The Great Gatsby is a renowned novel by F Scott Fitzgerald and one of its main themes is the American dream and the pursuit of this. Would you disagree or agree with this statement? Select a particular situation or key character from the novel and discuss whether or how the author successfully exposes the other side of the popular ideology that is the American dream.
The American dream:
The American dream is a reference to the notion that ambition, application and hard work can take you anywhere. There are many important themes running through the Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby. Of these, perhaps the most prominent theme concerns the American dream and its corruption. In general terms, the best definition of the American Dream may be to say it is signified by an individual who begins at the bottom of the social or economic ladder but works hard to become prosperous in life, whether this takes the form of wealth, fame, and so on. The American dream is often symbolized by becoming wealthy and acquiring a great car, a large house, building an idyllic family life, and generally owning the things that indicate a comfortable lifestyle. The American dream also implies that any individual, regardless of their origins, can achieve success by virtue of their own endeavors and self-sufficiency. In the course of The Great Gatsby, the author shows how the American Dream became corrupted during the 1920s for a variety of reasons, and to the extent that it even brought about destruction. It is clear in the novel that Daisy, Myrtle and Gatsby were all corrupted pursuing the American dream.
Myrtle’s desire for luxury attracts her to Tom and they begin an affair, which damages her marriage to George. Ultimately, this brings about her death and any chance of real happiness. Myrtle desires a perfect life, one she sees as filled with fame and wealth. These hopes are represented in her enjoyment of gossip about the lives of rich and famous people. This is her only reason for wanting a life with Tom i.e. he can help her towards the life she aspires to and loves reading about. When she first married George, she believed herself to be in love with him and happy with him. However, Myrtle later shows that she believes this marriage was a mistake when she describes how George borrowed a suit from someone else for their wedding and did not tell her that he had done so. She only found George out when the owner came looking for the suit. This demonstrates Myrtle’s materialistic side, and shows she did not consider that George could not afford a suit for their wedding. She views Tom differently. She sees him as being able to afford the things that George cannot afford. Not only is she attracted to Tom’s looks but also to his wealth. In Tom, she sees the ideal man in every way and a true embodiment of the American Dream. Since she does not have much money, Myrtle’s is considered to belong to the lower classes. Hence, she has an affair with Tom to improve her social status and move herself closer to the upper classes. Myrtle sees upper class people as those with money, flash cars, and lovely houses. She is not one of these people but she wants to be. Later, this ambition proves destructive and leads to Myrtle’s own destruction. It subsequently later transpires that it was Daisy who caused Myrtle’s death when she struck her with her car. This is somewhat ironic since Tom was Daisy’s husband and Myrtle was sleeping with him. This outcome is used in the novel to show how the desire for materialistic things and the American dream can be destructive even to the point of destroying an individual’s life.