On the surface, The Great Gatsby is a story of the torn love between and man and a women. The theme of the novel, however; shows a much larger, less romantic scope. Though all of its action takes place over a few months during the summer of 1922 and is set in a restricted geographical area of Long Island, New York, The Great Gatsby is a highly symbolic dispute on America in the 1920’s, in particular the disintegration of the American dream is an era of lacking prosperity and material possession.
F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the 1920’s as an era of decayed social and moral values, evidence in its embracing cynicism, greed and empty persuit for pleasure. The reckless feeling that led to decadent parties and wild Jazz music, like the ones shown in The Great Gatsby with the miraculous parties Gatsby throws every Saturday night, resulted mainly in the destruction of the American dream, as the unrestrained want for money and pleasure and to go beyond the noble goals. When World War I ended in 1918, the generation of young Americans who had fought in the war became more disillusioned, as the brutal carnage that they had just faced, made the Victorian social mortality of the early 20th century American seemed like boring, stuffy and empty hypocrisy. The dizzying rise of the stock market, which was the consequence of the war, led to a sudden, sustained increase in the national wealth and a new found materialism, as people began to spend and consume at dangerous levels. A person from any social group or background could, eventually, make a fortune, but the American aristocracy (families with old wealth) disliked the newly rich industrialists and spectators. Additionally, the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which banned the sale of alcohol, created a thriving underworld formatted to satisfy the massive demand for bootleg liquor among both the rich and the poor.
Fitzgerald positions the characters of The Great Gatsby as symbols of the 1920’s social trends. Nick and Gatsby, who had both fought in WWI, exhibit the new found cosmopolitanism and cynicism that resulted from the war. The various social climbers and ambitious spectators who attend Gatsby’s parties show the greedy scramble for wealth. The crash between “Old Money” and “New Money” manifests itself in the novel’s symbolic geography. East Egg represents the established aristocracy; West Egg represents the self-made rich. Meyer Wolfshiem and Gatsby’s fortune symbolize the rise of organized crime and bootlegging.
As Nick explains in Chapter IX, the American dream was originally about discovery, individualism and the quest for happiness. In the 1920’s shown in the novel, however; easy money and relaxed social values have corrupted this dream, especially on the East Coast. The main plot of this novel strongly reflects this judgment, as Gatsby’s dream of loving Daisy is ruined by the difference in their respective social statuses, Gatsby turning to crime to make enough money to impress her, and the unrestricted materialism that characterizes her lifestyle. Even though places and objects in The Great Gatsby have meaning is only because the characters instill them with meaning. The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg show this idea. In Nick’s mind, the ability to create meaningful symbols amounts to a central component of the American dream, as early Americans invest their new nation with their own comforts and values.
Nick compares the green bulk of America rising from the ocean to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Just as Americans have given America meaning through their dreams for their own lives, Gatsby instills Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection that she either deserves or has. Gatsby’s dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the American dream in the 1920’s is ruined by the unworthiness of it’s object, money and pleasure. Like 1920’s Americans in general, fruitlessly seeking a past existing era in which their dreams had value, Gatsby longs to recreate a vanished past, his time in Louisville with Daisy, but isn’t able to do so. When his dream crumbles, all that is left for Gatsby to do, is to die; all Nick can do is move back to Minnesota, where the American dream and values have not yet decayed.