The American Dream in "The Great Gatsby". Wreck of Illusions

Essay, 2019

5 Pages


The American Dream in The Great Gatsby : Wreck of Illusions

The main originality of Fitzgerald's oeuvre lies in the fact that the American writer was a representative of the "Jazz age." Fitzgerald not only described an entire era, fixing it in various literary works, but he himself became its "cultural hero"; he showed the ambiguity of the "American dream" phenomenon. The novel The Great Gatsby shows that pursuit of American dream forgetting about its original foundations, about moral values, and even own personality leads to moral degradation, frustration, and the destruction of false illusions.

The novel, in fact, suggests the reader look at the American Dream from a different angle, to see its 'back side' leading to wreck of vain illusions. Researchers note that, namely, after the publication of the novel The Great Gatsby, the American Dream acquired new connotations, as something tragic. It became not only an uplifting dream, but also a destructive illusion that makes a person break under the onslaught of circumstances (Blazek). The novel, built as the story of the protagonist, has grown into a philosophical narrative concerning the painful range of problems associated with the deformations of the American moral ideal of a personality, self -asserting in the struggle for happiness and justifying own individualism for this purpose. In this sense, Fitzgerald is not talking about the drama of a particular hero or characters, but about the drama of the idea which the nation adored. That is, the novel tells about the inner tragedy and destructive power of the American Dream in the form in which it existed in the Jazz Age (Ferris 154-174).

Trying to show Fitzgerald combined two planes of the American Dream - society level and individual, personal level. There is no unequivocal interpretation of the 'American Dream' concept, sinceit combines American notions of happiness and well-being and personal interpretation of this idea. However, Fitzgerald was the author who reinforced the myth of American society, and, at the same time, acted as a consistent destroyer of this myth (Daier and Ibrahim 345-346). It seems symbolic that simultaneously with the novel The Great Gatsby, the novel An American Tragedy by T. Dreiser was published, no less significant for American literature, where the author also shows the perspectives of the individual, too keen on the idea of social well-being. The person, who follows the dream of wealth, abandons the moral humanistic paradigm, values that put human above all. This is probably why the author of The Great Gatsby concluded the story connected with the main character, with his death, since the general path of movement to wealth turned out to be empty for him: "Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one." (Fitzgerald 122).

The reason of wreck of illusions, caused by the thoughtless and blind pursuit of the American dream is that in the epoch described in the novel, the American dream, which previously embodied the ideals of equality, democracy, and the rise, was essentially distorted. Experts rightly emphasize that greed and corruption became the basis of the American dream of the time (Daier and Ibrahim 345-346). Behind the problems of success, money, and wealth, the writer sensitively guessed the disturbing symptoms of a person’s moral decline, the impoverishment of his life ideals and dreams. Gatsby as the protagonist demonstrates deep inner dualism of the American Dream. It takes its roots in the past history of America, with its absorbed freedom and independence spirit and principles, and, on the other hand, the idea of striving for material goods and strongly pronounced individualism. The pathos of the novel (ideological and moral one) is that in the interpretation of the "dream," Fitzgerald relayed on the concept of conformity to the laws of history. In accordance with this, the image of hero is set, who appears as if in two planes: dreamer and romantic, and, at the same time, the adherer of the ideals of the consumerist society in all their meretricious pomp and brilliance.

Thirst for success, social connections possess Gatsby, but he believes in illusions to the end. Gatsby achieved tremendous wealth, but it remained a means for him, not an end goal. Nevertheless, to achieve a seemingly noble goal - to gain the favor of his beloved girl - he chose an immoral way, and this eventually led him to a moral decline and a corresponding collapse of illusions. So, the American dream became his personal tragedy. A real disaster of Gatsby, a person who failed to separate his ideal of love from the ideal of wealth, is ultimately reduced to the moral and aesthetic surrender of a person to the power of money (Xiao 63-67).

The image of Gatsby is made up of a combination of different points of view. Fitzgerald, in the person of Nick Carraway, almost from the first page of the novel gives a kind of original "attitude." The narrator immediately notes the duality of Gatsby, on the one hand, seemingly embodying everything that Carraway, and with him the author, "despised and despises," and on the other hand, in Gatsby, there was "something gorgeous," hypersensitivity, ability to respond instantly (generosity), romantic heat, "a rare gift of hope" (Lockridge 16-26).

Despite the tragic end of the novel, the epithet "great," at first glance, can be considered in the literal sense. The plot of the novel is quite simple and may even seem a bit trivial. Gatsby, a nouveau riche of the 20s, who made a fortune by selling spirits during Prohibition, leads a stunningly broad lifestyle. The luxurious receptions that he arranges in his villa, inviting hundreds of strangers, bring him immense publicity and the ironic title of the "great" Gatsby. However, the main artistic technique that Fitzgerald uses in The Great Gatsby is the approach of a contrast gradually unfolding in the course of the action. This is a kind of combination of opposites. Gradually, the image of Gatsby acquires increasingly more romantic and even heroic traits and the meaning of the epithet "great" begins to approach its direct meaning. Some authors believe that, in the main character, there is a feature that as if sublimates Gatsby over the other heroes and serves as a reason for Fitzgerald to name his main character in the novel, namely, the Great. This is character's dedication to his 'virgin' dream, for which he lives. He acquires all the benefits and goods that constitute the American dream only in order to sacrifice all this for his love, for his beloved woman (Li and Zheng 52,55). In this context, Maya Samkanashvili also considers that Gatsby was great because he was Real. He was not looking for 'money for money,' but he had a goal - to 'win' the heart of his beloved woman. He would not be happy with his position if it did not lead to the goal. In the 20s, when the hypocrisy of aristocratic families reached its maximum, and the boom of easy money turned head to all those who had at least some access to good education and a little impudence, the desire to achieve non-material dream can be only respect (Samkanashvili 73-77).

At the same time, the true greatness of Gatsby can be said about, at the first place, in terms of his adherence to the ideal, the romantic dream, his soulful nobility, entirety and tenacity of feelings, force of character. Within this framework, he stacks up against other people, as Nick Carraway repeatedly says. However, in Gatsby's 'greatness,' there is a significant proportion of paradoxes and irony: it is just as "great" as the dream itself is great in its highly modified, forked 'shape' with its ideas of innocence and childish naivety, on the one hand, and the ideas of prosperity and cold-blooded pragmatism on the other. An extraordinary man, Gatsby is wasting his personality, his emotions and vital forces in meaningless race for worthless goals and ideals; but, at the same time, the discrepancy of such traits distinguishes him from other people, makes him somewhat significant. His greatness is that he would rather die than abandon his romantic dream. His tragedy was that he could not comprehend the elusory nature, senselessness of many aspirations and desires, as he was equally great in his innocent-infantile vision of reality. The author calls the protagonist "great" with irony. The irony is "great," because of rhetorical question how can one relate to a person with who was 'seized' by passion, that is, sin. Potentially spiritually strong person is wasting himself. Most of his vital energy, aspirations, and will were spent on making money and on an unworthy woman. The author does not at all strive to convince us of the greatness of Gatsby - on the contrary, this is the saddest author's irony: people around, acquaintances could consider Gatsby great for wealth.


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The American Dream in "The Great Gatsby". Wreck of Illusions
Southern Connecticut State University
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american, dream, great, gatsby, wreck, illusions
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Nadiia Kudriashova (Author), 2019, The American Dream in "The Great Gatsby". Wreck of Illusions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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