Jay Gatsby as a Symbol of the Elusive American Dream

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In the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby seems to have achieved what numerous have sought after the elusive American Dream. This essay will explore why and how this is an illusion. This will be done by, firstly, defining the American Dream, then exploring how the American Dream can be seen as being elusive, and finally whether Jay Gatsby actually achieved the American Dream.

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The American Dream has been one of the most captivating and attractive dreams in modern history. The American Dream was officially defined by 1931 by James Truslow Adams as the vision of a land where life is better, fuller and richer for all, with opportunity for each person, depending on their achievements and abilities. The American Dream enticed millions to emigrate to the United States, in hopes of a better life for them and their families, however many failed due to the hidden truth about the American Dream.

Jay Gatsby is portrayed as the quintessential model of self-made success – he started from the bottom with nothing and within a few years became a millionaire (Hodo, 2017). However, all his success which is the envy of the people that go to his lavish parties assists in his downfall.

Gatsby accomplished his goal to give the impression that he achieved the American Dream, however, he realized that earned wealth will not give him the same status as inherited wealth. This is why James Gatz had to become Jay Gatsby, why he has to create an intricate and mysterious backstory for himself (Stocks, 2007). Yet this was not enough, the house Gatsby had existed purely for appearance sake and for public entertainment. Gatsby had lawns, gardens, a tower, and a pool that he has not used. All these materialistic possessions created the illusion that Gatsby had achieved the American Dream, however, this was not true, For Gatsby, the American Dream was not only achieving wealth and status. His American Dream was winning over Daisy Buchannan.

In The Great Gatsby, love and money are often intertwined, and the concept of love ends up being corrupted by money in the form of materialism. Gatsby uses money as a substitute for courtship to win the heart of Daisy back (Youssef, 2015). He uses his flashy clothes, his mansion, his lavish parties, and his expensive cars to form a bond between himself and Daisy (Youssef, 2015). However, Gatsby does not realize that money alone cannot win Daisy over. Daisy already has wealth and more important status, she will not leave the life she already leads and the society that she belongs to.

People within The Great Gatsby have their own interpretations of the American Dream and go about their own ways to achieve it. In the case of the guests who attend Gatsby’s parties, they attend his parties to get a taste of the life they believe Gatsby already has. Regarding Gatsby, he tries to win back Daisy in a variety of ways that eventually cause his undoing and eventually his death (Hodo, 2017). For example, when the accident occurs, Gatsby only cares about Daisy’s well-being. Daisy becomes the most important aspect of his life and in trying to protect her, he dooms himself.

The Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was passed in the 1920s to ban bootlegging, however, people like Gatsby gained their wealth through illegal activities such as bootlegging (Youssef, 2015). Tom, an inheritor of ‘old money’ feels threatened by Gatsby and his ‘new money’ and exposes Gatsby’s questionable passed (Stocks, 2007). It is unlikely that Tom would want to be seen as equal with people who do not have the same status as he does (Stocks, 2007). He stops Gatsby’s attempts to gain access to the upper classes because it is his belief that if Gatsby can, then anyone can (Stocks, 2007).

The role of automobiles in The Great Gatsby ties in with the collapse of the American Dream (Hodo, 2017). The automobile was not simply a mode of transport, but more of a status symbol for the rich (Hodo, 2017). The novel portrays automobiles as negative characteristics of the 1920s culture as they lead the characters to their deaths. Myrtle died due to an accident and the deaths of both Gatsby and Wilson were associated with the automobile (Hodo, 2017).

The setting of The Great Gatsby shows much ethnic inequality, as ethnic differences has always been a part of American culture (Slater, 1973 ). Early in the novel, Tom talks about his race being superior. Tom is an example of the typical American chasing the American Dream (Slater, 1973 ). This shows a dark side of the American Dream – that the pursuit of the American dream could be hazardous and destructive (Slater, 1973 ).

Jay Gatsby does fulfill one aspect of the American Dream – he ends up with more than what he started with (Cullen, 2003). Gatsby is the incarnation of a self-made man from the roaring 20s (Hodo, 2017). His social status and naivety regarding his pursuit of Daisy cause the death of him and his American Dream. At the time, the Protestant values of hard work and thrifty abstinence are replaced with leisure, laziness, and a luxurious lifestyle. These attitudes give rise to a very materialistic lifestyle, which explains why Gatsby uses is money to win Daisy over.

However, Gatsby does not fully achieve the American Dream. Initially, Gatsby thinks he has it all, however, after meeting Daisy he realizes that his relationship with her will never be what it used to be. This realization sets his eventual downfall in motion. His decision to live without servants and his decision to stop throwing parties both arise from his incorrect conception of being a ‘somebody’ for the pursuit of love. The Great Gatsby portrays some of the most important values of the American Dream, such as hope and persistence. Gatsby has always been hard-working and ambitious. Mr. Gatz even shows Nick Jay’s old journal to show that Jay always had ambitions for a great future, “He knew he had a big future in front of him”. He used these qualities to pursue Daisy – even after the accident Gatsby disregarded the dead person and had Daisy’s future in mind. The death of Gatsby signified the end of his pursuit of the American Dream, as he overvalued money and materialistic possessions instead of pure principles.

Using all this information, it can be concluded that Jay Gatsby is indeed a symbol of the elusive American Dream. He appears to have fulfilled the American Dream, however, that was just an illusion to cover up his personal American Dream – to win back Daisy. However, Gatsby goes about this the wrong way by trying to win her love through money, which is something she already has. Furthermore, his status is lower than hers and she will not give hers up to be with him. The over-valuation of status and money sets off a series of events that end his pursuit for the American Dream.

24 May 2022

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