Corruption of the American Dream – The Great Gatsby

‘The Great Gatsby is a novel about the corruption of the American Dream. ‘ How far would you agree with this statement? The American Dream is fundamentally the idea that anyone in America can accomplish through hard work and can achieve success and happiness. It has been expanded on through the years and now incorporates ideas of attaining freedom, wealth and power. In the 1920s when ‘The Great Gatsby’ was written the Jazz Age was taking hold and the American Dream became more about material possessions being used to show a person’s wealth and status and to indicate that they have been successful in life.

The materialism of this period of time in America corrupted the American Dream by the intense focus on gaining wealth and power and the loss of morals, and this is demonstrated throughout ‘The Great Gatsby’. However, ‘The Great Gatsby’ is not simply about the American Dream as there are several other themes running through it, such as the emptiness behind the glamour of the Jazz Age, time and the past and morality. The relationship between two very prominent characters in the novel is used to show the corruption of the American Dream.

The title character, Gatsby, lives by the American Dream, desiring wealth, status and power. He strives to achieve these things because he started life with none of them. He had to pay his way through college by doing “the janitor’s work”, which he was “despising” so much that he only stayed two weeks. It is possibly from this point in his life that the need to succeed arose. Eventually, Gatsby does achieve the wealth and success that he always wanted, but the manner in which he did so – Tom Buchanan accuses him of being “a bootlegger” – was illegal and immoral, showing the corruption behind Gatsby’s success.

All that Gatsby strives for is symbolised by Daisy, as she has wealth and social standing, and Gatsby idealises her in his mind to represent all that he wants in the world. Gatsby dreams of loving and being with Daisy, but this cannot happen because of their different social classes. Social classes were supposed to be eradicated with the American Dream, as people were supposed to be able to make their own success. The American Dream was an idealised, perfected vision of what life could be like, and similarly Gatsy idealises Daisy – he is enthralled by her “actual and astounding presence” and consumed with wonder” by her. Gatsby also “shaded his eyes” when Daisy brushed her hair, suggesting that she was too bright and pure to look directly at. When he was first reunited with Daisy he was so infatuated “he hardly knew what he was saying”. This is all despite her marriage to Tom Buchanan. The rest of Gatsby’s short life in centred around trying to impress Daisy, and she is Gatsby’s dream. He thinks her voice is “full of money”, suggesting that, to him, she means wealth.

Daisy is perfect in Gatsby’s mind, but eventually she proves to have the same flaws as the American Dream itself; the things that are desired, both money and Daisy, are unworthy of the meaning and desire invested in them. The is shown concisely through Nick’s thought “what a grotesque thing a rose is” – which is a metaphor for Daisy’s character, as a rose is supposed to be a beautiful thing of perfection, like Gatsby’s idea of Daisy, but in reality her character is repulsive. Daisy is very materialistic, and expensive possessions are extremely important to her.

This is shown by her reaction to Gatsby’s “beautiful shirts” – throughout their reunion she does not cry until she sees his shirts. When she is being shown around Gatsby’s house there is a semantic field of luxury used to show that Gatsby is trying to impress Daisy with his extravagant belongings, and adjectives such as “gold”, “rich” and “silk” are used. Daisy’s materialism shows that she is not really the perfect, idealised being that Gatsby has imagined, and the same is true of money; even when the characters are very wealthy, they are not necessarily happy.

The other characters are also used to show this corruption. Tom and Daisy prove the point that the object of the American Dream at this time, money, does not equal happiness. At first glance, they appear to have everything they could possibly wish for: a luxurious home, each other and more money than they need. However, beneath the facade of happiness lies dissatisfaction with life. Tom in particular is not content with his marriage as he has “got some woman in New York” that he is having an affair with.

Tom and Daisy epitomise the couple who have everything that can be achieved by the American Dream, but they are such despicable people that they give the American Dream no value or merit at all. They are “careless people”, without morals, and show how you do not have to work hard to have everything the American Dream promises, as they do nothing at all meaningful with their time, to the extent that Daisy has to ask “What do people plan? ”. Another character that clearly displays the corruption of the American Dream is Myrtle.

She is a dreamer – like Gatsby she wants status and power, and she thinks that she will get this through her affair with Tom Buccanan. The meaning of the noun “myrtle” is very telling of Myrtle’s character as it is a climbing plant, just as Myrtle wants to climb the social ladder. However, she is deluding herself as Tom Buchanan clearly shows no real affection for her and even behaves in a violent way towards her and he “broke her nose with his open hand”. The way in which Gatsby’s and Myrtle’s, the two dreamers in ‘The Great Gatsby’, lives end shows how the American Dream does not work.

