The American Dream is a dream about possibilities, and a desire for success. In the eyes of the dreamer, the goal is to work hard to attain the end prize. Sometimes the prize is money, sometimes it is love; regardless of what the prize, the dreamer works hard to reach this goal. In the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is driven by his desire to achieve the American Dream. Unfortunately, Gatsby’s drive to achieve the dream also results in him falling victim to it. Essentially, Gatsby falls victim to the American Dream because he is forced to face the reality that his dream is just that, a dream that is out of reach and unrealistic. The main elements of Gatsby’s American Dream are: love, wealth and popularity/status. Through these concepts, Gatsby both attains and falls victim to them in his quest to fulfill his dream, the American Dream.
There are many elements of the American Dream. Each dream is unique, depending on who the dream belongs to. One common element of the American Dream is to attain a great deal of wealth. Gatsby becomes primarily motivated to fulfill this dream in knowing that ‘Rich girls don’t marry poor boys’. It is this knowledge and insight that propels Gatsby to invest in his American Dream. Gatsby knows that to attain his dream he needs money and wealth.
Gatsby grew up in North Dakota and did have any connections, neither money nor education. He spent his youth training for his “Big Break”. Highly motivated, he had a plan to escape his life in North Dakota. Gatsby was resentful of his parents and their poverty. “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people – his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all.”(Fitzgerald 9.) Gatsby’s desire to escape the poverty and limits of his upbringing was so powerful that he would pretend to not belong to his family. Gatsby’s opportunity to get out of his small family farm and into wealth occurs when he encounters a man by the name of Dan Cody. Dan Cody teaches Gatsby the ‘Tricks of the Trade’, skills he could use with a bootlegging business. With this new job, Gatsby is suddenly given the opportunity to meet his goal in the quickest and easiest way (even though it was illegal). Gatsby’s decision to participate in this illegal trade shows how strong of a desire he has to reach his dream.
Gatsby proves that he has attained a great deal of wealth when he invests in his large elegant mansion. Gatsby’s mansion is a key symbol of aspiration reflecting Gatsby’s successes as an American self made man for owning a large house in the 1920’s was an outward sign of material success. Gatsby’s status of wealth is so extreme, others describe it as:
“… a colossal affair by any standard- it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion.”(Fitzgerald 11)
Gatsby’s mansion is proof of his wealth and status which in time helps him achieve one element of his American Dream.Gatsby is a very proper man who, on the outside, shows a persona of wealth and success. He wears clothes that are reflective of his wealth (specifically his silk shirts) which are noticed by many people. Gatsby’s ‘Golden Girl’, Daisy, said that she felt overwhelmed with emotion as a reaction to his clothes. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.”(Fitzgerald 94). Gatsby’s silk shirts are a representation of his wealth, and proof that he has achieved a portion of his American Dream.
The extravagances of Gatsby’s parties also illustrate how much wealth he has accumulated and how much of it he is willing to share. Gatsby pays for all his guests’ wild times which, in turn, shows that his wealth all the more apparent. People from all over the neighbourhood knew about his parties, for they were so large that neighbours would reflect and think about them long after they were over. Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbour observed the following:
“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his motor-boats slid the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammersand garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before”. (Fitzgerald 41)
Clearly Gatsby’s parties are memorable, and illustrate to everyone that attended and heard about them that Gatsby is enormously wealthy. Gatsby shows off his wealth through materialistic objects in his house, especially with his massive library. In the 1920’s it was common that rich people would fill their libraries up with artificial books; Gatsby, however, proves his status of wealth with real books. A guest from one of Gatsby’s parties makes the following observation about his books: “Absolutely real – have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and – Here! Lemme show you.” (Fitzgerald 47). The discovery of these actual books, and the apparent excitement the guest has, demonstrate the enormous wealth that is obvious to Gatsby’s neighbours and party goers.
Although Gatsby attains wealth, he also falls victim to this element of his dream through the methods and ways he came into his money. Gatsby was raised in a morally correct family and he was brought up with the values and knowledge of right from wrong, however to achieve his dream Gatsby chose to go against his morals and values, by earning his money illegally through bootlegging. Gatsby’s true identity is bought forward by Tom Buchanan who says:
“He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of sidestreet drug stores here
and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of
his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him
and I wasn’t far wrong.”(Fitzgerald ..)
