The American Nightmare
The American Dream rose in the nineteenth century and was based on the theory that each person, no matter what his background was, could succeed in life as long as he had skill and effort. It was the idea of the self-made man. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel about what happened to the American Dream in the 1920s, a period when old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the pursuit of wealth and material items. What Fitzgerald is criticizing is not the American Dream itself, but the corruption of the American Dream.
Daisy Buchanan and her hulking husband, Tom, represent the apex of society. They lead the life of luxury in East Egg: playing polo, riding horses, and driving expensive cars. Daisy and Tom seem to live the American Dream, but once we take a closer look we can see it is actually a nightmare. Tom has many affairs, of which he is proud, his latest one being Myrtle Wilson. Daisy has never worked to earn money because she came from old money, the highest class you can be. Tom and Daisy treat each other nonchalantly and their daughter Pammy as if she was nothing more than a possession to be displayed. Tom and Daisy live with no hopes and no regrets because the true foundation of their characters is their opulence.
Nick, the honest narrator of this tale, realizes that Tom and Daisy represent a class of heartless citizens who have attained success at the cost of dehumanization. Their vast wealth blocks all inspiration and all true emotion resulting in a void of apathy buttressed in status and power. What a wonderful dream.
In Gatsby, Myrtle and George Wilson symbolize the common man struggling to achieve his own success within the realm of the modern dream. Myrtle attempts to break into the group to which the Buchanans belong is doomed to fail. Taking advantage of her vivacity and her lively nature, she seeks to escape her own class. Myrtle enters into an affair with Tom and takes on his way of living. She becomes vulgar and corrupt, like the rich. Myrtle starts to scorn people from her own class, and she loses all sense of morality. For all of her social ambition, Myrtle never succeeds in her attempt to find a place for herself in Toms class.
George too tries to gain access to the elite world of the rich and privileged. He tries to do this by buying Toms fancy car and reselling it. He owns an auto shop in the valley of ashes, the place in between upper class East Egg and the city. Unfortunately, this leads to the end of Myrtle and ultimately George too.
Jay Gatsby, the protagonist of this story, is a newly wealthy Midwesterner, turned Easterner. Gatsby orders his life around one desire: to be reunited with Daisy Buchanan, the love he lost five years earlier. His quest for the American Dream leads him from poverty to wealth, into the arms of his beloved, and, eventually, to his death. Gatsbys goal gives him a purpose in life, which sets him apart from the rest of the upper class. He is constantly striving to reach Daisy; from the moment he is seen reaching towards her house in East Egg, to the final days of his life, patiently waiting outside her house for hours when she has already decided to abandon her affair with him. Gatsby is distinguished as a man because he retains some of the purest traits of the old dream yet Gatsby too loses them by attempting to reach his goals by wearing the dreams modern face. His burning desire to win Daisys love symbolizes the basis of the old dream: an ethereal goal and a never-ending search for the opportunity to reach that goal. Regrettably Gatsbys dream is also his downfall.
One day when Gatsby and Nick, neighbors and friends, where hanging out with the Buchanans, Gatsby and Daisy where driving back to her house when Daisy accidentally runs over Myrtle- killing her. Daisy doesnt stop because of her nerves even though Gatsby begs her to. Of course Gatsby says he will take the blame for Daisys accident, which he does. When Tom tells George it was Gatsby who killed his beloved wife, George immediately sets out for revenge. Ultimately Gatsby, Myrtle, and George are dead, while the rich Buchanans come out unscathed.
Through the unfolding events of a doomed romance, Fitzgerald simultaneously writes about the tragic fate of American values. Gatsby and the other characters of his story act as vessels for the authors true message- the American Dream, once a pure and mighty ideal, has been lost to the inhuman void of money and the need for material items. Nick Carraway conveys this message as an outsider, an honest man who is witness to the entire ordeal. The Great Gatsby is not the eulogy of a man named Jay Gatsby; rather, it is the eulogy of an institution which once was, but is now gone and can never be.