Dreaming and Failing

April 6, 2018
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If people are asked to think about The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, what would be the first thing they come up with? Many scenes in the book could impress the readers—complicated relationship among different characters, Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy and the wild lives that the rich are living. Indeed, different perspectives of the story can lead to various interpretations of the book’s theme. And yet, what Fitzgerald essentially wants to reveal through the book is far more than the “superficial” parties, quarrels and accidents. Despite the examination of dreams and relationships, Fitzgerald focuses primarily on the damaging effects of materialism in the 1920s in America through the story of Gatsby.

Even though Gatsby is initially a poor farm boy, he dreams of becoming great through hard work and dedication.  For years, Gatsby has been longing for getting rid of poverty.  When Gatsby is still young, he “[changes] [his] name at the age of seventeen” (Fitzgerald,108) and finds wealth incredibly fascinating when he travels with Dan Cody. “To young Gatz, resting on his oars and looking up at the railed deck, that yacht represented all the beauty and clamour in the worlds” (100).  Gatsby should have inherited “a legacy of twenty-five thousand dollars” (100) from Dan Cody after he dies. However, due to “the legal device that [is] used against [Gatsby]” (100) which he does not understand, “what [remains] of the millions [goes] intact to Ella Kaye.” (100)  Since then, Gatsby is inspired to pursue “the substantiality of a man.” (101) Dedicates to improving himself, Gatsby owns a book called Hopalong Cassidy when he is a boy. On the last fly-leaf of the book, Gatsby writes down his schedule, including “[working for eight hours every day,]” (173) and “[practicing] elocution, poise and how to attain it.” (173) Beneath the schedule, he also lists his “general resolves” (173): “[n]o more smoking or chewing,” (173) “[r]ead one improving book or magazine per week,” (173) and “[b]e better to parents.” (173) Gatsby follows a traditional American dream, and carries the hope of becoming a “Great Gatsby”.

Even though Gatsby initially pursues a traditional American dream, he corrupts his dream by sacrificing his principles to pursue Daisy. In the latter part of the book, Gatsby reveals the situation in which he meets Daisy for the first time. “She was the first ‘nice’ girl he had ever known” (148). “[Gatsby] found [Daisy] excitingly desirable” (148), and himself amazed by Daisy’s house— “he had never been in such a beautiful house before” (148). As Gatsby realizes that he is just “a penniless young man without a past” (149), he decides to persistently pursue wealth in order to guarantee Daisy a sense of security. After he falls in love with Daisy, he makes her the “incarnation” of her dream. Gatsby becomes willing to sacrifice everything for this girl—including his principles. His affection to Daisy makes his mind “never romp again like the mind of God” (110). Later, he realizes that maintaining their relationship is difficult to such an impecunious man like him. Even when Daisy gets married with Tom, Gatsby doesn’t give up pursuing his dream. “Gatsby [buys] [the] house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (78) and he would be able to “see her house” (79). After Gatsby finally meets Daisy, he stubbornly decides to recreate the past and take Daisy away from Tom. When Nick warns him that he cannot repeat the past, he answers: “Can’t repeat th past? Why of course you can!” (110). Even at the end, Gatsby does not ditch Daisy when he is about to be accused of murdering Myrtle in the car accident. Nick persuades him to go somewhere else, but “[h]e wouldn’t consider it. He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy until he [knows] that what she [is] going to do” (148). After Gatsby is killed, Nick attempts to call up Daisy. As it turned out, “she and Tom [have] gone away early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them” (164). Although Gatsby’s dream of Daisy seems charming at first, it essentially proves to be fatal and the cause of his misfortune.

On some level, Nick admires the tenaciousness inside Gatsby even though he lacks awareness of his wrong choice and disadvantageous situation. Indeed, Gatsby becomes crazy in his pursuit of wealth and Daisy that his life ends with a tragedy. While what Nick finds impressive about Gatsby is his “creative temperament” (2). “It [is] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as [Nick] [has] never found in any other person and which it is not likely [he] shall ever found again” (2). Gatsby truly has faith in his pursuit of dream; he never thinks of quitting at any time—even when he is likely to be charged as a murderer. On the night when all of them get back to the house after discovering Myrtle’s death, he “[wants] to wait [there] until Daisy goes to bed” (145). No matter what, he keeps caring about Daisy even when he is likely to be involved into danger. At the moment when Gatsby bids Nick farewell, Nick tells Gatsby: “They’re a rotten crowd…You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (154). Nick’s compliment to Gatsby echoes with his description of Gatsby at the very beginning. Apparently, Nick approves the part of Gatsby in which he shows great determination and enduring optimism.

The Great Gatsby is definitely not simply a story about entanglements between either Daisy, Gatsby and Tom or Nick and Jordan. Fitzgerald is dedicated to showing the social trends in America in the 1920s. The Americans were especially materialistic during this specific period. The extravagant parties, the wild jazz music, and their fancy cars were all emblems of it. While even among the rich, the “old money” who represented the aristocracy distinguished themselves from the “new money” who were viewed as being lower on the social scale. The gap between the “old money” and “new money” was of social importance.  Gatsby’s original dream was a traditional American dream: as long as people worked hard enough, they would have equal opportunities to achieve success and prosperity. Fitzgerald, however, implied that the dream is a false dream, though perhaps sees value in having a dream.  The difference between the “old money” and the “new money” was evidence of the “broken dream;” no matter how wealthy those with “new money” are, those with “old money” are not willing to include them as members of the social elite—and may even despise them.  The upper classes’ rejection of those with “new money” and their carelessness supports Fitzgerald’s critique of materialism and the social elite.

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