“The American Dream– That pursuit of a better existence and a higher quality of life through hard work, determination and devotion. ” This was said by Benjamin Franklin, who coined the phrase American Dream. The Great Gatsby, by Scott Fitzgerald, is an exploration of the American Dream as it exists in a corrupt period of history. The main themes in the novel – hope, success, ignorance, disillusionment, wealth, and morals, reflect this society. Hope is represented by the light across the bay that Gatsby was focused on. It was the embodiment of his main goal in life, which was to win back Daisy.
Gatsby is full of hope – even when it is obvious to us he has lost Daisy he still continues to hope. Success was shown by the way that Gatsby felt the only was to win back Daisy was through his money. He used a corrupt form of the American Dream to acquire the wealth he thinks he needs. He tried every way that money could buy to try to satisfy his love for Daisy. Instead of confronting her with his feelings, he tried to get her attention by throwing huge parties with the hopes that she would show up. Whilst initially Daisy was impressed by his wealth, she became disenchanted when she found out how he’d acquired it.
This corruption is shown by the use of the colour yellow. Gatsby’s yellow car is the murder weapon that kills Myrtle, and the rich, flaky women at Gatsby’s parties often wear yellow gowns. Ignorance was shown by the way the characters have very little self-knowledge and barely any knowledge of each other. Gatsby is extremely disillusioned, because he believes he can recreate the past and get back with Daisy even though she is married with a child. Throughout the book, even though it is obvious that his dream can never be realised, he refuses to accept reality.
Colour is used to effectively enhance this idea. All of Gatsby’s parties are held at night, and are bright with false light. They are also filled with blue music, symbolizing romance and illusions. East and West Egg are prime examples of the problems wealth can create. Both societies let money influence their behaviours and attitudes towards other. Decay of Morals and loss of spirituality are seen constantly throughout the novel. It is most evident in the behaviour of the characters, with their lack of faithfulness and purpose. This is evident by their lifestyle and adultery. Dr. T. J.
Eckelberg is a religious parallel, in that his eyes symbolize the Lord. In the society of this time, God had been pushed aside like the eyes of Dr. Eckelberg have been. The characters have pushed aside their morality and abandoned their spiritual element. The novel portrays this time as an era of decayed social and moral values, full of greed, materialism and empty pursuit of pleasure. It shows the dangers of pursuing a dream too fantastic, or purely material. The way that Fitzgerald saw the American Dream, it was originally about discovery, individualisation and pursuit of happiness.
However, relaxed social values and easy money corrupted the dream. The main plotline reflects this theme, as Gatsby’s dream of loving Daisy is ruined by the difference in their social status. Gatsby dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the American Dream was ruined by the unworthiness of its objects – money and pleasure. Like the 1920’s Americans, Gatsby vainly sought to recreate the past – an impossible feat. The characters themselves are emblems of the society of the 1920’s. Nick and Gatsby show the worldliness, cynicism and greed that resulted from the war.
The people at Gatsby parties show a greedy scramble for wealth. There is a clash between old and new money in the symbolic West and East Egg. Gatsby’s fortune also represents the rise in organized crime and bootlegging. The treatment of Pammy, Daisy’s daughter, shows the materialism of the 1920’s. She is treated as an object to show off rather than a daughter to love. When the Great Gatsby was published in the spring of 1925, it had mixed receptions. A headline in the New York World read ‘Fitzgerald’s latest a dud. Another reviewer could not find “one chemical trace of magic, life, irony, romance, or mysticism in all of The Great Gatsby,” and concluded that Fitzgerald had simply been “puttering around. ” The book was also a commercial disappointment, with only 20,000 copies being sold of the 75,00 produced. The book did, however, have its earlier admirers. Journalist H. L. Menken praised Gatsby as ‘plainly the product of a sound and stable talent, conjured into being by hard work. ” Gilbert Seldes, an early commentator on American popular culture, called it “brilliant,” and poet T.
S Elliot said “this remarkable book seems to me to be the first step that American literature has taken since Henry James. It looks beyond the glitter of enormous wealth to the corruption that lies at its core. ” It was his editor, however, Maxwell Perkins, who made the most prophetic observation; “One thing I think we can be sure of: that when the shouting and the rabble of reviewers and gossipers dies, The Great Gatsby will stand out as an extraordinary book. ” A Fitzgerald revival did not get underway until the 1950s. In the decades that followed, The Great Gatsby became famous–and enduring.
Today The Great Gatsby may well be the most widely read work of fiction written by an American in the twentieth century. The novel still sells more than three hundred thousand copies a year and, recently, was placed second on end-of-the-century lists of great English-language novels. We see Fitzgerald as the spokesperson of a rebellious post-war age, who provides us with great insight and understanding of society of the time. We appreciate the way it describes life in the 1920’s, the corruption, materialism, cynicism and greed.
The book is praised not only for it’s themes, but for it’s structure. The use of a narrator who is more of a spectator than part of the action gives the reader greater observation and perspective of the characters and their actions. The Great Gatsby is a monument to the society of the 1920’s, providing us insight into the lives of the people of the time. It goes deeper than this, however. It shows us the mistakes made by those people in attempt to stop us making them ourselves. In a broader sense, the Great Gatsby is a warning to the society of today.