The Corruption of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby
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Fitzgerald F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1925.
In Scott F. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, men fight over a woman. To stay financially secure, they go into illegal business. Dreams are crushed and lives are lost.
It is a story that relates to the corruption of the American Dream.
The story takes place in an area near New York called "Long Island." It is in a shape of an egg. They focus in on places on there named "East Egg", "West Egg", and "The Valley of Ashes." West egg is for people who have recently made their fortunes. The characters Nick and Gatsby live there. The Valley of Ashes is for people who are not wealthy. The Wilson family lives there. The East Egg is for people who inherit their money. The characters Daisy and Tom live there. Daisy is a distant cousin one removed of Nick’s. One of her friends is a character named Jordan baker.
Nick Carraway is the narrator of this story. He can keep secrets and is known to be trust worthy which gives the reader a better view of the story. They can see everything that is happening because the characters in this book trust him with secrets. He does not really go into the action much. He is more of an observer. This does not mean that he does not do much in the story though. He explains where he lives, the areas at where the events take place and introduces other characters. He is a neighbor and a friend of one of the main characters, Jay Gatsby.
Jordan baker is a famous golfer. Nick likes Jordan Baker’s figure, high spirits, and her high classiness. Though he hates how she is dishonest. In the beginning of the story, he mainly explains things. The following quote is an example of one of her lies and also tells the reader how Nick feels about her:
“I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a—of a rose an absolute rose. Doesn’t he?” She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation “An absolute rose?”
This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only extemporizing but stirring warmth flowed from her as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words…-The Great Gatsby, 14
Jay Gatsby is a main character of the story as you may have already guessed due to the title of this book.
He frequently has parties. It is from the parties that he meets Nick. He used to be an officer and that is when he met Daisy. He fell in love with her and lied to her telling her that he came from a rich family. She promised that she would wait for him when he went to fight in World War I. In 1919 there was a law passed that disallowed the sale of alcohol. After the war, Gatsby studied at Oxford. He partnered up with Meyer Wolfshiem and starts a grain alcohol dealing business to get money quick so that when he goes back to Daisy, he would be able to secure her financially. He did not know that Daisy become impatient and married another man yet.
Daisy married a man named Tom. Tom gave her a pearl bracelet with a value of over 300,000 dollars. He came from a rich family and could secure her financially. Tom is secretly having an affair with Myrtle who is also married but thinks that her husband, Mr. Wilson, does not care about her. Nick organizes a meeting inviting Gatsby and Daisy. Daisy was not told that Gatsby would be there for she might not have come if he was there. She may not have come because she feels guilty that she married Tom and broke her promise of waiting for Gatsby. She is also afraid that he still loves her which would cause a quarrel between him and her husband. Though if she were there, turning around and walking away would be rude.
They meet up and talk. Soon, Tom is called over along with Gatsby and Daisy. Since Tom and Gatsby are both fighting over Daisy, this creates a conflict and Gatsby pushes Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him. She said it but did not mean it. She loved Tom but she also loved Gatsby. I believe that the pearl bracelet that Tom bought for her is like buying her. Daisy is struggling between loving material possession and loving someone for who they actually are. Gatsby knows that she will not love him fully and thus his dreams were shattered. His purpose for living was gone.
Mr. Wilson is Myrtle’s husband. They were having a quarrel and Myrtle runs out into the streets. At the same time, Daisy was driving with Gatsby. Gatsby tries to get hold of the wheel and then Daisy crashed into Myrtle and kills her. They drive away afterwards. Mr. Wilson is mad and goes mental. He asks everyone if they knew who has killed her. He threatened Tom with a gun to tell him the owner of the car that ran over her wife. He names Gatsby even though Daisy had something to do with it. One may see this as Gatsby taking the blame due to his love for Daisy. Mr. Wilson goes over to Gatsby’s hour and shoots him. I believe that the author does that because Gatsby’s purpose in the story is completed. Mr. Wilson then commits suicide not far away.
After the death of Gatsby, Daisy and Tom move away leaving no address. Nick later describes Daisy as the type that makes a mess, hides behind her money and lets other people clean it up. The mess would be the death of Myrtle. Hiding behind her money would be moving away and letting other people clean it up is like how Gatsby took the blame. The following quote is exactly as he said it:
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or what ever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….-The Great Gatsby, 179
I believe that Gatsby and Wolfshiem’s rise to richness symbolizes that crime is rising in America during the 1920s. Morally, women would most likely choose a man for his personality, not for his wealth. In this book, Daisy is torn between material possession and personality. This symbolizes that people are becoming greedy. Also, Gatsby believed he needed money to be with Daisy. That belief itself explains that people want money and material possession.
Gatsby gaining money through illegal means is part of the corruption of the American Dream. People are trying to earn what they want with crime and cheating. Another example of this is when Jordan Baker cheats her way to win a golf tournament. Traditionally, the act of obtaining what one wants should start on the basis of being equal to all. Nick is more traditional. He breaks connections with Jordan at the end of the book because of her dishonesty which is shown in the following quote:
“I’m thrity,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call in honor.”
She didn’t answer. Angry and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.- The Great Gatsby, 177
I believe that one of the messages in this book is to move forward and do not get stuck in the past. The following quote expresses that:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then but that’s no matter----to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning----
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.- The Great Gatsby, 180
Gatsby was stuck in the past trying to recover what was lost from him. His life was based on that purpose and he failed. The quote is also saying that tomorrow is bright. The future holds more than the past but moving forward is hard. It is like boats going against the current.
I find this book suitable for teenagers and older people. This book has a lot of meaning and depending on one’s perspective of things, one may interpret it differently. It also has words that the reader may be confused about in which case they should have a dictionary close at hand.
The present and the future is worth more than the past. One should not dwell on the past but rather, focus on what is happening in the present. Powerful memories from the past may be hard to overcome, but it is wise to try to go on with life anyway. The present and the future are worth more then the past. Beat against the current, beat.