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Great Gatsby and The American Dream
“Throughout American history the idea of progress had persisted as a national destiny and a personal dream.” In this way Ruth Sidel, author of On Her Own, simply defines “The American Dream.” Throughout the novel, The Great Gatsby, the main character, Jay Gatsby, relentlessly strives to achieve this surreal and unattainable dream. The “American Dream,” is full of hope that the past can be left behind and that a new world can be born. Stories of “rags-to-riches” provide optimism, and are a favorite among the young and aspiring. The American dream involves acquiring material wealth, cars, and admiration of others. In the dream, prosperity will bring happiness, fulfillment, and power.
For the most part, Gatsby has already achieved the majority of a classic “American Dream” when the novel starts. The only thing he lacks is the warmth of a wife who loves him and adoring children to come home to. The American dream includes both financial success and a cozy hearth at home. In spite of his success, Gatsby?s one true desire, the attainment of Daisy Buchanan, has not yet been fulfilled. Aware of this major shortcoming, Gatsby becomes recklessly obsessed and single-mindedly determined to acquire that which he naively hopes all his money will buy him. Those obsessed with money and power are often oblivious to the reality that money can buy companionship, but it can?t buy love. He becomes willing to sacrifice anything in hopes of conquering the one thing which he cannot have.
Gatsby?s obsession begins to drive him akjdfhksmdhfsdkjhway from reality as Daisy becomes more and more a desire of his greedy heart. Gatsby?s “love” is not focused on what he can give to Daisy, but on how he can make her one of his possessions. As the novel progresses, Gatsby seems to realize that his idea and pursuit of Daisy is more rewarding than the actual attainment of her. Just as reading a good book is better than watching the movie version of it, it is more interesting and exciting for Gatsby to use his imagination in fantasizing his life with Daisy. He recognizes that he has created an ideal for Daisy to live up to. Gatsby remains fully committed to his aspirations, and is completely devastated by the reality that no matter what he does, Daisy will never be one of his belongings. As Gatsby gets to know Daisy, her imperfections and carelessness become obvious but he denies reality. Perhaps on a subconscious level he sees that the dream truly is far better than reality. Yet, in his mind he has still failed for the first time in his astonishingly successful career, and is forced to deal with the fact that he simply cannot and will never be able to possess Daisy to the degree he desires.
The green light at the end of Buchanan?s dock symbolizes Gatsby?s most unfathomable aspiration; the prize of Daisy?s love and companionship. The light is a constant reminder of Daisy and her unclaimed love. The light however does not always bring hope and optimism to Gatsby. When Gatsby goes to show Daisy the light and a heavy fog hides it, Nick perceives, “Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever? Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” The obviousness of both Daisy and Gatsby?s selfish existence, and the reality that only genuine love truly brings happiness in life, gradually dawn on Nick as the book progresses.
Nick is very envious of Gatsby in the beginning of the story. He is jealous of his lavish parties and exquisite wealth. Before he is acquainted with Gatsby he bitterly and resentfully states, “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby? was exempt from my reaction- Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.” As Nick becomes more familiar with Gatsby and the other characters he is no longer envious of their wealth and prestige. Instead he begins to see that this very aspiration is that which lead to their unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life. Nick comments, “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 made.” Nick sees through their foolish ways and realizes that they had to give up many important things to get where they were.
As history shows the American Dream very rarely becomes a reality. The murder of Gatsby is not only a literal death, but is also symbolic of the demise of the ultimate American idealist. Gatsby was a firm believer in self-made success. He had not only constructed a completely fresh persona for himself, but had also been extremely successful in achieving wealth and high ranking social status. In the eyes of many, Gatsby would have been considered fortunate and privileged because of his lifestyle. Yet, his life could not have been less happy. The fact that he had it all, except for the one thing that he truly wanted, drove him to misery.
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