The Illusion of The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

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About this sample


Words: 1248 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024

Words: 1248|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024


F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, serves as a tragic love story and a critical examination of the American Dream. The American Dream is the belief that individuals, regardless of their social class, race, gender, or nationality, can achieve great success in the United States through hard work and perseverance. However, Fitzgerald's novel challenges this idealized view of America by exposing the flaws of the American Dream. Despite its romanticization, the American Dream fails to address systemic issues such as racism, misogyny, and income inequality that persist in developed countries. In this essay, we will explore how Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream is illusory and often leads to tragic consequences, as exemplified by the character of Jay Gatsby.

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The American Dream in the Novel

The central character in The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, embodies the pursuit of the American Dream. Born into poverty, Jay strives to achieve wealth and prominence by associating himself with the millionaire Dan Cody. This idea of success aligns with the underlying concept of the American Dream. Jay's motivation for wealth and success stems from his love for Daisy Buchanan. He believes that by becoming successful, he can win Daisy's love and live happily ever after. For Jay, the American Dream entails working hard, achieving success, and finding happiness in the process.However, despite Jay's immense wealth and success, he fails to win Daisy's love, leading to his untimely demise. Fitzgerald uses Jay's actions and desires to critique the illusory nature of the American Dream. Those who chase this dream will always yearn for more, no matter how successful they become. Jay amasses great wealth, but he remains unsatisfied because his definition of success hinges on winning Daisy's love. The pursuit of materialism does not guarantee happiness or fulfillment. Jay's relentless desire for more and his attempts to climb the social ladder ultimately lead to his downfall. Fitzgerald highlights that the idea of infinite success, as embodied in the American Dream, is illusory.When Jay is introduced in the novel, he is portrayed as someone always reaching for something just out of reach. The narrator, Nick, describes Jay's longing, stating, "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... a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock" (Fitzgerald 20). This image of the distant green light serves as a symbol of the American Dream. The promise of success through the accumulation of wealth perpetuates the yearning for more, even after achieving a certain level of success. The green light remains constant, reminding Jay that he can achieve more if he works harder.The illusory nature of the American Dream becomes evident when Jay finally achieves the desired success and discovers that the green light he has been striving for is located at Daisy's house. Jay's version of success, as defined by the American Dream, is closely tied to winning Daisy's love. However, when Jay finally reunites with Daisy, he fails to recognize that his dream has come true. The meaning of the green light disappears upon reaching it. Fitzgerald writes, "The colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever... Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one" (Fitzgerald 93). Through this passage, the author subtly criticizes the American Dream, suggesting that it is an illusion existing only in the minds of those who pursue it. Jay has reached the green light he yearned for, but its significance is lost, and he desires more. This exemplifies the nature of the American Dream – the promise of success through materialism is empty and vague. Even after achieving wealth, success, and reuniting with Daisy, Jay remains unsatisfied, constantly seeking more. In this state of confusion, he begins to lose everything he has accumulated, ultimately leading to his demise.Another aspect of the American Dream presented in The Great Gatsby is the false belief that hard work and meritocracy guarantee success. Jay initially appears to have decoded the mystery behind the American Dream. Despite being born into poverty, he becomes wealthy and successful through hard work and determination. However, a closer examination of Jay's life reveals a darker side to his success. He attains wealth unscrupulously through corruption and crime, contradicting the principles of hard work and honesty traditionally associated with the American Dream.Although Jay initially tries to follow the path of hard work while working for Dan Cody, his time with Cody is abruptly cut short when Cody's wife steals his inheritance. As a result, Jay turns to a life of crime as the only means to achieve his imagined wealth. This aspect of Jay's story complicates the notion of the perfect embodiment of the American Dream. It exposes the dream as illusory and unattainable for those who do not have access to the same opportunities or who are forced to resort to unethical means to achieve success.In addition to critiquing the illusory nature of the American Dream, Fitzgerald also uses The Great Gatsby to shed light on the systemic issues that persist in American society. The novel is set in the 1920s, a time of economic prosperity and social change, but also a time marked by deep-rooted racism, misogyny, and income inequality. Despite the promise of the American Dream to provide equal opportunities for all, Fitzgerald shows that these systemic issues continue to hinder the achievement of true success and happiness.Racism is a pervasive theme in the novel, as seen through the character of Tom Buchanan. Tom represents the privileged class, someone who has inherited his wealth and social status. He openly expresses his racist views, particularly towards African Americans, and uses his power and influence to maintain the status quo. The American Dream, as portrayed by Tom, is exclusive and limited to those who are already privileged, perpetuating a system of inequality and discrimination.Similarly, misogyny is prevalent throughout the novel, particularly in the treatment of women like Daisy Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson. Women are seen as objects to be possessed and controlled, rather than individuals with their own dreams and desires. Daisy, despite her wealth and social standing, is trapped in an unhappy marriage and unable to pursue her own happiness. Myrtle, on the other hand, is treated as a disposable commodity by her lover, Tom. These portrayals highlight the limitations placed on women and their inability to fully achieve the American Dream.Income inequality is another crucial issue explored in The Great Gatsby. While characters like Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan accumulate immense wealth, the majority of society remains trapped in poverty. The American Dream, with its promise of equal opportunity, fails to address the systemic barriers that prevent social mobility and perpetuate income inequality. Fitzgerald's novel exposes the stark contrast between the extravagant lifestyles of the wealthy elite and the struggles faced by those in the lower social classes.In conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby offers a critical examination of the American Dream. Through the character of Jay Gatsby and his pursuit of success and happiness, Fitzgerald exposes the flaws and illusions of this idealized view of America. The novel challenges the notion that hard work and perseverance guarantee success, highlighting the systemic issues of racism, misogyny, and income inequality that persist in society. Ultimately, Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream is an elusive and unattainable ideal, leading to tragic consequences for those who chase after it.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Illusion of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby. (2024, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Illusion of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2024,
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