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The Great Gatsby: A Commentary on the American Dream
Transcript of The Great Gatsby: A Commentary on the American Dream
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
is a literary piece that serves as a
on the American Dream
The novel "provides [a series of] commentaries on issues in a society" to discuss the negative impact the 1920s had on the concept of the American Dream ("Social commentary", n.d., para. 1).
The "Roaring Twenties" - 1920s setting/scene:
The country was confident and wealthy
A period of sustained economic prosperity
Era of contradiction
The prosperity and cultural advancement was accompanied by intense social unrest and reaction
The wealth of the 1920s has a glamorizing effect
"Characters float from party to party and from romance to romance" (34 Craats).
Decline on principles of the ideal American Dream
In The Great Gatsby this is depicted through the various characters
Characters express clear carelessness towards responsibility, the importance of hard work and perseverence, and regarding moral principles
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby uses the 1920s setting to make a series of social comments regarding the negative impact the era had on the concept of the American Dream. Inevitably, the American Dream cannot be fulfilled as depicted through the characters.
The American Dream
James Truslow was the first person to use the term the American dream in his book The Epic of America when he said, “The American dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (Truslow 214).
All of the characters are influenced by the 1920s' emphasis on wealth. They are all deeply impacted by the lavish surroundings. Most attempt to use their increasing wealth to create happiness which they believe leads to the American Dream. However, the characters are so blinded by the disillusioning effects of materialism that they are truly incapable of reaching or accomplishing the American Dream
"Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known" (Fitzgerald 59).
The fast-paced setting of the Roaring Twenties impacts Nick because he eventually realizes that people are so caught up in trying to achieve The American Dream that they begin to lack moral values and begin to lose themselves. Nick serves as a social commenter on basic values, such as honesty throughout his narration of the characters. For example, he later describes Jordan as “...incurably dishonest" (Fitzgerald 63).
Nick comments, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" (Fitzgerald 189).
Through trying to achieve The American Dream, Gatsby becomes deceitful for the sake of increasing his wealth. He finds himself always wanting more in hopes of buying his happiness. It is said in the preface of the novel that “…Gatsby does not understand how money works in society. He innocently expects that he can buy anything – especially Daisy. She is for sale, but he doesn’t have the right currency” (Fitzgerald xi).
can not buy her. In other words, the green light symbolizes Daisy, Gatsby's dream. His dream is unfulfilled as she is out of reach for
. However, Gatsby is fixated on her as he sees a glimpse of hope that is the past.
The 1920's era was just as glamorized as glamorous. Daisy reflects the glamorous lifestyle with her extravagant wardrobe and consideration of money as a priority. She constantly found the need to flaunt and prove that she was wealthy. Daisy uses her money and love for lavish items as a base for her happiness, which creates emptiness in her life.
The 1920s setting increasingly focused on materialism as an indication of attaining success and happiness. The contrary is shown to be valid as Daisy is discontent and her American Dream unfulfilled.
Regarding George Wilson she says, "I married him because I thought he was a gentleman...I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe" (Fitzgerald 34).
Myrtle wishes to climb the ladder to prosperity. She wants her American Dream to be fulfilled and feels stuck in “They Valley of Ashes” with her poor husband. She feels that she deserves Tom and his money, power, and influence. Towards the end of the novel, she escapes her lower status life, but only through death. This signifies how her dream could never have been possible for Myrtle did not belong to either side of the rich society.
Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Boston, [Mass.: Little, Brown, and, 1931. 214. Print.
Craats, Rennay. "The Greatness of Gatsby." History of the 1920s. Mankato, MN: Weigl, 2002. 34. pag. Print.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner, 1996. Print.
Gale, Edmund. "Careful!" Cartoon. America in Class. National Humanities Center, 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <http://americainclass.org/sources/becomingmodern/prosperity/text1/politicalcartoons.pdf>.
Hoover, Bob. "'The Great Gatsby' Still Challenges Myth of American Dream." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. PG Publishing Co., 10 May 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <http://www.post-gazette.com/movies/2013/05/10/The-Great-Gatsby-still-challenges-myth-of-American-Dream/stories/201305100196>.
Ryan, Luke. "The Great Gatsby." Humanities 360. HELIUM, 26 Aug. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <http://www.humanities360.com/index.php/the-great-gatsby-20093/>.
"Social Commentary." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_commentary>.
This cartoon shows the prominent restless attitude of most of society during the Roaring Twenties. Wealth and prosperity are either reached fairly as the ladder shows or through impatience. With impatience, treachery and inequitably are factors as symbolized by the long stick. Wealth and prosperity constitute the American Dream and are prioritized by the characters in The Great Gatsby. The characters tended to choose the latter, aka the long stick, not the ladder to gain prestige in an unsuccessful attempt to fulfill their American Dreams. Myrtle's attempt to climb the ladder to success through Tom is futile as she is not "careful" and dies as a result. Both Gatsby and Jordan are deceitful and "can't wait" for riches and prosperity. They end up gaining them in deceitful and immoral ways, yet still find their American Dreams unfulfilled.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby requires the 1920s setting to make a series of social comments on the concept of the American Dream. Inevitably, the American Dream cannot be fulfilled as the characters are used to prove.
The American Dream is so unrealistic with the main reason being that it never satisfies or fulfills as there is always more to be achieved. The struggle and ongoing optimism prove to be futile and act as a clear representation of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby. The American Dream is"...the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther – And one fine morning -” (Fitzgerald 189).
Nick describes Jordan as “...incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage, and given this unwillingness I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body” (Fitzgerald 63).
Jordan is not satisfied with her life because she is not honest. She knows that her success is nothing more than a lie. She can't afford to be at a disadvantage because she would lose all her wealth if she was not. The fulfillment of her American Dream was not built on hard work, as it should have been. Therefore, she can not be at ease or completely fulfilled until she fairly earns success herself.