The Great Gatsby and the American Dream

Term Paper, 2007

20 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. “The American Dream“
2.1 “The American Dream”: When Was the Phrase Born?
2.2 Francis Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream

3. Francis Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
3.1 Characters
3.1.1 Jay Gatsby
3.1.2 Daisy Buchanan – A Promise of Fulfilment
3.1.3 The Buchanans´
3.1.4 Nick Carraway
3.2 The Structure of The Great Gatsby 7
3.2.1 Time
3.2.2 Narration
3.2.3 Style
3.3 An Unfulfilled (American) Dream
3.3.1 Gatsby’s Party
3.3.2 Shirts Scene
3.4 Long Island – The Promise of a Better Life
3.4.1 Fitzgerald’s Fable of East and West
3.4.1 The Green Light
3.4.2 The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg
3.4.3 Dutch Sailors

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Since the end of the Second World War the United States of America has been the most powerful country in the world. American power has included cultural power. Writing or talking about America means invoking the American Dream, which remains a major element of the national identity.

The American Dream encompasses the myth of America: a myth defined by another familiar phrase – the New World. In its origins, America was conceived of as a new world, a new beginning, a second chance. The contrast of course was with Europe – the Old World – characterized by tyranny, corruption, and social divisions.[1]

The American Constitution guaranteed all Americans “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[2] This is the heart of the American Dream.

People believed that the American dream was, from the beginning, part and parcel of American history, culture and language, including the early colonial period. “America was born out of a dream.”[3]

2. “The American Dream”

But the American Dream has come to mean at a popular level. It is to go to the West and become a millionaire. The American dream is conceived of in terms of success and of material success in particular: getting rich quick is what it is all about. But in its true sense it has never been limited to material success alone.[4]

So what do we actually understand under the term “American Dream” and what is the origin of this phrase? When did it first appear in the language? And how has the phrase itself evolved over time?

2.1 “The American Dream”: When Was the Phrase Born?

Only during the time of political and cultural upheaval could the concept of the American Dream enter the national lexicon.

The true origin of the phrase was first mentioned in 1931, by a middlebrow historian James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America. In this book, the phrase appears for the first time in the Preface, when Adams refers to the “American dream of a better, richer, and happier life,” adding that “that dream or hope has been present from the start.”[5] In the Epilogue, which was probably written before the Preface, Adams goes into more detail and broadens the scope of the American Dream concept, explaining that the most distinctive gift that America has made to the world is “the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”[6]

Coining this phrase took place in 1931, at a time in American history when the United States was already knee-deep in the Great Depression and in a calamitous economic and social condition.[7] What was lost in the Depression was the old idea – and faith – that America was a land of infinite possibilities and honesty.

2.2 Francis Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream

All American literature – like all of American life – it often seems, is about the American Dream. And F. Scott Fitzgerald has been identified with the American Dream. It was his subject, his matter above all – and it was a subject that had come to fascinate readers everywhere.

Scott Fitzgerald’s novels have been based on a concept of class. He is the first American writer who seems to have discovered that such a thing as American class really existed.

The Great Gatsby is not simply a chronicle of the Jazz Age but rather a dramatization of the betrayal of the naïve American Dream in a corrupt society. From the start, Fitzgerald’s personal dreams of romance contained the seeds of their own destruction.

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. In Gatsby, the reality is a thing of the spirit. In Gatsby’s America, the reality is undefined to itself. It is frustrated. Nick Carraway says of Gatsby:

“Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something – an exclusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was incommunicado forever.” (p. 118)

3. Francis Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

3.1 Characters

3.1.1 Jay Gatsby

Young Jimmy Gatz changes his name to Jay Gatsby, signalizing the beginning of a new life. Like his romantic dream Jay Gatsby belongs to a vanished past.

His career began when he met Dan Cody, a debauched relic of an earlier America who made his millions in the copper strikes. From Cody he received an education in ruthlessness which he applied when the accident of the war brought him to the beautiful house of Daisy Fay.

