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The Great Gatsby:
A Critique of the American Dream
What is The American Dream???
"That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every person, with opportunity for each according to his/her ability or achievement.”." “The concept of the American Dream can be defined as the belief that individuals have the freedom and opportunity to achieve their goals through hard work.”
Components of the Dream in the 1920’s •American is a land of opportunity •Rags to Riches-The possibility of becoming rich, famous, powerful seems to be within everyone’s grasp •Jobs and education available to more people than ever before •The belief that rewards are earned through a combination of skill and effort •Through hard work, courage and determination one can achieve prosperity. Americans can live better than their parents did.
• From the days of its earliest settlement by European immigrants, America was viewed as the land of plenty, with abundant open land and natural resources • It was also perceived as the land of opportunity, where migrants could settle and, with discipline, hard work, and entrepreneurial keenness, achieve material success, educational opportunities, and social and religious standing.
• Throughout the years the American Dream has drawn millions of immigrants from all over the world to settle in the United States.
•This quintessentially American experience and the changing meaning of the American Dream has been reflected and explored in American literature. •Authors from William Bradford to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Walt Whitman all recognized the promise of the American Dream and expressed their conviction that America was a land of unprecedented opportunity for those who were willing to work diligently and exercise an entrepreneurial spirit.
•Countless literary works chronicled the rise of "self-made" men, people who achieved great power and wealth because of hard work and cunning.
• Yet even as such works were being produced, some authors were creating literary works that reflected the downside of the American Dream. • In these works America was depicted as a land of limited opportunity for those on the margins of society, such as women, immigrants, minorities, and the impoverished, who had limited legal, economic, and social opportunities open to them.
American Dream was elusive; it remained an extremely difficult goal no matter how hard they laboured and despite their natural talents. As many authors, social critics, and individuals were aware, the American Dream remained an unattainable ideal to a large segment of the U.S. population.
•Throughout the twentieth century the theme of the American Dream and its pitfalls remained central to American literature. •As the country was roiled by industrialization, labour unrest, economic and social inequality, and resentment toward immigration, American writers reflected the country's growing disillusionment with the myth of the American Dream. •These works also suggested the changing nature of the concept; people began to believe that crime or get-rich schemes, rather than hard work, could best provide the material success they craved.
• One of the best-known works of the twentieth century, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), meditated on the corruption and failed promise of the American Dream in an era of exceptional prosperity, but also of decayed social and moral values. • Fitzgerald's privileged characters were imbued with cynicism, greed, and selfabsorption, emblematic of the social trends that characterized the era of the 1920s before the Great Depression.
• In the post-World War II period, writers often depicted the American Dream as a nightmare in which a hypocritical and repressed society vacuously pursued material wealth and social security at the expense of spiritual and intellectual well-being and individual selfexpression.
The Great GatsbyA Critique of the Dream The story of Jay Gatsby is often construed as an attack on the American Dream
The Empty, Illusionary Nature of the American Dream • The novel exposes the myth that life can be better and richer and fuller for every person, with opportunity for each according to his/her ability or personal merit • The novel indicates that the dream is not available to everyone-consider the symbolic significance of Wilson and The Valley of Ashes • Furthermore, all people are not equal • There is a strong divide on racial and class lines (racism comments throughout the novel, East/West Egg vs. VofA and East vs. West Egg
The Empty, Illusionary Nature of the American Dream • Even when Gatsby does realize his dream of having Daisy, she is not what he thought she would be • Morally, she is shallow, corrupt • She proves to be fickle and self indulgent • Nick even comments that she may have tumbled short of Gatsby’s imagination • The pursuit of this illusive dream leaves Gatsby unhappy-he has basically cut ties with his family, he has few friends, he has lost his grip on reality, he has been duped by the woman he loves, and he dies, desperately clinging to a dead dream
The Empty, Illusionary Nature of the American Dream Just as the American Dream was tainted by the “unworthiness of its object” so too is Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy.
Therefore, the novel asserts that for many people in society, the idea of the American Dream is an illusion; it is not even possible for many people in society, namely those who face race and class barriers (like Wilson and those in the Valley of Ashes). Furthermore, even those who believe they have actually achieved the dream (like Gatsby), find they have achieved something that is empty and hollow.
American Dream has been reduced to the vulgar pursuit of wealth • The pursuit of the American Dream began as something pure; people were willing to work hard to build a better life for themselves and their families • Likewise, Gatsby’s original dream was pure; he wanted to make something of himself, to escape his humble beginnings and be more successful than his shiftless, farming parents • Gatsby started out as honourable and hard working (his resolves, his commitment to bettering himself)
American Dream has been reduced to the vulgar pursuit of wealth • Along the way, an unrestrained desire for money and pleasure surpassed more noble goals • Society became concerned with getting rich quick • People sometimes made money in ways that were dishonourable and illegal • The Valley of Ashes represents the moral and social decay that results from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure
American Dream has been reduced to the vulgar pursuit of wealth • This also occurs for Gatsby-he fixates on achieving Daisy, and all the wealth, privilege, and luxury she represents • There is early evidence that Gatsby is not willing to advance through hard work and achievement; he refuses to work as a janitor to pay his way through college • In his pursuit of Daisy, and this lifestyle, he abandons even more of his original ideals • He decides that he must acquire vast amounts of wealth to achieve his dream of being with her • Resorts to bootlegging • He ends up with excess wealth and is still unhappy
Thus, the novel asserts that the pursuit of the American Dream, a once noble goal, became reduced to the vulgar pursuit of wealth; people cast aside their morals and values in the name of amassing vast sums of wealth.
Portrayal of 1920’s Society • In many ways, Fitzgerald portrays that the 1920’s society is one that has followed the wrong path • The novel condemns a lack of morality and spirituality in the 1920’s • Society’s moral blindness is represented in the novel by the glasses motif; Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes,and the character Owl Eyes reinforce the lack of morality that exists in the society • Society is ripe with scandal and dishonesty
Portrayal of 1920’s Society • The community as a whole refuses to condemn lack of morality and wrong doing • Gatsby’s involvement in bootlegging • Wolfshiem’s fixing of the 1919 world series • Tom’s character-racist, classist, unfaithful • Nick, Daisy’s cousin, even meets and interacts with Tom’s mistress • Daisy, who knows about the affair, refuses to condemn it • Jordan Baker-dishonest, careless, selfish • Inhumanity towards Gatsby (no one attends his funeralKlipspringer phone call)
In essence, Fitzgerald’s portrayal of 1920’s society is of a country that threatens to become morally depleted, corrupt, and lacking in spirituality. This has already occurred in the East (where the novel is set), a location characterized by fast paced, exciting style of living; but it has come at a great price. In pursuing this lifestyle, people have cast aside the honourable values and ideals. At the end of the novel Nick is nostalgic for the more traditional social values and ideals, and he returns west, in search of them.