The American Dream In "The Great Gatsby"

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Florence King once stated, “People are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they’re all asleep at the switch.” (“The American Dream Sayings and Quotes”).


The American Dream is the belief that anyone in America, despite race, class, gender, or nationality can be successful and happy in their way depending on if they work hard enough. In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, numerous characters strive to achieve the American Dream by struggling to augment their reputation, ambitions, and class to fit in with affiliated characters or their encompassing society.

Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby’s perception of the American Dream is greatly influenced by their own urges and desires, which ultimately elicits irrational behaviour that leads them to failure. Their different impressions of the American Dream begin to manifest in actions that cause a domino effect of dissatisfaction due to Tom’s selfish and prejudicial persona, Daisy’s eagerness to carry out unruly actions for luxuriance, and Gatsby’s endless cravings for his desires from the past.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, follows a man named Jay Gatsby as he arranges his lifestyle among a single matter, to reconstruct his relationship with Daisy Buchanan, a woman that endured a substantial relationship with him five years ago. As a result of Gatsby’s pursuit, he manages to guide himself from poverty to wealth, emerging a re-established relationship with Daisy and Gatsby. However, despite his ambitious prospect, his perpetual desire to pursue his past relationship with Daisy heavily fuels the resentment of Daisy’s husband. As a result, Tom’s possessiveness over Daisy heavily fuels him to tell Wilson that Gatsby ran over his wife, subsequently prompting Gatsby’s inevitable demise. Therefore, The Great Gatsby demonstrates several key characteristics of American fiction, such as success, adversity, and tragedy, while establishing the several subdivisions of the American society.

Tom Buchanan’s narcissistic personality triggers him to develop his own interpretation of the American Dream, leading him to focus on his position in society and past accomplishments instead of focusing on his blessings. First and foremost, Tom’s strong-willed devotion to appreciate his past aspirations and accomplishments generates his aimless frame of mind, which leads to him neglecting and overlooking the present. Tom’s attention to the past, and negligence to his present is anticipated by encompassing individuals, as he “[drifts] on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game”. As Tom was a nationally known football player in his youth, he regularly suffers nostalgia, as he previously reached goals that are unsurpassable in his adulthood. As a result, despite living a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle, he feels incapable of living up to his accomplishments in the past. Tom’s depraved and immoral understanding of the American Dream influences his acts of sexism, hierarchy and infidelity.

In spite of Tom acting upon his impulses rather than his intellect, “The fact that he had [a mistress] insisted upon whenever he was known”, illustrates that his lack of respect concerning women does not affect his peace of mind. As a result, Tom assumes these scandalous intentions are virtuously correct, despite “His acquaintances the fact that he turned up in popular cafès with”, which exhibits discourtesy towards his wife, and thus, displays his unjust perception of the American Dream. Lastly, Tom’s endless commitment to preserve his admirable reputation and joyful fantasy exemplifies his self-centered state of mind.

As Gatsby aims to persuade Tom about his love affair with Daisy, Tom suddenly feels as though, “it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of emotions” and thus, stops at nothing to evoke the downfall of Gatsby.

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Despite repeatedly exhibiting disloyal behaviors, the worry of his wife being deceitful to him negatively affects his impeccable position. As a result, he has a “ share of suffering”, which ultimately dwindles his American Dream, as he becomes powerless. For these reasons, acts of sensibility, morality, and unselfishness would eliminate Tom’s failure and allow him to achieve a more realistic American Dream.

The strong-willed love that transpires between Gatsby and Daisy in Louisiana motivates Daisy to attempt waiting for him while he is serving in World War 1, but she eventually falls for a man with a luxurious lifestyle in order to follow her fantasy. Despite Daisy’s strong connection to Gatsby, she becomes impatient, and “wants her life shaped now, immediately - and the decision must be made by some force - of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality”. Despite satisfying her ambitious prospect, she neglects her feelings for Gatsby until her family with Tom is established, generating stress and confusion. Therefore, Daisy’s lack of patience influences a love triangle that frequently causes her to be “on the verge of tears” when her affair with Gatsby is disclosed. Despite her marriage to Tom, Daisy is willing to return to Gatsby when she learns that he can satisfy her craving for a lavish lifestyle. Daisy’s materialistic nature is displayed when “she bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily” because “It makes her sad that she has never seen such beautiful shirts before”, illustrating her obsession for wealth.

Confined by her passion, the simple act of deceiving her husband stirs up substantial drama that leads to catastrophic events, such as the “endless drill of police and photographers and newspaper men going in and out of Gatsby’s front door” to investigate his death. As a result, her actions generate her diminishing American Dream, as not only did she lose a trustworthy individual that could provide limitless amounts of money to fully satisfy her thirst for wealth, she also lost further dependability in her relationship with Tom. Despite Daisy’s past loving nature towards Gatsby, it is evident that she has the wrong intentions in her reconstructed relationship with him due to her materialistic desires.

