Ever since the discovery of the American continent in 1492, people from all parts of Europe and elsewhere have come to the New World on a quest to find something bigger than themselves or than what they were back home. From Christopher Columbus and his attempt to find a new route to Asia to Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his tragic search for the golden city of El Dorado; whether this quest bases on any practicality or myth is beside the point, anything is possible in a place where fantasy and reality sometimes seem to mix. This quest for an utopia is not unique from those parts of the world, but what distinguishes the American experience from the rest is a tremendous sense of optimism about what lies on the other side of the frontiers, about what kind of future awaits for us once we get there, both physically and ideologically. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a modern interpretation about a similar quest in the American experience, what some have come to call the “American Dream,” and the tragic results that can await those who see nothing but what waits beyond this self-made illusion. Blending old, universal themes such as youth, beauty, and a love that cannot be with other more distinctly American ones like a desire for wealth, success, and recognition, Fitzgerald succeeds in recreating a truly authentic American story.
The search for Jay Gatsby’s ideal world did not begin in 1920’s New York, but many centuries back when the first European settlers set eyes on the “. . . fresh, green breast of the new world,” and after they “. . . had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams . . .” (Fitzgerald 182). In this New World even Gatsby, wh...
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...t whole “rotten crowd” (154).
In the end, Gatsby’s divine rise comes to a tragic end. His death represents everything that was flawed with Fitzgerald’s vision of the modern New World, but it is necessary in the end. It serves to show the limitations of our dreams, no matter how big we think they might be, and the dangers of failing to see nothing but what lies on the other side. Like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, Gatsby’s vision of the American Dream proves too elusive for him to grasp it. But the idea of what he believed in, that “orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us,” survived Gatsby’s tragedy as it survived many others before him. That rigorous sense of optimism, hope, and self-discipline under which Gatsby lived, the American dream, is present with us during this new century and will probably still be with us during the next one.
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