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Great Gatsby: Decline Of American Dream

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The Great Gatsby: Final Paper

Fitzgerald’s dominant theme in The Great Gatsby is the corruption and decline of the American Dream. By analyzing the upper class during the 1920s through the eyes of Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald shows that the American Dream has transformed from noble thoughts to more materialistic and money based ideas. In support of this message, Fitzgerald highlights the original aspects as well as the new aspects of the American Dream in his tragic story to illustrate that a once impervious dream is now lost forever to the American people.

The foundational qualities of the American Dream depicted in The Great Gatsby are perseverance and hope. The ethic of hard work can be found in the life of young James Gatz, whose focus on becoming a great a man is carefully documented in his “Hopalong Cassidy” journal. When Mr. Gatz shows the tattered book to Nick, he declares, “ Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always has some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that” (Fitzgerald 182). The journal portrays the continual struggle for self-improvement, which has defined the image of America as a land of opportunity.

The product of hard work is the wistful Jay Gatsby, who exemplifies the purest characteristic of the American Dream, everlasting hope. His burning desire to win Daisy’s love symbolizes the basis of the old dream. Gatsby is first seen late at night, “standing with his hands in his pockets” and supposedly “out to determine what share is his of our local heavens” (25). Nick watches Gatsby’s movements and comments “-He stretches out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and as far as I am from him I can swear he is trembling. Involuntarily I glance seaward-and distinguish nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might be the end of the dock” (25). Gatsby’s goal gives him a purpose in life and sets him apart from the rest of the upper class. He is constantly striving to reach Daisy; from the moment he is seen reaching towards her house in East Egg to the final days of his life, patiently waiting outside Daisy’s house for hours hoping to rescue her from Tom.

Money is clearly identified as the central proponent of the dream’s destruction; it becomes easily entangled with hope and success, inevitably replacing their places in the American Dream with materialism. This replacement is evident in Gatsby’s use of illegal practices and underground connection to attain his enormous fortune. His flamboyant parties, boundless mansion, and lavish clothing are all signs of his unknowing corruption. His ability to evade the law, demonstrated when his traffic violation is ignored by a police officer (68), reveals his status and privilege to get what he needs.

Although Gatsby’s rise to fame is symbolic of the nature of the new dream, the most detestable qualities of that dream are evident in Daisy and Tom Buchanan, who live their lives with no hopes and no regrets because the true foundation of their characters is their wealth. Daisy is never heard from again after Gatsby’s rival responds: “ I told him the truth…what if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him” (187). Tom admits to the fact that he is responsible for Gatsby’s murder and Wilson’s suicide, but continues to claim innocence because he has never known guilt or shame as a member of the established elite.

Through Nick, Fitzgerald pinpoints the effect of the modern dream on the upper class, thus condemning an entire people and its revered society, “I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw what he had done was, to him, entirely justified…they were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had madeвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (187). Nick realizes that Tom and Daisy represent a class of heartless citizens who have attained success at the cost of dehumanization. Their vast wealth blocks out all inspiration and all true emotion, resulting in a void of apathy supported by status and power.

At the end of the novel, Fitzgerald creates a sense of utter hopelessness to prove that the purity of the American Dream is dead with the examples of Daisy’s baby, Gatsby’s death and Wilson’s suicide. The first hint of this tragic loss is the introduction of the Buchanan’s daughter, whom Daisy refers to as “blessed precious”



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