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The American Dream Personified: A Literary Analysis of The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, holds the decrepit side of the American Dream. With a darkness stirring inside Gatsby, a lonely, unfulfilled feeling, readers come to learn that life as a glamourous host is not all it is cracked up to be. Gatsby changed everything about himself, from his name to the uneducated tone of his speech. While watching his story unfold, one uncovers the languished lifestyle of the rich and infamous.
Fitzgerald was born in 1896 to a wealthy mother, and a proud father. Both parents saw the brightness in their son, and sent him to the best schools they could. He was motivated by the idea of becoming famous one day for his written works, and did not stop until he evidently did. His fame, much like Gatsby, though well-earned, was very faux and less-than-perfect. Many people viewed him as someone not very serious about his career. But that changed in 1925 when he wrote and published The Great Gatsby.
Although Gatsby seems to be an innate, almost perfectly imperfect character, Fitzgerald drew from his own life for inspiration for him. Having experienced the dramatic life of a celebrity, he quickly created an easily distinguishable archetype for Gatsby: a man striving for happiness, aka the American dreamer. However, he also simultaneously crafted a fake, ingenuine persona for him, one that appeared to be filled superficially with material items, when, in reality, Gatsby was a man after love. This reflects the reality of Fitzgerald’s life. He had moved to France for a change of scenery, but still found a melancholic pitch, always wanting. His novel reflects the feelings of emptiness and hardship for those restless souls destined to be searching for something forever out of reach.
Fitzgerald’s portrayal of his character, Gatsby, says that the American Dream is shallow, easily crushed, and always wanting. As a search for pleasure, it is nothing short of faux-happiness, and a made-up way to achieve complete unsatisfaction. Gatsby himself is the American Dream personified, and his death represents the death of the dream, a cold, unliving version of joy.
When Gatsby, alone at his own frivolous party, appears isolated and lonely, readers are left to wonder how much fun one can really have when ‘living’ the American dream: “when the Jazz History of the World was over, girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders … swooning backward playfully into men’s arms … but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link” (50). And again, here is another example of Gatsby, solitude filling his overflowing cup:
"Your place looks like the World's Fair,’ I said.
‘Does it?’ He turned his eyes toward it absently. ‘I have been glancing into some of the rooms. Let's go to Coney Island, old sport. In my car.’
‘It's too late.’
‘Well, suppose we take a plunge in the swimming-pool? I haven't made use of it all summer.’
‘I've got to go to bed.’
Not a single person will spend an authentic evening with Gatsby, because he is unreachable by mere mortal touches.
Gatsby’s characterization embodies him as the American Dreamer archetype. Gatsby has everything he could have ever wanted, in a material sense. He has fine clothing (ch. 5), a lofty mansion made to please (ch. 1), and even a somewhat-cliche yellow rolls royce automobile that can be seen as a representation of faux happiness (ch. 3). This masquerade of pleasure bringing contentment is an instrumental part of the theme. Without love, there cannot be true happiness, and love can be found in many different ways, all of which, Gatsby lacks: familial, platonic, romantic, spiritual, and self-love.
Gatsby’s life, and the American Dream in consequence, are literally and metaphorically dead at the end of the novel. When Wilson and Gatsby’s corpses were found, Nick remarked that, “the holocaust was complete” (112). And this holocaust (not named such because of the three deaths of that week) completely demolished an entire idea: that one could live happily with nothing but material items, or in other words, they could not survive solely on the mortal idea of the American Dream. This contributes justly to the theme, idly, softly, gently restating that without a true pursuance of joy, a life worth living is unattainable.
Through the journey a reader can take in The Great Gatsby, one can learn about the American Dream, and its failure to fulfill the spiritual and emotional needs of humanity. As a defined object, the American Dream is hopelessly romantic, always chasing something unachievable: to be the most successful. Unfortunately, at the same time, one will be the loneliest. Gatsby’s rank in life appears to be America’s top dog; until you look inside, and learn of his utter sadness and strife. Gatsby delves into materialism and slowly reveals his lack of confidence, happiness, and sense of accomplishment, as seen in his dialogue between himself and Daisy when they meet in his own home (ch. 5). And when he himself dies, his dream of success dies with it, with no one but his father and a dear friend at his funeral (ch.9). Fitzgerald has formed an immaculately corrupt novel, revealing the dirty secrets of an aimless goal. And with it, created a beautiful example of a character that’s “...worth the whole damn bunch put together” (160).
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.