The way that Gatsby makes his money is what makes him a victim of the American Dream; It is because he sacrifices his values in the process. It is because of Gatsby’s desire to live his American Dream, he then overlooks his morals and knowledge of right an wrong. It is more important for Gatsby to become a success, and reach his American Dream, than to live by the standards he knows. Therefore, the decay of his morals are part of what makes Gatsby a victim to his American Dream.
Secondly, Gatsby attains another important element of his American Dream, popularity. He has a certain status in society which he has personally built, showing of his hard-working nature to achieve his dream. Popularity and status is a part of his dream because he wants to belong to the East Eggers, which represents old money and a high social status. Gatsby throws wild and crazy parties every Saturday night at his mansion in West Egg and guests are catered to with food and liquors, and also treated to an orchestra of music. Because Gatsby’s parties are so grand, this makes him a very popular man. Gatsby’s house is the place to be every Saturday night, and guests simply ‘show up’, knowing that he will have a fabulous party planned. Gatsby throws these parties because he believes that they will help him achieve popularity and a high social status. This is a very important part of Gatsby’s American Dream. Therefore, the popularity and success that Gatsby gains because of his huge parties demonstrate that he has successfully attained that part of his American Dream.
Gatsby falls victim to the ‘popularity’ element of his dream because his desire to be so popular and accepted by those who have a high social status leads to people who are attending his parties to take advantage of him. They use him for his house, his cars and his beach.
“I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited – they went there. They got in to automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and some how they eneded up at Gatsby’s door… Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission”(Fitzgerald 43)
This first hand account of how guests came and went to his parties uninvited, and did not even know Gatsby, illustrate how he is victimized as a result of his search for popularity and high social status. Therefore, Gatsby falls victim to this part of his American Dream because it creates an environment where he is used and manipulated by those who attended. His party goers came to his parties because of the free food and liquor, not because they truly wanted to become friends with Gatsby. That is how Gatsby becomes a victim to the American Dream.
Another way that Gatsby falls victim to the American Dream is through personal attacks in the form of rumours. In reality, very few people personally know Gatsby, and some people start rumours about him. One party guest said: “‘He’s a bootlegger….One time he killed a man who found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.’” (Fitzgerald 61). There is a lot of questions about who Gatsby is amongst his party guest, because most have never met him before. They make rumours up to fill their imagination of whom this man could possibly be, as he has such wealth that he can throw such extravagant parties. Therefore, Gatsby is victimized by the American Dream because he is attacked personally in the shape of rumours and lies that others spread about him. These lies are created and spread because of his wealth and popularity, and his success with attaining that part of his American Dream. People who are jealous of his successes are driven by this jealousy to hurt Gatsby in any way they can. The rumours that are created as a result of Gatsby’s popularity contribute to his victimization because of the American Dream.
When Nick Caraway invites Wolfshiem, someone who has spent a great deal of time with Gatsby, to Gatsby’s funeral, he (Wolfshiem) comments that he does not want to go:
“When a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it in any way. I keep out. When I was a young man it was different…I stuck with them to the end…Let us learn to show friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead….” (Fitzgerald 173)
This attitude demonstrates another way that Gatsby is victimized by the American Dream. It appears as if Gatsby is a popular man, well liked by many, when he is alive. However, when he is killed, and his friend refuses to pay his respect, true feelings are revealed. This lack of desire to show respect to Gatsby proves that Wolfshiem, like many others, were not really Gatsby’s friends after all. Infact, they used and manipulate Gatsby to get what they want. And when they cannot get any more out of him, they walk away. Therefore, Gatsby is victimized by the American Dream because he is abandoned by his ‘friends’. Their true desire to simply use Gatsby, and not be a true friend becomes clear. These people who associate with Gatsby, and attend his parties do not really care for him.
