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Challenges The Ideas of The American Dream: The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest texts of the 1920s and is widely known as a critique of the American Dream. The American Dream is the aspirational belief in the United States in which all individuals are prone to the opportunity of success and higher social status through hard work. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald depicts the myth of the American dream in the Jazz age through exploring the ideas of fulfillment, equal opportunity, and hard work.

The characterization of the protagonist Jay Gatsby is of similar nature to Fitzgerald himself, a young man who admires wealth and luxury and who falls in love with an alluring young lady while positioned at a military camp in the South. This echoes Fitzgerald’s personal context.

Fitzgerald successfully challenges the ideas of the American Dream through the exploration of how happiness is not achieved when the dream is fulfilled. The American Dream is first introduced through the recurring motif of the green light. “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward–and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock”. The green light is a symbol of the unattainable American dream which in Gatsby’s case is Daisy. This image highlights that the American Dream is forever out of reach because we like to extend towards something better than ourselves. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” “Now it was again a green light on a dock.” Towards the end of the book, the green light loses its significance proving the point that happiness cannot be achieved when the dream is fulfilled. ”There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.” The deceptive nature of the American Dream is highlighted through Gatsby’s failures that ultimately cost him his life. Thus, Fitzgerald prompts readers to consider the challenges associated with achieving the American Dream.

Fitzgerald also rejects the idea, central to the American Dream, that equal opportunity is offered to all. We see this through the juxtaposition of the Wilsons and Buchanans. Tom and Daisy are the ‘old money people who don’t have to work for anything. On the other hand, Myrtle and George are “no money” people trapped in the valley of ashes, spending their days trying to make it out. Fitzgerald creates a dismal tone and atmosphere of the Valley of Ashes through connotation. “A line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.” The repetition of grey symbolizes corruption, hopelessness, and spiritual emptiness. The connotations of “ghastly creak” and “ash-grey men” dehumanizes George and Myrtle making them seem lesser than Tom and Daisy. In contrast, Fitzgerald uses positively connotated words that create imagery of East and West egg. “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.” The lights represent the glamour and luxury of the parties while the colour yellow symbolizes materialism, wealth, and high social status. This juxtaposition of chapter two and three reinforces the ideas that Tom and Daisy are considered to be more powerful and more successful than those who have worked hard. This strong dichotomy between wealth and poverty heightens the idea that the American Dream can only be achieved by those born into wealth, challenging the idea that equal opportunity is offered to all.

Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald also critiques the idea that hard work will lead to success in America. Gatsby’s initial intentions regarding the achievement of the American Dream was manipulated by the influence of society’s perception on the significance of materialism. “He stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor’s work with which he was to pay his way through.” The harsh tone associated with “Despising the janitors work” expresses Gatsby’s hierarchical perception of those who work hard and also the nature of hard work itself. In chapter six of the novel, readers become aware of the fact that Gatsby did not work hard for the success he earned which contrasts the ideals associated with the American Dream. “‘He’s a bootlegger,’ said the young ladies.” “‘One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.” “I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him and I wasn’t far wrong.’” The fact that he gained his money illicitly helps illustrate the novel’s pessimistic tone toward the American Dream. Furthermore, Fitzgerald challenges the ideas associated with the American Dream by suggesting that hard work may not lead to the achievement of success. 

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Challenges The Ideas Of The American Dream: The Great Gatsby. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from
“Challenges The Ideas Of The American Dream: The Great Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022,
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