“The Great Gatsby” and the Fall of the American Dream

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The book ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald was an ‘icon of its time.’ The book discusses topics that were important, controversial and interesting back in 1920’s America. The novel is ‘an exploration of the American Dream as it exists in a corrupt period of history.’ The main themes in the book are the decay of morals and values and the frustration of a ‘modern’ society. The Great Gatsby describes the decay of the American Dream and the want for money and materialism. This novel also describes the gap between the rich and the poor (Gatsby and the Wilsons, West Egg and the Valley of the Ashes) by comparing the differences between the Western United States (traditional western culture) and the Eastern United States (money obsessed values). On a smaller scale this could be seen as the difference between the West Egg (the ‘new, money) and the East egg (the ‘old’ money). The 1920’s were a time of corruption and the degradation of moral values for the United States and many other countries. World War One had just ended and people were reveling in the materialism that came with the end of it, new mass produced commodities such as motor cars and radios were filling people’s driveways and houses, money was more accessible (before the Great Depression). Cars were becoming a social symbol in the 1920s as we can see with Gatsby’s five cars, one of which he gives to Nick and one of which kills Myrtle Wilson later on in the novel. Herbert Hoover (an American President) said in 1925 “We will root out poverty and put two cars in every garage.” The parties that Gatsby held every week in the summer were a symbol of the carelessness of the time. Gatsby would hide in the house while the ‘guests’, most of whom were not even invited, would party, eat and drink until the early hours of the morning without even meeting the guest or even knowing who he was. People would turn up just to be seen or reported in the local newspapers “In his blue garden people came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne.” This shows the carelessness of the guests. Another quote about the parties refers to the way the guests devour the endless supply of food and never give a thought as to who gave it to them. “Every Friday five crates of oranges and Lemons arrived from a fruiterer In New York- Every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his backdoor in a pyramid of pulpless halves.” This is also a symbol; it relates the ‘pulpless halves’ to the rather ’empty’ guests, soulless people obsessed by image and wealth, a corruption of the American Dream. Another sign of the fall of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby is the way Gatsby makes his money. Gatsby gets his fortune through the illegal sale of alcohol (‘bootlegging’). The sale of alcohol was prohibited in the United States in the 1920s. Gatsby came from the western United States where there was ‘old money.’ There he met Dan Cody who taught him how to ‘bootleg.’ As Gatsby became richer he moved to West Egg in New York. Gatsby’s house is a rather artificial place, the house was originally built to impress Daisy with his so-called wealth, and this is a sign of a corrupt way of ‘winning’ love through money and wealth. Gatsby’s house is furnished well with old looking ornaments and (probably) second hand antiques, Gatsby’s house also has a library which is full of ‘uncut’ literature. The conversation between Jordan and an unnamed man at one of Gatsby’s parties talks about the books: “Absolutely real – have real pages and everything. I’d thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard.” These books and antiques are just Gatsby’s way of showing off his wealth to others, however Gatsby doesn’t really care for materialism, we can tell this because his bedroom, the only room he really ever uses, is empty compared to the rest of the house. Gatsby’s love life is also a sign of declining morals, and also a sign of further corruption of the American Dream. Daisy has an affair with Gatsby; Gatsby then gets concerned that Daisy does not tell Tom about her affair with him in chapter six. Eventually Daisy tells Tom about her affair with Jay Gatsby. The climax of the story comes when Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy never loved him. The fall of the American Dream and corruption is also evident in the position and treatment of children in the story, Daisy and Tom’s daughter, Pammy, is treated as an object to show off rather than a child to love. “The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother’s dress.” The child does not know her mother very well and is still very shy to go near her. Gatsby had never really known of the existence of Daisy’s child, as Daisy was probably afraid to tell him about her. “Afterward he kept looking at the child in surprise. I don’t think he had ever really believed it it’s existence before.” The word it instead of her also denotes the child’s position as nil. Daisy uses the child as a show item: “I got dressed before luncheon” said the child, turning eagerly towards Daisy. “That’s because your mother wanted to show you off” replies Daisy. When the child speaks to Daisy, Daisy never answers or replies to her. Daisy always changes the subject as if she doesn’t even notice the child is there. For example, when the girl comments Jordan’s dress, Daisy ignores her and asks her what she thinks about her friends: “Aunt Jordan’s got on a white dress too” (said the child). “How do you like mother’s friends?” (Replies Daisy). Also: “Where’s daddy?” (Said the child) “She doesn’t look like her father” explained Daisy. ‘Daddy’ (Tom) is also never around, he was not there when his child was born. Daisy thinks that Tom is ‘brutish’ and she has never really liked him. The Great Gatsby is a great portrayal of the corruption of society and the fall of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby shows us the way people will fall into the hands of money, greed and power and get involved in illegal activities to get where they want and what they want. This book is a perfect example of the fall of the American Dream in the 1920s.

Bibliography: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (The school’s Penguin edition) Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America – Marcus Bailey Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby

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