In spite of Gatsby’s inattentive frame of mind, Nick identifies that Daisy’s voice is “full of money - that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it… High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. Ultimately, her never-ending desire for wealth, consequently attracts her to Gatsby, despite the immense wealth she contains in her relationship with Tom. As a result, she tries to obtain her American Dream through unsavory means as she unwittingly plays with Gatsby’s emotions, regardless of her motives moderately coming to a conclusion when Tom discovers about the affair. As a result, simple acts and educated settlements, such as remaining patient, being loyal, and regulating her cravings for wealth could undoubtedly eliminate Daisy’s failure to achieve the American Dream that she strongly fascinated with Gatsby and his prosperity.

First and foremost, Gatsby’s visionary nature regarding his past comes to fruition when he persuades Nick to invite Daisy for a tea party, despite not living up to his expectations due to his delusional fantasy. After enduring his skeptical frame of mind, “They were sitting at either end of the couch, looking at each other as if some questions had been asked, or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone”. As a result of their newly found affection, Nick appears to believe “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams”. Before these events, the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby existed solely in the past, generating him to dismiss the possibility of his dreams not living up to his expectations, and thus, instigating “a faint doubt” about the quality of his happiness in their reunion.

Secondly, Gatsby’s American Dream heavily relates to his unending love for Daisy, which ultimately leads to him allocating five years of his life to win her back, regardless of his convenient and prosperous lifestyle. When Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship flourishes, Nick observes that “there is a change in Gatsby that is simply confounding.” As a result, “a new well-being radiated from him” due to his unlikely glowing personality. Gatsby’s long lasting feelings for Daisy showcases the impact of her presence on his personal outlook and existence, eliminating his despair and continual numbness while strengthening his well-being. This is further illustrated when Daisy has stripped away, as he immediately returns to a state of obsession, despair, and fascination for long periods, despite his marvelous lifestyle and accomplishments.

Thirdly, Gatsby’s ongoing and forceful desire for Daisy’s love ultimately leads to his inevitable demise as he is unable to keep the affair secret, validating that the American Dream is incapable of solving all of his urges and demands. As Tom observes the close relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, he becomes immensely apprehensive and possessive over Daisy, and impulsively “tells Wilson the truth” about Myrtle's death, admitting that Gatsby “had it coming to him'. Tom believes Gatsby 'threw dust into Nick’s eyes just like he did in Daisy’s”, indicating that “what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.”

Confined by his egotistical nature, Tom attempts to put Gatsby in danger due to Gatsby’s willingness to break apart Tom and Daisy’s relationship. As a result, when Wilson murders him, the flawless destiny that Gatsby forecasts for himself and Daisy is eliminated, displaying several barriers that prevented him from reaching his goals, regardless of his fortune and assets.

Therefore, if Gatsby had simply been able to accept losing Daisy to Tom, his American Dream would seemingly be fulfilled, as he would learn to appreciate the extravagant lifestyle in his sumptuous home, presumably eliminating his numbness and expanding peace of mind, companionship, and sociability.

The presumption that all Americans have an equal opportunity at achieving the American Dream is false, as it is expected that today’s young generation is the first in modern history to have a strong possibility of making less than their parents. As a result, the disregard of the growing gap between the rich and the poor is continually expanding. Furthermore, the American Dream can be expressed as “toxic” due to Americans often constructing a false self, as they are fabricated to satisfy the values of others, instead of paying attention to their own feelings. As a result, characteristics like happiness, meaning, and fulfillment are often diminished. Even though someone may be admired, adored or even earn substantial amounts of money, subsequently all of those achievements will be the cost of undermining one’s personal feelings and awareness, gradually expanding their emptiness and numbness. Therefore, American life has become a war for existence due to ongoing battles that are imposed daily because of materialistic desires, and not because of one’s healthcare, savings, retirement, education, transport, and more. For these reasons, bad faith is constantly reinforced in American society, as it is the belief that to exist ourselves, existence must be taken from others. However, several Americans should be striving for good faith, which only means that existence does not have to be fought over, and that individuals exist more when they give others the relief to exist as well. This is not only important because of one self’s happiness, grace, love, and importance, it can also make individuals capable of producing more working societies, healthy democracies and countries that enforce the justification and quality of living in.

To conclude, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby’s judgment of the American Dream heavily fuels their impulses and greed, inevitably leading to a sequence of events that elicits foolishness and provokes an ongoing cycle of consequences and failure. The distinctive interpretations of the American Dream that these characters endure begins to manifest in actions that induce a chain of events that showcase Tom’s selfish and discriminatory frame of mind, Daisy’s endless desire to attain a rich lifestyle full of lavishness, and Gatsby’s addiction to reliving his past. Therefore, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby’s sense of the American Dream is indicative of the fact that they are “so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they’re all asleep at the switch”.     

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