They both die unnatural, violent deaths – “Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her think dark blood with the dust”, and Gatsby is shot dead by George Wilson. This shows how the world portrayed in ‘The Great Gatsby’ representing America in the 1920s treats people who dare to dream. Topography is used to show the different groups and types of people, as different social classes or types of people live in different locations in ‘The Great Gatsby’. “East Egg” represents the upper class, and “West Egg” the people that are self-made and have worked their way up.

The residents of East Egg feel that the residents of West Egg are inferior because they lack the social standing of the East Eggers, and so Gatsby can never be with Daisy. Gatsby, a resident of West Egg, has all the tackiness, for example his “toilet set of pure dull gold”, of the lower class, and none of the elegance that comes with the upper class. The “Valley of Ashes” is another location in ‘The Great Gatsby’, which appears to represent the people whose dreams have not come true. The adjectives “terrible”, “desolate” and “dismal” are used to describe this area, suggesting a place of utter depression.

The men are “ash-grey” and the land is covered in “bleak dust”. There is a sense of a lack of hope from the residents, and these are people who have failed to achieve their dreams. The disheartened and defeated attitude of the resident of the Valley of Ashes shows the corruption of the American Dream because these people have probably worked extremely hard and yet have not succeeded, which completely debases the main core of the American Dream. Other devices which are used to show the corruption of the American Dream are the motifs and symbols within ‘The Great Gatsby’.

One such motif is cars: cars play a big part in this novel. They represent status, as only the relatively rich can own cars. Also, Gatsby’s car is “a rich cream colour, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length” and the cartoon nature of his car shows how he does not really fit in with the upper class East Eggers like he has always wanted to. The “green light” at the end of Tom and Daisy dock is a symbol within ‘The Great Gatsby’, which represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams are always present, but never quite within reach, as it is described as “minute and far away”.

Gatsby’s hopes and dreams are to be with Daisy, and as in this novel, Daisy is so closely associated with the American Dream, the green light almost becomes a symbol for the American Dream itself, but it can never be attained for some people, including Gatsby. The weather is another motif in ‘The Great Gatsby’, although not a dominant one. The weather shows a direct link to the mood of the characters or the atmosphere at the time. For example, when the air clears between Gatsby and Daisy, and the tension decreases, Nick announces “It’s stopped raining” and there were “twinkle-bells of sunshine”.

This uses pathetic fallacy to show the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy when they are enjoying their time together. However, ‘The Great Gatsby’ has different themes other than the corruption of the American Dream, such as the true emptiness and hollowness of the glamorous lives of the upper class in the 1920s. The 1920s was a time of elation in America, as the war was over, and the economy was good, and this time of partying has been called ‘The Jazz Age’. ‘The Great Gatsby’ exposes the lack of any real substance behind the glamour in the lives of the upper class at this time.

A simile is used to describe the people as “like moths” that “came and went”, showing how these people would flit by insubstantially without any meaningful conversations or actions. Then, when Gatsby is dead, “the party is over”, perhaps a metaphor for the ending of the Jazz Age. Yet another theme within this novel is that of time and the past, as Gatsby is obsessed with the past and trying to recreate his time with Daisy before her marriage. This is demonstrated when a clock he leant on falls and Gatsby “caught it with trembling fingers”, showing how Gatsby very much wants to stop time and yet he cannot.

In addition, Nick reflects after Gatsby’s death that they will be “borne back ceaselessly into the past”, proving how the past is a real fixation for Gatsby. These themes show that there are several ways to interpret ‘The Great Gatsby’ and showing the corruption of the American Dream may not be the main objective at all. In conclusion, I do agree very much with the statement that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a novel about the corruption of the American Dream, because although there are other themes within it, these seem to be in addition to the central theme of the American Dream rather than instead of it.

Several different literary devices are used to show this theme, as well as motifs, symbols and even the geography of the fictional places Fitzgerald has created. Gatsby and Daisy’s failed relationship is the mainly representative of the corruption of the American Dream and it is likely their whole relationship is a metaphor for this. The American Dream does not live up to expectations in reality and so became unpopular and likewise Daisy cannot live up to the perfection that Gatsby thinks she represents, and so their relationship does not have a happy end.

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