myrtle, who represents the low and ignorant class of America, tried to break the social barriers and thus pursues wealth by any means necessary. Using her sexuality and vulgar mien, she becomes false for abandoning and dismissing her own social foundation, and like Nick, we as readers are repulsed by her grotesque approach to entering the rich class. At one point, and quite humorously to the knowing onlooker, Myrtle complains about a service done for her that was so expensive that “when she gave [Myrtle] the bill you?d of thought she had [her] appendicitus out” (35). Obviously misusing her wording, it is comical only because she is trying so hard to fit into the snobbish upper class persona, and failing miserably. Her rudeness becomes more apparent when she “rejected the compliment [about her dress] by raising her eyebrow in disdain” (35). She is so false in her manner that Nick observes that she “had changed her costume?and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress” (35). This articulate description of Myrtle captures her fraudulence. She was not being herself, but almost putting on an act to perform as an upper class lady. It is a detestable, ambitious tactic to chase social superiority. Another tactic is her affair with Tom Buchanan, who represents the rich upper class. This affair and connection with Tom represents the falseness and decay in class distinction. Out of context, Myrtle?s political aspirations are admirable: she is a woman who is practically able to change her social position.?an American ideal. Socially, she is an adulterous woman using her sexual ardor and coarse manner to force her way into something she does not belong to?an American reality. The American dream of social mobility has been twisted into disgusting ambition. The American dream has collapsed.
Jay Gatsby?s social weakness falls along the same lines as Myrtle?s. However, Gatsby?s warmth and dedication makes his an infinitely more significant struggle. He too desires Daisy Buchanan in all of her upper-class glory. At first, one cannot make a serious social distinction between Gatsby and Daisy. But those tacit social edicts will be harsh. Daisy is presented as wealthy and she also comes from a rich background. Gatsby is rich, but comes from quite a different upbringing and earned his money in an illegal way. As with Myrtle, this can be seen as a positive achievement, for Gatsby has climbed the social and economic ladder and succeeded. But because he had to change who he was, and become a bootlegger, he is thus tainted, and will never be truly accepted in the Buchanan social mold. Listening to the many lives and “pasts” of Jay Gatsby, at one point, Nick becomes utterly frustrated that Gatsby invents different backgrounds for the sake of his false pursuit. Nick?s intuitive gift for observation came the moment he met Gatsby. Gatsby?s “elaborate speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I?d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care” (53). Although Gatsby is not blatant or crude like Myrtle, Nick immediately notices that he seems well-rehearsed. It is impressive, but unnatural. More importantly, Nick later on questions where Gatsby came from:
I would have accepted without question the information that
Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the
lower East side of New York. That was comprehensible.
But young men didn?t?drift coolly out of nowhere and buy
a palace on Long Island Sound (54).
Once again, Nick realizes that behind Gatsby?s neat ruse was something false and out of place. Like Myrtle, Gatsby tries to fit himself into another social group, and so he too is false. Moreover, Daisy?s wealth is presented as pure and clean, while Gatsby?s achieved wealth is gaudy and tasteless. Perhaps what is most tragic is that Gatsby dies while waiting for Daisy, and never really understands his pathetic condition. We not only mourn the death of a good-hearted, na?ve man, but the death of his metaphorical counterpart?the American dream.
Admittedly, this is a sad and often disheartening social commentary. But what makes The Great Gatsby so excellent, and the commentary that much more true, is that it is timeless. Over half a century has passed since Fitzgerald wrote this piece, and it applies to the present as much as it does to the past. Then, now, and always, the social foolishness of America has turned promising, good individuals into nasty, pitiful beings. But there is something that is so imperative never to forget. That beneath all the flash and materialism, there is something quietly breathing and still alive. Behind what has been lost, we still find honesty. We, like Nick, can see America?s tragic flaws in ourselves and in others. Perhaps this is not something to be proud of, but it may be a step towards something larger. By finding Nick?s touching quality in all of us, we can revive the American dream.