The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, examines the concept of ‘the American dream’ in regards to contemporary people and some obstacles they face on the way toward their dreams. The novel does not focus on Jay Gatsby, the main character, only; it is full of short stories that all contribute to the theme.
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Though readers can assume that the author justifies the class division and suggests that marriage should not be treated as a spiritual union, this paper will look at the inward struggle of Jay Gatsby and the difficulties and dilemmas he encounters on the way to achieving his ideal American Dream: the attainment of acceptable social status to possess Daisy and enter into a spiritual union with her.
The American Dream in Contemporary Culture
The concept of ‘the American dream’ can be considered one of the more renewed continuously themes in contemporary culture. Notably, different authors in literature and even in the more recent film industry have different ideas of what the American dream is and how to obtain it.
The Great Gatsby is a story of a young man in the early twentieth century who seems to know what he wants in the way of that dream and what to do to achieve it. However, his plans are challenged along the way. Daisy’s status in society makes her unattainable to him. In this respect, Gatsby can be considered faced with a dilemma; what Gatsby is willing to do to be wealthy and obtain all the privileges of the rich for the sole purpose of possessing Daisy, his ideal American Dream.
Gatsby first dilemma is that he has to turn his back on what he dreamt for his life to pursue Daisy “Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.” (110)
Once the decision is made, he does not hesitate to do what he needs to do; make his fortune which entailed starting from the bottom “For over a year he had been heating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam-digger and salmon-fisher or in any other capacity that brought him food and bed” (98), change his persona which included changing his name, and disavow his past and even his own family “Of course we were broke up when he run off from home, but I see now there was a reason for it. He knew he had a big future in front of him.” (172).
Five years after Gatsby’s life-changing romantic affair with Daisy and upon his return from the Great War, he comes back to find her married Tom Buchanan. Though years had passed, he knows in his heart that she still loves him and that she would leave her husband for him if he could attain the social standing required as we find out with his statement to Jordan in chapter 7, “She never loved you, do you hear?
She only married you because I was poor, and she was tired of waiting for me.” (130). Fitzgerald confirms this when he has Daisy exclaim, “I did love him once – but I loved you too” (132). Gatsby is faced with the dilemma of destroying a marriage, a permanent part of the American Dream, for him to attain his own American Dream.
By the end of the novel, Gatsby and Daisy know that he can offer her nothing but a single mansion and parties attended by questionable figures and financed by illegal activities, and that was not going to be enough for Daisy. She let go of her idealized American Dream of a spiritual marriage long ago in a room drunk and alone with a string of pearls. Gatsby might have fared better in life if he had done the same.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby: Scribner trade paperback edition 2004.