Gatsby is successful in achieving a high social status, which is a large part of his American Dream. Gatsby works hard to achieve his high social status. He wants to become like the notorious East Eggers. What Gatsby discovers about the status he manages to achieve is that it ends up not being ‘the right one’. Gatsby strives to be accepted by the more ‘fashionable’ side of upper East Egg, while he represents West Egg. The difference is that the East Eggers are considered the highest social standard. They come from ‘old money’, where their wealth has been inherited, and usually not worked for. The West Eggers are people who make their own large fortunes, but they lack the traditions that come with inherited wealth. The West Eggers have to work for their money, and their wealth lacks the history that the East Eggers have. The East Eggers, represented in The Great Gatsby by the Buchanans, have the inherited traditions that come with wealth. Due to their inherited traditions, the East Eggers naturally disregard any change in the social hierarchy as a threat to the entire structure of society. Gatsby strives to be accepted by the old money but fails to do so. For example when Tom and Daisy Buchanan come to one of Gatsby’s parties that he throws specifically to try and ‘woo’ them, his efforts fall short of their high standards:
“But the rest offended her-and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented
‘place.’ that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing
village-appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old
euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants
along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful
in the very simplicity she failed to understand”.(Fitzgerald 164)
The people gathered at Gatsby’s house were not particularly well known, and they behaved openly, in a manner that is not traditionally accepted by old money. This demonstrates another way that Gatsby is victimized by his dream of popularity and social status because his goal of fitting in with the old money simply was unattainable. Therefore, Gatsby is victimized because he is disappointed that, despite his hard work and effort, he is not, and will never be, accepted into the high social status that he wants so desperately to belong to.
Finally, Gatsby attains his final and very important part of his American Dream, his quest for love. Gatsby focuses and obsesses about Daisy and the commitment they had given to one another before he went off to war. Gatsby met Daisy, the love of his life, when he was a youth, and he never forgot his first love. Before he went off to war, Daisy had promised Gatsby she would wait for his return. However, Daisy breaks her promise and marries the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Gatsby believes that this agreement they made to meet again will last. Gatsby goes to great lengths to reach his dream of being with Daisy. He buys a large mansion across the lake from her, and throws large parties (hoping she will wander through his doors). Gatsby longs for Daisy’s love and this obsession of Gatsby’s is a driving force for him; his love and desire for Daisy is the ultimate prize, the final piece to his American Dream. Therefore, Gatsby represents the American Dream with this element because it (true love) is his driving force. The American Dream is about reaching goals, and stopping at nothing until you get them. Gatsby’s drive and ambition to attain this goal makes him relentless. He represents the American Dream because of the force that drives him to reach it; Gatsby is motivated and focused on getting his prize, his first true love Daisy.
While Gatsby is driven to achieve this element of his American Dream, to reconnect with his love Daisy, it results in Gatsby becoming a victim. In their youth, despite knowing they could not marry due to differences in social classes, they still allowed their love to flourish. When Gatsby returns home from the war, he spends the next five years acquiring money to meet and exceed Daisy’s economic standards, in hopes of winning her back.
“’Oh, you want too much!’ she cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now –
isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began
to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once – but I loved you too.’
Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.
‘You loved me TOO?’ he repeated. (Fitzgerald 126)
Daisy, in revealing that she indeed loves both her husband and Gatsby, hurts Gatsby more than Daisy can comprehend. In Gatsby’s opinion, Daisy has betrayed him, as she states that she loves both Gatsby and Tom (her husband). Therefore, Gatsby is victimized by the American Dream when he discovers that his one true love does not love him back the way that he loves her. This particularly hurts Gatsby as his whole focus or drive to attain his American Dream is to win his ‘golden girl’, Daisy Buchanan.
In the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby attains the American Dream and is victimized by it. His American Dream consists of attaining wealth, popularity and love. Although he gains all three of his desires, he also becomes victimized either through them, or as a direct result of them. First, Gatsby desires to find wealth. He reaches his goal, but then becomes a victim through people manipulating him and taking advantage of his wealth and generosity. Additionally, Gatsby desires to integrate into a high social status. Although he reaches this goal, he becomes victim to the goal because the status he attains is not ‘good enough’. Finally, Gatsby’s ultimate prize is about love. Although he achieves this goal, and his true love expresses her love for him, she also tells him that she loves another man. Therefore, Gatsby falls victim to this part of his American Dream because his love is not satisfied. In conclusion, Gatsby attains the elements of his American Dream, expecting the Dream to be fulfilled. However, what he discovers is that the American Dream is a dream, not a reality. A dream cannot come true – because if it did, it would no longer be a dream. Therefore, F. Scott Fitzgerald successfully portrays Gatsby as a character who both attains the American Dream and becomes victimized by it.