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The American Dream became the ideal lifestyle each American once strove toward. In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald effectively created a setting that highlighted the deterioration of the American dream itself. Set in the 1950s, post-war America saw a diluting hope in the idea of having the “American Dream” aided along with the Jazz age and prohibition. The characters were constructed to represent different perspectives and flaws of the deteriorating ideology which created the underlying themes in the novel. Through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald explores each character in-depth and explores the problems of corruption, superficiality, and the intoxicating desire to succeed in society, that ultimately do not allow for the American Dream to exist as it once did.
The society riddled with a population of superficial and shallow people twist the true definition of the “American Dream”. The author created a world of the great disparity in who won and lost in the new system. In this world, characters such as Tom and Daisy represent the old money that suppressed the blue-collar workers who once had hopes of attaining the real American Dream. He created Tom as a ‘brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen” compared to the lower class George Wilson described poorly, ‘..he was a blond, spiritless man, anemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us … hope sprang into his light blue eyes.”. George Wilson was a poor man with even less hope, working an auto shop being trampled upon by those of the likes of Tom. Fitzgerald further juxtaposes the power struggle between classes by introducing the valley of ashes. It shows us how the enchanting wealth of the rich is sought. Much of it comes from the factories that pollute the surrounding town into a “grotesque” and “ghastly” version of the once beautiful countryside. Furthermore, the same industry that is turning the valley into a grey wasteland, is pumping money into the “glistening” west egg. The effect of such money-driven industrialization turns everything into a dismal ”grey” populated with “ash-grey men” who “swarm” like insects around the factories and the “line of grey cars”. The lower-class George represents the moral decay of America that has been controlled and played by the upper class such as Tom. “‘You may fool me but you can’t fool God!’ Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg” As George seeks comfort in the death of his wife, he finds himself alone and entirely powerless, reinforcing the shallow world with no justice for the latter, only riches for those who fall to it. Daisy and Tom and in entirety rich people like them are seen by Nick as not just superficial and irresponsible, their wealth literally allows them to get away with murder, to escape any responsibility for Gatsby’s death. Nick says ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness. Here money and carelessness are paired and Nick highlights all things wrong with the amount of power people have because they are wealthy. The characters and their personalities created a world where it is left questioning whether the American dream could exist in such an imbalanced and corrupt society?
The main protagonist brings forth the greatest flaw in the American Dream. The chase itself corrupts the individual. Jay Gatsby or James Gatz as he was born, became the true illusionist in the novel. His entire life is an illusion, the new self-created identity jay gatsby is an illusion. In the pursuit of his American dream “he invented the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old would be likely to invent…” he sold his soul to become someone desirable all for daisy. House across hers, luxury clothes, cars, and most importantly the wealth too. His previous romance with daisy failed as he wasn’t wealthy enough to provide everything that Daisy wanted. He believes that under his new persona, he can create a future with daisy regardless of history. When Nick tells him he can’t change the past he replies “Why of course you can” It is this mixed-up illusion that drives Gatsby’s American dream, making him not only the master of illusion but the victim of an illusion. In creating and maintaining this illusion he engages in criminal activities. His criminal corruption is widely discussed at his own parties. Part of this downfall, daisy is also an illusionist. She gave Gatsby the false sense that she loves him when in reality she has no intention of leaving Tom. As Gatsby has transformed himself into another being for his own “American Dream” he has corrupted himself and is filled with materialistic and obsessive values. The dream of daisy always seems tantalisingly close “his arm outstretched to the green light … yearning for it” and “captured by that fantasy”. The end goal or “light” ruined the character and became his ultimate demise.
The American Dream became a twisted fantasy in a world that did not let it exist. The materialistic society left characters corrupt with morality ceasing to exist. All became driven towards a dream that was no longer attainable. Fitzgerald effectively constructed characters that represented the loss of hope in the American Dream and how it no longer pertained to its true meaning. The characters of shallow and superficial qualities set a society that accurately depicts the systematic problems that occur when chasing the dream.
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