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The American ethos is people can create their own lives and attain happiness. America, the new world, represents a person’s opportunity to recreate one’s self and deny past ties. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses his novel, The Great Gatsby, to explore how the American dream is itself a measure of America’s failings. The dream is too great for what America can offer. Gatsby invests his whole being into recreating himself to fulfill his dream of attaining Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald uses Nick’s perception of Gatsby to illustrate how the dream has been corrupted by material pursuits. Jay Gatsby feels the only way to achieve his dream is by impressing Daisy with shows of his great wealth. While Gatsby feels a desperate need to reject his past, Gatsby’s dream to be with Daisy is a direct result of his past. America, our new world, has not given us the ability to transcend our past because as humans we cannot move beyond our own pasts.
Nick explains that Gatsby, as young poor solider, initially meets Daisy in Louisville and he instantly is enamored by her wealth; worry free attitude, and social status. During their courting Gatsby realizes meeting Daisy changed him forever. “Then he kissed her. At his lips” touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” The incarnation represents a rebirth or change in Gatsby’s life where Daisy will forever be present. Gatsby is called away from his love, by military obligations. He learns that Daisy has married Tom Buchanan, a rich man who offers stability and an easy life. Gatsby’s main desire is to recover Daisy for himself. Parallel to Gatsby’s dream, the American dream is routed in an unfulfilled past, yet involves recreating ourselves to deny our past. Gatsby is determined amassing great wealth and material luxuries is the only way he can win Daisy back.
F. Scott Fitzgerald uses Nick’s narration to show the material corruption of the American Dream. Nick declares “…I disapproved of him (Gatsby) from beginning to end” (Fitzgerald 162). Gatsby earned his living in bootlegging and other illegal actives to reach for his goals. The American Dream is now commonly associated with becoming wealthy. The illegal path Gatsby took to achieve his dream represents the corruption of the American dream by material pursuits. Valuing materialism is a measure of our dissatisfaction. Nick notes, “ I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game” (Fitzgerald 10). Tom was not satisfied with his wealth, beautiful house, and family so he searched for some satisfaction and thrills though his affair with the lively Myrtle.
Tom is truly a symbol of the evils of the world. While Nick asserts his distaste for Tom, he is tempted by the fast and indulgent life Tom carries on in New York City. The American dream of early settlers” was to leave their past, move west and start a new life. This dream has since been warped by the materialistic desires of mansions, beautiful clothes and an easy, entertaining life style. We are dissatisfied with the lost hope promised in America, so we appease our desires with the search of worldly pleasures. Gatsby idealizes Daisy into his object of desire. Daisy is simply a wealthy, idol, and trivial woman. But for Gatsby she represents a new life, a better life. Like America for the settlers, Daisy represents more for Gatsby than achieving her can fulfill.
Settings in The Great Gatsby demonstrate the façade and moral decay of the time. The East Egg and West Egg both represent wealth and success. Between the Eggs and New York city lies “the valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air” (Fitzgerald 27). The valley, a product of the industrial age, inhabits people of low social status beaten down by the monotony and hopelessness of their situations. The imagery of the locations is of glitzy show that covers up the ethical and spiritual decay of the time. The valley of ashes can also be seen as a symbol of the American dream. The America in The Great Gatsby is not as full of hope like Gatsby wishes, but barren and devoid of fulfillment.
Gatsby represents everything Nick despises about New York, yet Nick is drawn in to Gatsby’s capability to wonder. Upon arriving home to the West Egg one night, Nick first sights Gatsby as an entranced man with outstretched arms towards a barely visible green light at the end of a dock on the East Egg. The green light is at Daisy’s dock and represents Gatsby’s hope and unyielding yearnings. Green is the color of new life, nature and wealth. Green is the color of Gatsby’s hope and unyielding persistence to recreate himself and control his future though material influences.
Nick to sentimentalizes the romantic dreams of the young solider to regain his lost love. He recalls Gatsby’s story of a night in Louisville with Daisy saying, “Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the side walk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees —he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and one there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder” (Fitzgerald 117). Fantasies and vivid imagination compelled Gatsby to devote all his efforts and thoughts into gaining Daisy back into his life permanently. Gatsby remembers this time in his life as a time he is desperate to return to, to recreate. When Nick tries to reason with Gatsby that the past cannot be replicated Gatsby is taken aback. “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!” (Fitzgerald 116). It is an impossibility Gatsby will not accept. Both he and Daisy have changed so much the memory of their originally love affair could never be fully recreated in life. The past can never be recreated. Nonetheless, Gatsby’s romantic ideals disillusion him to the reality that his dream can never be achieved. He will be forever yearning after the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.
After Gatsby’s murder, Nick becomes disgusted by moral decay of the East and misses the West. Before Nick leaves the West Egg to move back west he contemplates New York and how it has been a symbol for new life for so many. And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him (Fitzgerald 189).
Nick realizes that while Gatsby unable to move on from his past dream he really never had a chance. His time with Daisy was in the past, and would remain there forever. Like Gatsby, the American dream has us searching, but never finding satisfaction in America. We keep on reaching toward the future, trying to deny our past and design our future, unable to ever truly move clear of our origins.
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