The Corruption of the American Dream in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

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Francis Scott Fitzgerald portrays the American Dream, originally a set of goals that included freedom, settlement, and an honest life with the possibility of upward social and economic mobility earned through hard work, as corrupted and debased by the egotistic materialism of the 1920s, an era which Fitzgerald characterizes chiefly by its greed and lavish hedonism, in his celebrated novel The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, seeks to discredit the supposed purity of the American Dream and belief that anyone can attain it through hard work. Instead, he argues that the dream is a mere delusion, altered so significantly from its original form that its pursuers aspire for and achieve nothing more than the hoarding of hollow material goods and empty pleasure. Fitzgerald criticizes the American Dream through his characterizations of Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and the people who attend Gatsby’s extravagant parties uninvited. A minor character in The Great Gatsby, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the Valley of Ashes with her poor husband George Wilson, represents the degeneration of the once valued American ideals of hard work and honesty as Myrtle attempts to rise on the social scale by becoming the mistress of the wealthy Tom Buchanan. She embodies lucidly the loose morals and hedonism of the 1920s, for, when Tom visits, Myrtle, in front of her husband, walks up to Tom, “[looks] him flush in the eye, [wets] her lips,” and attempts to act as sensuous as possible so as to attract his favor and interest (Fitzgerald 30). Furthermore, she frequently lies to her husband, telling him that she plans to visit her sister when really, she leaves her home in order to engage in sexual intercourse with Tom, who lures Myrtle w... ... middle of paper ... ...ald asserts that the 1920s, an era of avarice, has corrupted the American Dream, its ideal of hard work, and Americans. In conclusion, through his portrayal of Myrtle Wilson, Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, and the partygoers, Fitzgerald illustrates that the American Dream is a mere illusion, corrupted so significantly by the people of the 1920s that it is hardly recognizable. He reveals the shallowness the American Dream— how under its glittering, golden surface, is greed and deception. Works Cited Fitzgerald, F. Scott, and Matthew J. Bruccoli. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner, 1996. Print. Smiljanić, Siniša. "The American Dream in the Great Gatsby." The American Dream in The Great Gatsby. N.p., Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. "The Great Gatsby: Awakening from the American Dream." Dwelling in the Text. University of California Press, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.
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