Great Gatsby And American Dream “Then wear the gold hat..bounce for her too, Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you”(1). This epitaph by Thomas DInvilliers, found at the beginning of The Great Gatsby, depicts the dream that Jay Gatsby tries to make a reality. While it embodies characteristics of the American Dream of rags to riches, it is also a moving dream of love and happiness. While Gatsby was a fraud, his life and death show the greatness of the American Dream, not its bankruptcy. The story unfolds in New York during the early 1920s, a tumultuous time for Americans.
American culture was just beginning to take on its own identity with the popularization of jazz. The 1920s was also a time of social upheaval where opportunity was the name of the game. Prohibition was the law, thus creating opportunities for business-minded individuals, such as Gatsby, to become bootleggers. During these affluent years in American history, there were many parties and affairs with the extravagance and splendor of kings. Rich individuals, like Gatsby, threw huge parties with “buffet tables..bars with real brass rails..and orchestra[s]” (44).
The Roaring Twenties were years where a person who had the “dream” could flourish. The American Dream, as it arose in the Colonial period, and developed in the nineteenth century, was the belief that a person, no matter their origins, could succeed in life. However, this success depended on a persons own skill and effort. During Gatsbys early working years, he started from the bottom as a clam digger, dreaming the popularized “rags to riches” dream. His next stop was the yacht of Dan Cody, where he worked and lived for five years as a steward. Despite the monotony around him, his mind and imagination were never at rest.
“Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies..the reveries provided an outlet for his imagination..hint of unreality of reality”(105). After Cody, we know Gatsby joined the army during World War I. Five years after returning from Europe, Gatsby is this incredibly wealthy man with a gargantuan house where he throws lavish parties. The reader learns that this wealth was accumulated through bootlegging, a highly illegal but lucrative trade during the Prohibition Era. Thus, Gatsby achieved his”rags to riches” dream, although his methods were unlawful.
What separates Gatsby from the other characters, who are “foul dust that floated in the wake of his dreams (6),” is that Gatsbys American dream was a means for an end to him. His dream continued past just accumulating wealth and reputation. That was only a phase of his “master plan.” Gatsbys ultimate goal is happiness, which can only be if Daisy is by his side. He achieved riches and success, but did not become overwhelmed and corrupted by it, although it is relevant to note he used corrupt methods. His dream is a romantic idealism that life can be remarkable and beautiful.
Gatsby is not interested in power for its own sake or in money or prestige, but for its ability to help him achieve his dream. For this, Gatsby is willing to do anything and everything. He uses his wealth as a resource to steal Daisy away from Tom. This also includes lying and creating a false impression of himself to others. He is putting on this front to try to become the man that Daisy desires. His extravagant parties are thrown only in hopes that she will come to one and they can get rekindle their old feelings for each other. Ultimately, Gatsby wont enjoy his riches until he has Daisy in his arms.
Almost everything we believe Gatsby to be is a fraud. Everything we believe gives us a favorable impression of him though. He is a fraud for one and only one reason-to win Daisy back. For starters, his name, Jay Gatsby, is false. It is really James Gatz, but he changed it when he was seventeen to shed his past and start anew. For me, Jay Gatsby also sounds youthful, invigorating, and somewhat aristocratic.
James Gatz sounds too formal and harsh, which does not convey a favorable impression of him. Another key inaccuracy of Gatsby is his educational background, with Gatsby claiming a degree from Oxford. The shocking and somewhat humorous truth is that he went to college for a total of five and a half months. When he was eighteen, he spent two weeks at St. Olaf, a Lutheran college, in Minnesota, leaving because of”its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny”(105).
He went to Oxford for five months because it was “an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice”(136). This lie further contributes to our view of Gatsby as the perfect man. He is wealthy, educated, successful, and has overcome extreme pain and suffering. Gatsby creates all these lies in order to win Daisy back and to try to recreate the love they shared in the past. While Jay Gatsby is indeed a fraud, he is not pathetic at all.
Pathetic is defined as”causing or evoking pity” in Websters College Dictionary. I never felt pity for Gatsby at any point in the book. I actually admired his drive and persistence in reaching his dream. He threw weekly parties where he spent ridiculous amounts of money. He purchased enough food and drink to feed a nation, and his entertainment was top notch.
All of that just for the special woman in his heart. Especially noteworthy is when he stood outside Daisys house until four in the morning, just because she wanted him to in case Tom got violent. This shows is unflinching dedication, abundant love, and steadfast dedication to her. He is a wonderful example of an individual who has lived the American Dream, which includes wealth, but is ultimately about happiness. He went from being a broke, independent seventeen year old, to a rich and successful adult.
Jay Gatsby may not be the perfect example of a person who lived the American Dream. However, neither does he show the bankruptcy of the Dream. Rather, he is one of the many tragedies of the Dream. He was an ambitious man who was driven to achieve success, no matter what he had to do. It was his drive that shows that the American Dream was alive and well.
He refused to become an arrogant and selfish person, as many people did when they reached the level of success that Gatsby achieved. He pursued Daisy, who to him represented happiness, and died trying. In dying though, Gatsby inspires readers of the book to dream always and to dream big.