In opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’.

In The Great Gatsby the Author F Scott Fitzgerald meditates
on and critically analyses 1920s America and uses symbolism as a representation
of the American Dream.  This essay will
define the understanding of the term ‘American Dream’ from the time of writing
the book.  It will examine the symbolism
around this term in the writing of the characters in the Great Gatsby and will
discuss how the Great Gatsby represents the core ideals of the American Dream and
criticises the concept itself.

The term ‘American Dream’ was defined in 1931 by James
Truslow Adams as ‘that dream of a land in which life should be better and
richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability
or achievement’. (Adams, 1934, p.415) this was some 6 years after publication
of the Great Gatsby but the overriding themes around the idea of the American
Dream had been around for some time before this.  The idea of ‘betterment and to improve one’s
lot’ (Samuel, 2012, p.7) had been around for some time before the phrase was
coined.  The qualities of hard work and
ambition are celebrated.  The symbolic
raising oneself up from a start low on the economic and social level are feted.  Many of the characters in the novel represent
what could be the antithesis and corruption of the American Dream ideals.  Fitzgerald uses very careful patterns in his
words and imagery in the book.  Details
that could be missed or thought of as trivial hold significance.

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  Gatsby himself has
used the idea of the American Dream to achieve his wealth and position in
society.  On reading the novel it becomes
clear that his deep love for Daisy has driven him.  He has an innate desire to prove he is worthy
of her.  The characters of Tom and Daisy
have comfortably achieved the American Dream, they’ve reached the pinnacle of
their collective ambitions and feel there is nothing further in life that they,
as a couple, must achieve. 

Starting the analysis with the titular character of Gatsby or
Jay Gatz as he was formerly known. Fitzgerald portrays the contemporary period
of the 1920s as a period where moral decay and a lack of values had begun to
stagnate America.  Gatsby in a chameleon
like fashion has changed himself beyond recognition so he fulfils his dreams in
the pursuit of Daisy.  In living in a
house across the bay from her he wanted to keep as near to her as he
dared.  In the book Gatsby is noted to
have leaned across to a green light on the dock of Daisy and Tom’s home,
Fitzgerald is using this as a focal point in the story.  The light could be a symbol of Gatsby’s dream
involving Daisy.  Daisy though is not the
person he thinks that she is.  She is not
the perfect dream that has driven Gatsby on but is a flawed character and all
too human.  This falls short of Gatsby’s
expectations, this is what has driven him on to achieve his own American
Dream.  The green light could be a
physical representation of his dream which no matter how hard he tries is
always just out of reach for him.  There
can be no doubt when reading the novel that Gatsby loved Daisy to the point of
obsession.  This love drove him to pursue
betterment to impress her.  He acts in an
extravagant manner and a calculated move to gain her attention.  The ‘greatness’ Gatsby achieves is a product
of the creative vitality of his imagination. 
His dream is greater than any of the other characters.  The character of Gatsby changed his name from
James Gatz to escape his past in the mid-west. 
We learn that Gatsby earned his fortune through criminality.  Fitzgerald leaves hints of this criminality
throughout the entirety of the novel. 
The guests at Gatsby’s parties are drinking cocktails during an age of
prohibition.  These decadent temptations
enticed more and more guests to Gatsby’s home. 
Gatsby exudes an air of mystery and often there are hints of something
being amiss.  He takes regular calls from
Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit and he occasionally hints at his own
criminality.  Gatsby’s friendship with
the mysterious ‘Meyer Wolfsheim’ in another hint at a criminal connection, we
learn that ‘he’s the man who fixed the World’s series back in 1919’.  The novel gives the impression that although
Nick is aware that Gatsby is involved in criminal activities he chooses to look
beyond this to what he sees as the characters suffering and loyalty of love for
Daisy going so far as to dismiss his own staff and replace them with people
from Meyer Wolfsheim in order to protect her from gossip.  The destruction of Gatsby’s dream is
portrayed as being inevitable as the relationship that he built up is based
entirely in fantasy.  This downward
spiral takes apace on the introduction of Daisy’s child. 

