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In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as Jay Gatsby delves into his pursuit of wealth and need for materialism, his hopes and aspirations become shattered in a world of unobtainable and unreachable possibilities. While Jay Gatsby confidently believes that material excess will ultimately bring about love, admiration, and prosperity, the audience understands that the possession of material objects does not always lead to the possession of these intangible virtues.
As Jay Gatsby dedicates himself to winning over Daisy Buchanan and falls in love with her aura of luxury, Gatsby becomes overwhelmed with an unremitting desire for money and pleasure that eventually triggers his downfall. He has one purpose in life: to attract Daisy with his ornate house on West Egg and with his overflowing sum of money. But there is a danger for Gatsby in this redeeming purposefulness. When he buys his fantastic house, he thinks he is buying a dream, not simply purchasing property (Lewis 51). Obsessing over the certain attraction that links Daisy with Gatsby, muttering the words, “Her voice is full of money” (120), Gatsby emphasizes his growing belief that money, indeed, will entice Daisy. What Gatsby, with surprising consciousness, states is that Daisy’s charm is allied to the attraction of wealth (Lewis 50); he regards materialism as fine bait to lure Daisy into his arms. When Nick Carraway reveals to the audience that, “He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (91), Carraway stresses Gatsby’s intense desire to please Daisy and stresses Gatsby’s firm conviction that material objects always construct paths toward love. He drifts into obsession, into possession of the energy required to assemble the money and material things – the house, cars, shirts, and shoes – to aspire to the possession of Daisy (McCormick 32). Unfortunately, the means by which Gatsby expresses his feelings for Daisy – even though those feelings are sincere – is by showing off his possessions (Lewis 45). He does not realize that money does not solve the problems of the world (especially when Daisy is not even concerned with the likes of money) and that material objects do not amount to love and happiness. As Gatsby struggles to charm Daisy with an atmosphere of material excess, Gatsby’s hopes and aspirations slowly dwindle because the same materialistic interests and dreams that dominate Gatsby do not control Daisy.
With opulent parties thrown every week at the magnificent mansion of West Egg, Jay Gatsby demonstrates his chase for materialism and his desire to please others before himself. Gatsby worries more about satisfying the demands of his guests than about fulfilling his own wishes. During most of his extravagant parties, Gatsby sits alone, secluded from his visitors, unhappy without hearing the sound of Daisy’s voice. He constantly yearns to please others without first thinking of himself. When Lucille declares to Jordan with enthusiasm, “I like to come. I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address – inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it” (43), Lucille highlights Gatsby’s ulterior motives to impress others with objects of materialism. With his thoughtful hospitality, Jay Gatsby (although he may not agree) secures himself a hold on many peoples’ memories – and yearns respect and admiration from all those dwelling throughout the ritzy Long Island. Even when Nick Carraway enlightens the audience of Gatsby’s immense appeal with the words, “Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby’s guests, who were clustered around him. I wanted to explain that I’d hunted for him early in the evening….” (52), Carraway stresses the guests’ fascination with the ever-so-popular Mr. Gatsby. As a crowd of guests surrounds Gatsby, the reader tends to wonder whether Gatsby actually can accomplish his dream of happiness when he, himself, is not truly happy. If a man such as Gatsby is surrounded by his own flashy world of materialism yet is not linked with the woman of his dreams, can a man really live contently in a mansion all alone, constantly impressing others but not himself?
Jay Gatsby’s world of materialism slowly causes the American Dream to disintegrate as he constantly flaunts his plethora of wealth and material belongings. When Gatsby eagerly questions his friends in Long Island, inquiring with confidence, “My house looks well, doesn’t it? See how the whole front of it catches the light” (89) and “[This luxurious coupÃ©] is pretty, isn’t it, old sport” (69), Jay Gatsby displays the tragic aspirations of a man who worships status and superiority over building friendships and equality. His obsessive desire for money and pleasure surpasses more noble incentives – his fruitless values cause the American dream to decay in Gatsby’s globe of materialism. For most people of the early twentieth century, the American dream consisted of owning a simple house, a working car, and household appliances in order to maintain a peaceful and prosperous life; for Gatsby, however, the American dream consists of owning a massive mansion, a luxurious car, and material objects that are suitable only for gods such as Zeus. When Nick Carraway announces his own materialistic views, noting that, “I was glad that the sight of Gatsby’s splendid car was included in their somber holiday (69), Carraway’s motives become corrupt during a time when blacks outside of Long Island are just trying to find a simple house which they can afford, while white Long Islanders are not fully satisfied with their acquisition of millions of dollars. The critic Kenneth Tynan presents the audience with his own theory, “Gatsby represents all their aspirations. He represents a nation at the peak of its pride and self-confidence, tainted by corruption by still reaching for the stars. He stands for everything that is uniquely and glamorously American. Gatsby exists as the ideal and exemplary American hero” (Tynan 41). Yet how can Gatsby possess heroic qualities when he resorts to criminal intentions to conquer his self-centered American dream? Barry Edward Gross puts it best when he states that, “In this sacrifice of the self, Gatsby is the greatest loser. He has paid the highest price possible for living too long with a single dream – he has surrendered his material existence to an immaterial vision and once that vision is shattered it is too late for him to reclaim his material identity. In the end [Gatsby] inhabits a material, unreal world: unreal because Gatsby’s only reality has existed on a mythic, immaterial plane” (Gross 25).
In conclusion, Gatsby’s intense search for materialism lands him at the bottom of a ditch where he is unable to climb his way to the top and reach his dreams. There exists a tragic nature of love and money that only the audience can fully understand; Gatsby wrongly assumes that the possession of material objects will automatically lead to the possession of love. Gatsby’s extraordinary house, his lavish parties, and his superior status are all means to lure Daisy into his arms, yet his possessions and characteristics are both as intangible and as monstrously tangible as his dream (Callahan 37). The American dream also becomes distorted because Gatsby’s selfish and materialistic intentions overlook the conditions of poor blacks who were just struggling to survive at the time. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Gatsby uses money and material objects to achieve social aspirations and love; he tries (unsuccessfully) to win a place in Daisy’s heart by flaunting his money in order to buy his dream. However, as Jay Gatsby delves into his pursuit of materialism, his dreams and desires become crushed in a world of unobtainable and unreachable possibilities.
Major Literary Characters: Gatsby. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea. 1991.
Lewis, Roger. “Money, Love and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby.” New Essays on
The Great Gatsby, 1985. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1985, 41-57.
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