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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is regarded as a brilliant piece of literature that offers a vivid peek into American life in the 1920’s. The central characteristics of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920’s society are shown through the decay of the American Dream. This novel shows that the American Dream no longer signifies the noble idea it once did, but rather it stands for the corruption of the 1920’s society. The decay of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby is shown through the actions of the characters when America, the new Eden, is abused and destructed, when Gatsby cannot attain the success that he desires with Daisy and through the careless and dependent attitudes of the aristocracy.
One of the main ideas of the American Dream in Modernism refers to America as a new Eden, a land of beauty, bounty, opportunity and unlimited resources. The characters in The Great Gatsby do not respect or preserve this New Eden; rather they do nothing but corrupt, destruct and abuse it in their desire for money and power. The lives of people like Gatsby, Daisy, Tom and Jordan revolve around material things and money. This becomes a prevalent concept throughout the novel. Daisy especially is extremely caught up in the desire for wealth, so much that her voice is described as being, “full of money” (127), by Gatsby. The society of the 1920’s, like Daisy, is characterized by an endless pursuit of pleasure and a decay of moral values. Throughout the summer months, Gatsby is known for all the extravagant parties he throws. People come from all over New York City to Gatsby’s party, although none of them seem to know Gatsby other than from the rumors they hear. This makes no difference to them because they are only interested in pursuing their own pleasure, which they find at drunken parties such as Gatsby’s. This pursuit seems to be a top priority for most of the characters in this book, with no respect for the opportunity or beauty of America. As one of the guests at Gatsby’s party says, “I like to come, I never care what I do, so I always have a good time” (45). Aside from being a careless group of people, many of the guests at Gatsby’s parties are destructive and abuse the new Eden for their pleasure. As Nick states, “Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toil all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden shears, repairing the ravages of the night before” (43). These people give no thought to their actions no matter how destructive, as long as they reach their goals of money and pleasure.
A spirit of perseverance can characterize the American Dream along with hope, through which one can expect continued success, progress and the fulfilling of desires. While this may have been true for some people, it certainly is not for Gatsby. His ultimate goal in all that he did was to get Daisy. The ostentatious parties, the huge mansion, the lavish clothing are all attempts to win the attention of the cruel and shallow Daisy, who cares only for pleasure and money. Little did Gatsby know that what he desired was something unattainable. He builds Daisy up into something that she is not. She becomes the object of his dreams and desires more than the actual person that Gatsby knows. When Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in five years, Nick comments that, “There must be moments…when Daisy tumbles short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” (101). This fantasy that he creates could never be attained with the results he desires. “He wants nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you'” (116). He desires so much of Daisy that in the end he found that what he dreams cannot be fulfilled. In a way Gatsby is neglecting reality while he chases an illusion. The more Gatsby reaches for his dream, the more it retreats into the shadowy past, taking him further and further from what is real. At the end of the book, after the death and funeral of Gatsby, Nick states, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must seem so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (189). Gatsby travels far in his life, and always seems to have hope in the future, although that hope came to an end along with his relationship with Daisy and his life.
The idea that the self-reliant, independent person can triumph and get anywhere as long as they trust in their own powers is contradicted in the novel The Great Gatsby. The main characters of this book seem to be the complete opposites of those having self-reliant and independence. They are extremely self-conscious and social people who rely on others to maintain their careless existence. At one of the parties, Jordan Baker tells Nick, “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy” (54). This statement is completely ironic in its meaning since large parties are in no way intimate. The society of the 1920’s desires to float around from group to group at parties, never being intimate in any way, but rather just being social with as many people as possible. At the same party, Nick notices that, “the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never know each other’s names” (44). The entire society appears to be utterly careless with their entire existence, not just at social events. This carelessness is one of the biggest traits of the Upper Class, which comes to be known as the “Lost Generation.” They are unable to be independent, in such a way that when things do not go their way they rely on others to fix them. Nick comes to realize this about Tom and Daisy at the end of the book, “They [are] careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smash up things and creatures and then retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that keeps them together, and let other people clean up the mess they make” (188). This inability to rely on themselves instead of others and their money eventually leads to Nick reaching a new maturity and realizing that these people are no more than children.
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