The Great Gatsby

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The fundamental theme of The Great Gatsby is the decay of the American Dream. Through his insightful analysis and criticism ¬of 1920s high society, Fitzgerald argues that the American Dream no longer signifies the noble pursuit of progress; instead, it has become grossly materialistic and corrupt. Fitzgerald’s novel is structured as an allegory (a story inside another story), the terrible death of Jay Gatsby is, by extension, the death of the American Dream.

For Fitzgerald, the true American Dream is characterized by a spirit of perseverance and hope; through these, one can succeed against all odds. This ideal is embodied by the young Gatsby (then James Gatz): he painstakingly plans the path by which he will become a great man in his "Hopalong Cassidy" journal ¬ and then follows it, to the letter. When Mr Gatz shows the ragged book to Nick, he declares, "'Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that'." The journal exemplifies the continual struggle for self-improvement that once represented the American ideal. In comparing the young James Gatz to Benjamin Franklin, Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream does endure despite the decay of modern society ¬ there will always be those guided by an indomitable hope. Modern society, however, has no place for such dreamers: Gatsby’s avid longing to win Daisy's love ultimately remains unrealized, and in fact leads to his destruction. Gatsby is first seen late at night, "standing with his hands in his pockets"; Nick says, only half in jest, that he is "out to determine what share is his of our local heavens." Nick watches Gatsby's movements and comments:

"He stretch...

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... to the Midwest with this disturbing knowledge: the American people must struggle to keep from losing its humanity: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." The dream is now utterly lost and can never be resurrected ¬ at least not in its original, its purest form.

Through the story of a doomed romance, Fitzgerald expresses the tragic decline of American values. Gatsby and the other characters of the novel act as mere vessels for the author's true story: the American Dream, once a pure and mighty ideal, has been degraded and buried by the dehumanizing lust for money. Nick Carraway is an outsider to his own story: he is an honest man, an observer who bears witness to the calamity. The Great Gatsby is not, in the final analysis, a eulogy for a man named Jay Gatsby, instead, it serves as a eulogy for the idea of America itself.
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