Gatsby has remained true to his dream even when reality was
causing it to crumble.  His chivalrous
protection of Daisy who had been the driver of the car that killed Myrtle. Gatsby
was killed for the love he held for Daisy, by taking the blame for Myrtle’s
death he effectively signed his own death warrant.  Ambition is something that has driven Gatsby
to the very edge.  His pursuit and love
of Daisy has consumed his life. His greatest dream is to be with Daisy
again.  Whilst Gatsby was away fighting
in the war Daisy met Tom and they married. 
Daisy had always had a privileged background and was from a family with privilege.  Gatsby presumed that he needed to have money to
get Daisy back, to have enough money to give her anything she desired.  It is Gatsby’s pursuit of the American dream
of betterment that gives him purpose in life and elevates him above the other
characters in the book.

The relationship between Daisy and Tom is not a happy
one.  Daisy found that she had married
the wrong man, and this irrevocably changed her outlook on life.  Daisy at first thought that she had
everything she desired after marrying Tom. 
She had wealth and thought this would be enough to have happiness and
love too but soon found that rather than achieving the American dream she is
trapped by it.  The idea has corrupted
her.  She has a child she rarely spends
time with and doesn’t display the expected maternal behaviour towards her.  When her child was born Daisy said ‘I’m glad
it’s a girl.  And I hope she’ll be a fool
– that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful fool’ (Fitzgerald,
1993, p13).  Daisy is saying that there
are limited choices for women in the world she lives in.  Daisy thought she had married for love when
she married Tom but realises that all she got was money.  Daisy realises when she meets up with Gatsby
that she could have married for love and money had she married Gatsby.  Her chasing of her version of the American
dream to be with the ideal ma destroyed her own happiness.  Daisy is aware her husbands is committing
adultery.  Early in the novel Tom
receives a phone call from a woman at dinner time.  Jordan says, ‘She might have the decency not
to telephone him at dinner time’ (Fitzgerald, 1993, p12) She remains with him
as she enjoys the lifestyle he provides to her. 
Tom and Daisy are an example of the American dream gone bad.  Their relationship is stagnant, they have
achieved everything that they will ever need but still feel that there is
something missing.  When they first met
Tom’s position pleased Daisy.  He was
viewed as almost aristocratic and she knew he would be able to provide for her.  The lesson we learn from these characters is
that the acquisition of wealth comes at a cost and does not bring happiness.

When Tom and Nick meet Myrtle on the train they go to the
apartment that Tom has purchased for her in New York. Daisy was aware that he
kept a woman in the city.  Myrtle is seen
to be very contemptuous of her own class and sees herself as being separate to
them.  She is particularly critical of
her husband George.  Myrtle’s desire for
a more luxurious life drew her into her affair with Tom.  The decision she makes in pursuing this
seriously harms her marriage to George. 
Ultimately this leads to her death. 
Myrtles hope for a more glamorous and wealthy life is portrayed in her
reading of gossip magazines. When Myrtle and George first married she thought
they’d be happy together forever.  Myrtle
is portrayed as being materialistic and vain, she is attracted to Tom’s
appearance and his wealth.  In the novel
Myrtle is best described as lower class, she does not have wealth, but she
desires wealth and the status that it brings. 
She sees her affair with Tom as her way to move up in society to the
upper classes.  She wants the big house,
the expensive car and an extravagant lifestyle. 
Her desires only brought about destruction and ended up ending her life
and that of Gatsby.  He lied to protect
Daisy and their hallowed position.

The American dream and the consequences of pursuing it no
matter the cost is described in many ways in the novel.  Gatsby is a man with a dream that gives him
his purpose and drive in life to leave his past behind him and to create a life
with a view to making his dream come true no matter the consequences.  Tom and Daisy conversely are the couple who
have achieved the dream but do not enjoy the life they have created.  They are bound together by this longing for
something more that they cannot fathom.  It
is evident from close reading of the novel that the American dream these
characters strived for bought only corruption and destruction.  Most of the characters in the novel desire
money, wealth and happiness but each comes at a cost.  The Great Gatsby is a novel that demonstrates
how easily the concept of the American dream can become corrupted.  The overriding message Fitzgerald imparts is
that the American dream as a concept can never be satisfied as at its very core
it entails always striving for more. 
More money, more power, more love but this can be snatched away from you
in the blink of an eye.