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The American Dream describes an attitude of hope and faith that looks forward to the fulfillment of human wishes and desires. What these wishes are, were expressed in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence of 1776, where it was stated:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This search for freedom and happiness actually goes back to the very beginning of American civilization, to the time of the first settlers. The first settlers were all religious refugees who were driven to the New World by persecution. To these people, America represented a new life of freedom, holding a promise of spiritual and material happiness. For those settlers who were not so religiously inclined, America was still a fairyland, a land of great possibilities. And so the first thirteen colonies came into being, amidst the religious and materialistic hopes of the first settlers. Material prosperity and progress kept pace with religious and spiritual goals because the Puritans and the Quakers alike approved of industry and material advancement. For, whereas physical pleasures were evil, hard work and achievements were regarded as indications of inner goodness.
When the Eastern Seaboard, comprising the thirteen colonies, became overcrowded, the settlers began to move west. The opening of the Middle and Western States increased the sense of hope and faith. And this looking forward beyond the immediate present, this belief in the future, has become a national characteristic that may partly explain the speed of American advancement in so many areas of activities. The democratic system, first voiced in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in 1776, may be traced to this basic attitude of hope and confidence.
The American Dream, however, originally relates to a desire for spiritual and material improvement. What happened was that, from one point of few, the material aspect of the dream was too easily and too quickly achieved, with the result that it soon outpaced and even obliterated the early spiritual ideals. So there emerged a state of material well being but lacking in spiritual life or purpose. So that when Fitzgerald produced Gatsby, modeled no doubt on the writer's own faith in life, he seemed to have created a character who represented an early American in whom the Dream was still very much alive.
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From another point of view, the American Dream has totally failed to bring any kind of fulfillment, whether spiritual or material. For all the progress and prosperity, for all the declaration of democratic principles, there are still poverty, discrimination and exploitation. And as for the values and morality, there are also hypocrisy, corruption and suppression. In a way „The Great Gatsby" is also a comment on this condition. The Corruption Of The American Dream
The American Dream - as it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the nineteenth century - was based on the assumption that each person, no matter what his origins, could succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and effort. The dream was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was embodied in Fitzgerald's own family by his grandfather.
The Great Gatsby is a novel about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a period when the old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the vulgar pursuit of wealth. The characters are Midwesterners who have come east in pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in Europe. Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident enough to try to win Daisy.
What Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing in The Great Gatsby is not the American Dream itself but the corruption of the American Dream. What was once for Thomas Jefferson - a belief in self-reliance and hard work has become what Nick Carraway calls "...the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." The energy that might have gone into the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled into the pursuit of power and pleasure, and a very showy, but fundamentally empty form of success.