Gatsby is such a man who equates quantity with quality, cost with value. He gives parties for strangers, but has no desire to make friends. He has an extensive library, but no knowledge of books. However, if Gatsby lacks culture and sophistication, he has a heart of gold. He has lived not for himself but for his dream, for his vision of a good life inspired by Daisy.

Gatsby is a mythic character. Not only is he an embodiment of that conflict between illusion and reality at the heart of American life; he is a personification of the American romantic hero, the true heir of the American dream. “There was something gorgeous about him,” (p. 8) Nick Carraway says, and although gorgeous was a favourite word with the twenties. His car, his mansion, his parties, his clothes – everything about Gatsby is tasteless and extravagant. He seems to exist only in material terms.

The novel never reveals the precise sources of his vast wealth. Fitzgerald perfectly understood the inadequacy of Gatsby’s romantic view of the wealth. For him his wealth had always been a means to an end.

Gatsby has no private life, no meaning or significance, no happiness as an individual in a society of individuals. With the midnight picture, “his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell,” (p. 62) while the last guests leave, is Gatsby suddenly not merely a likeable, romantic hero; he is a creature of myth in whom is incarnated the aspiration of his race. Gatsby’s youth is a quality of faith and hope that may be betrayed by history and may be killed by society.

3.1.2 Daisy – A Promise of Fulfilment

Daisy had a brief affair with Gatsby during the war. However, her parents deem him an unsuitable match for their daughter and prevent her from running off with him. Ultimately she marries Tom Buchanan, a brutal egoist of vast inherited wealth. He is unfaithful to her, but she covers up his lapses for him in the interest of social respectability.

Daisy Buchanan exists at two well-defined levels in the novel. She is what she is – but she exists at the level of Gatsby’s vision of her. At one of Gatsby’s fabulous parties – the one to which Daisy brings her husband, Tom Buchanan – Gatsby points out to Daisy and Tom, among the celebrated guests, one particular couple:

“‘Perhaps you know that lady,’ Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white-plum tree. Tom and Daisy stared, with that peculiarly unreal feeling that accompanies the recognition of a hitherto ghostly celebrity of the movies.

‘She’s lovely,’ said Daisy.

‘That man bending over her is her director.’” (p. 112)

“Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white-plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.

‘I like her,’ said Daisy, ‘I think she’s lovely.’

But the rest offended her – and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion.” (p. 114)

In the contest we know that it has no reality whatever – the star and her director can get no nearer reality than by rehearsing a scene. Our attention is then taken up by other scenes at the party, but suddenly returning to this couple after an interval of two pages to make his point.

Daisy likes the moving-picture actress because she has no substance. In effect, this passage is Daisy’s confession of faith, Fitzgerald’s illustration of the emptiness of her character.


[1] Hook, Fitzgerald and the American Dream, 6

[2] Hook, Fitzgerald and the American Dream, 7.

[3] « Un double rêve, à la fois matériel et spirituel, est à l`origine de la colonisation des Amériques : l´os et l´évangélisation des ‘sauvages’. » B. Vincent, ed., Histoire des Etats-Unis (Nancy : Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1994 [Flammarion 2000]), 5.

[4] Hook, Fitzgerald and the American Dream, 5.

[5] James Truslow Adams: The Epic of America, New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1931, viii.

[6] James Truslow Adams: The Epic of America, New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1931, p. 404.

[7] Paul P. Reuben, „PAL: Appendix S: The American Dream. “PAL: Perspectives in American Literature – A Research and Reference Guide. URL: http//

Excerpt out of 20 pages


The Great Gatsby and the American Dream
University of Constance  (Uni)
American Literature and Culture
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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459 KB
Great, Gatsby, American, Dream, American, Literature, Culture
Quote paper
Sandra Kochan (Author), 2007, The Great Gatsby and the American Dream, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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