The Road as the Decay of the American Dream in Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby"

Essay, 2011

11 Pages, Grade: 15,5


Table of contents


I. Jay Gatsby’s road: from West Egg to East Egg

II. Nick Carraway’s road: from Midwest to New York City



Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published in New York in 1925. Those years in America, the 1920s, are often considered as the Roaring Twenties: a decade of great social change, a decade of jazz, an age of success and American Dream, an age of everything. The novel is indeed a story about the American Dream and its decay. The American Dream is often described as the aspiration of young Americans to live better than their parents: without war, poverty and misfortune but with love, wealth and happiness. In fact after World War I many Americans wished to return to the peaceful time they had before the war. During the 1920s, Americans focused on building economic prosperity and most people focused on the present with little concern for the future: life became easier and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, this age of prosperity, complete independence, self-reliance and opportunity quickly became an age of downfall: in order to pursue this utopia, people were asked to work harder. In consequence they could not prosper themselves but only endured. In this sense, the ceaseless pressure on people to progress for a dream to become true never allowed prosperity.

For Fitzgerald, the true American Dream is characterized by a spirit of perseverance and hope. That is through these ideals that one can succeed in life. Instead, the American Dream has finally signified endurance and pressure to make the Americans of the time become “The Lost Generation.” Fitzgerald condemns this American society of the 1920s that has lost its pursuit of progress for happiness to finally become purely materialistic and corrupt. As Bewley mentions it, “the material and the spiritual have become inextricably confused.”[1] Fitzgerald portrays the 1920s as an era of decayed social and moral values. Then the novel becomes an allegory: the death of Jay Gatsby embodies the death of the American Dream.

In brief, as detailed by Bewley, “The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American dream as it exists in a corrupt period, and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the reality from the illusions.”[2] Moreover, according to Ornstein, The Great Gatsby is a “dramatization of the betrayal of the naive American dream in a corrupt society.”[3]

In this essay, I will deal with the road from the Midwest to New York City and the road from West Egg to East Egg both exemplifying the decay of the American Dream, personified by the characters of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, as there is a strong relationship in the novel between the geography of the roads and the characters’ social values. On the one hand is the journey of Nick Carraway coming from the Midwest and going to New York City where he discovers corruption and immorality. On the other hand we find the road Jay Gatsby is following to be accepted among the wealthiest and to be loved by Daisy. This road, from West Egg to East Egg, represents the movement from solemnity and honesty to obsession of class and privilege.

I wish to show that these two roads epitomize the decay of the American Dream: through two main characters of the novel and in two different ways that we will discover in this essay, the two roads or journeys that are followed by these two characters start from a point of moral prosperity to move them towards a state of moral decay: Gatsby more profoundly than the Nick. This essay will be twofold: the first part will concern the road from West Egg to East Egg that Jay Gatsby follows while the second part will deal with the road of Nick Carraway: the road from the Midwest to New York City. The essay will end up with a brief conclusion summarizing the key points of the analysis and opening new ideas for further research and analysis.

I. Jay Gatsby’s road: from West Egg to East Egg

Jay Gatsby is a young and charming millionaire. His past and the origin of his fortune are quite uncertain, which makes him a mysterious character. We only know he fought during the First World War. He lives in a luxurious villa in West Egg where he incessantly throws parties. In this way, Gatsby creates his own image: a man who epitomizes fortune, success, and mystery, always surrounded by a group of people who strive to be a part of his inner circle. Gatsby is only interested in one person among the others: Daisy, a married woman living in East Egg who he is in love with.


[1] Mizener, A. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Twentieth century views, 1963. P. 125.

[2] Ibid. P. 126.

[3] Lockridge, E. Twentieth century interpretation of the Great Gatsby. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Twentieth century views, 1968. P. 54.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Road as the Decay of the American Dream in Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby"
University of Avignon  (Faculté de philosophie, arts et lettres)
English Literature - In-Depth Study Of A Theme
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road, decay, american, dream, fitzgerald’s, great, gatsby
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Sophie Bertrand (Author), 2011, The Road as the Decay of the American Dream in Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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