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Essay on The Great Gatsby as an Exploration of the American Dream

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The Great Gatsby as an Exploration of the American Dream

 
      The American Dream lies deeply rooted in the American cultural imagination. The idea behind the Dream is that if an individual is sufficiently determined, he or she has a fair chance of achieving wealth, and the freedom and happiness that go with it. Essentially, it offers the opportunity of achieving spiritual and material fulfillment. "Although these ideals can be traced back to the original settlers, perhaps one of the earliest written manifestations of the Dream can be found in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence"(Spindler 41). The document promises the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to all citizens. "The Great Gatsby" is both an evocation and a condemnation of these values, for whereas American democracy is based on the idea of equality, the truth is that social discrimination and divisions of class are not so easily overcome. The behavior of Fitzgerald's upper classes is also a comment on the failure of the American Dream: "their decadence and carelessness show how material success has destroyed spiritual life"(Posnock 207 ).

 

Jay Gatsby is unquestionably the most prominent example of both the successes and failures of the American Dream. Initially, he appears to follow in its tradition, the archetypal self-made man. Nick Carraway, newly arrived in West Egg, sees Gatsby's enormous imitation-French mansion with its "marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawns and gardens" and assumes he is just another member of the fashionable super-rich. Yet Gatsby is not the "florid and corpulent" man Nick expects. He is young, elegant and charming. Nick has established himself to be a good judge of character, and when ...


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...Age of Extremes. New York: Pantheon, 1994.

Piper, Henry Dan. "Social Criticism in the American Novel in the 1920s." The American Novel and the Nineteen Twenties. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer. London: Edward Arnold, 1971. 59-83.

Posnock, Ross. "'A New World, Material Without Being Real': Fitzgerald's Critique of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby." Critical Essays on Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby." Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: Hall, 1984. 201-13.

Raleigh, John Henry. "F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby." Mizener 99-103.

Sklar, Robert. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Last Laocoon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1967.

Spindler, Michael. American Literature and Social Change. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.

Trilling, Lionel. "F. Scott Fitzgerald." Critical Essays on Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby." Ed. Scott Donaldson. Boston: Hall, 1984. 13-20.


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