The Great Gatsby: What It Means to Be an American in a Negative Connotation

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Words: 1176 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Jan 28, 2021

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Words: 1176|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Jan 28, 2021

Essay grade:

What does it mean to be an American? In modern society, being an American means to be free and loyal. Being free means to live in the country without prejudices and to have the ability to fairly attain your dreams. On the other hand, “fake it till you make it” is a phrase adopted by Americans, which simply means to imitate certain qualities one wishes to have until one does obtain those qualities. With this phrase in mind, people create a mirage of their idealized selves in order to achieve their goals and be “free.” Based on the analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, the play Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, and the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the definition of what is an American adopts a negative connotation with the meaning that being an American means to be a con artist; however, being a con artist does not guarantee that one will successfully achieve their goals. First, Gatsby in The Great Gatsby fails to achieve his goals in life despite his new rich persona; next, the color symbolism in Fitzgerald’s novel accentuates the idea of a fraud; then, Moss and Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross literally are conmen; and finally, Ransom Stoddard creates a name for himself through a single “con.”

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In the novel The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald presents Jay Gatsby as a man who fails to achieve his goals but succeeds in being an American. Gatsby lives in the town called West Egg where everyone is considered to be “new money,” and they try to copy the lifestyle of those who live in East Egg. Even though the residents of West Egg try to imitate the lifestyle of those who live in East Egg, the residents in East Egg know that the residents of West Egg will never have as high of a class. Based on his encounters with everyone, Gatsby could be described as a pathological liar. He seems to falsify most of his stories pertinent to his past. When Tom suggests that they all go to New York together, he taunts Gatsby about his past, saying he heard Gatsby was “an Oxford man”. Tom’s taunts convey the idea that in their world, one has to lie in order to attain a high class if he or she was not already born into it. Gatsby creates this “oxford man” persona to maintain his rich status and display it to the world. In fact, he slightly changes all of his stories to make him seem worth more than he actually feels. Gatsby creates a different part of himself to be “free.” He throws parties frequently to show off his new wealth, yet he can’t seem to reach all of his dreams much like the green light he cannot reach across the water.

Although the color green symbolizes naiveness and inexperience in the novel, it does not fully accentuate the ‘American’ definition like the color blue does. Usually, the color blue symbolizes positive qualities like “trust” and “stability”; however, ironically, the color blue holds the opposite meaning in the novel. When Gatsby starts working for Dan Cody, Cody buys him a “blue coat,” which symbolizes the start of Gatsby’s road to West Egg. Also, Cody portrays the lifestyle that Gatsby wants. The blue coat is a physical accessory to Gatsby’s new persona as he continues forward to build his wealth. Ironically, Gatsby attains Cody’s lifestyle through one of Cody’s faults: alcohol. Gatsby’s illegal means to his wealth accurately depicts the negative connotation of an American as he took the illegitimate route to wealth. In chapter three, Nick mentions that people came and went into Gatsby’s “blue gardens...among the...champagne and the stars”. Gatsby’s blue gardens represent his stability in West Egg, but they also represent his ostensible class. The garden and champagne may physically be there, but he will never have the East Egg status that he desires. Myrtle, another character who will never have the status she desires, goes out in a blue dress when she engulfs the role of being Tom’s mistress. The “blue and gigantic” eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg lure over where Myrtle lives and taunt her with the idea that she has a chance to obtain wealth and class. Myrtle may appear in the dress and play the part, but her death only proves that she will never become someone with a higher social standing no matter how hard she fakes it. The overarching idea of “faking it” does not actually successfully help anyone “make it.”

In contrast, the play Glengarry Glen Ross adopts “faking it” as the only strategy to success. All four salesmen are con artists since they trick people into sales. Even in their everyday lives , the salesmen are actively conning amongst themselves and others. In Act 1, Scene 2, Moss tells Aaronow that someone should break into the office and steal all the good leads. Moss tricks Aaronow and tells him that he will tell the police Aaronow was an accomplice if they get caught. Moss cons Aaronow into his grand scheme; however, Moss never broke into the office and got the good leads. Moss’ futile efforts to con Aaronow backfired on him as someone else broke into the office. Even Moss’ name corresponds with the American definition; his name represents a plant that grows in shady areas, which implies that he can only thrive when he acts shady. In Act 2, Roma states the well-known phrase “always be closing…,” which signifies the continuity of the salesmen jobs. They always have to be on the lookout for new sales like they are hamsters on a wheel. They’re continuously going in circles only to never reach their goal. So, as salesmen, Roma and Moss exemplify the negative aspect of being an American.

Comparatively, the character Ransom Stoddard exemplifies my American definition to an extent. Ranson, who thinks he shot Liberty Valance, realizes that he will be nominated on the basis that he shot Valance. Although Tom Doniphon reveals that he was the one who shot Valance, Ransom makes no move to tell the town the news. In fact, after Doniphon releases this information, Ransom accepts the nomination. Ransom’s acceptance conveys the idea that lies are the only way to be successful, even if it is morally opposed.

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Ultimately, as seen from the essay, being an American means to cheat, lie, and steal — the true skills of a con artist. As discussed above, Gatsby, Moss, Roma, and Ransom each represent this definition, whether it be wholefully or in part. Gatsby, Moss, and Roma con their way through life, only to never attain their goals. Meanwhile, Ransom uses one lie in order to gain his status but symbolically represents the somewhat cynical aspect of the meaning. Clearly the aphorism “fake it till you make it” represents what it means to be an American in a somewhat true manner during the 20th century; however, in the 21th century the meaning has adopted a more positive connotation where people can successfully obtain their dreams while still being truthful. 

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The Great Gatsby: What It Means to Be an American in a Negative Connotation. (2021, January 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from
“The Great Gatsby: What It Means to Be an American in a Negative Connotation.” GradesFixer, 25 Jan. 2021,
The Great Gatsby: What It Means to Be an American in a Negative Connotation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 May 2024].
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