The Great Gatsby is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The actions in it take place in the spring and autumn of 1922, during the Roaring Twenties, a prosperous time in America that lasted from 1920 to the 1929 Wall Street Crash. In the period of 1920 to 1933, the eighteenth Amendment of the American Constitution banned the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The prohibition made millionaires out of the alcohol smugglers into the United States. The novel captures this period with a precise description. However, the book received significant attention after the death of the author in 1940, following its republishing. There are many themes in The Great Gatsby, such as love, wealth, dissatisfaction, isolation, mortality, among others. However, the principal theme in the novel is the failure of the American dream in the 1920s. The paper will expound on how the failure of the American dream stands out as the principal theme in this novel.
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On the surface, the novel tells the readers the story of frustrated love between men and women. However, there is another important but not romantic side of the story. The Great Gatsby is a crucial symbolic meditation on the American society of the 1920s. It particularly talks about the decline of the American dream in a period of unparalleled prosperity and monetary success (Prigozy 50).
The writer depicts the 1920s as a period of lost social and moral values. The book’s portrayal of a society full of overarching cynicism, insatiability, as well as empty pursuit of pleasure is an evidence for this. Fitzgerald captures descriptions of the out of control jubilance in corrupt parties and wild jazz music of the 1920s by portraying them as the lavish parties, organized by Gatsby every Saturday night (Tsimpouki 162). The writer presents these practices as some of the contributors to the corruption of the American dream. This is because the large desire for money, as well as pleasure, replaced the moral values in the American society.
After the First World War, many people who had fought in it faced numerous disillusions due to the reality of the American society (Curnutt 50). They realized that the violence they had faced in the war was unlike the Victorian social morality of the twentieth century. This led them to discover the hypocrisy of the American dream. Besides, the increase of the stock market after the World War introduced an abrupt and sustained rise in wealth and materialism, as people started to spend at unprecedented levels. Any person, regardless of his or her social background, could make a fortune. However, the American Aristocracy of the time that had old wealth looked down upon the newly rich industrialists, including the speculators. On the same note, the 1919 adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment that illegalized the trade of alcohol led to a prosperous underworld market that satisfied the immense demand for bootleg alcohol in both the rich and the poor.
The writer has positioned the characters of the novel as emblems of the above social trends. For instance, Nick and Gatsby, both of who had fought in the World War, showed the newborn cosmopolitanism and cynism that were the results of the war. The numerous social climbers as well as ambitious speculators who fill Gatsby’s parties explain the gluttonous scramble for wealth ((Prigozy 50). The conflict between old wealth and new wealth is evident in the book’s symbolic geography. East Egg stands for the established aristocracy while West Egg represents the self-made rich (Fitzgerald 20). The fortune of Meyer Wolfshiem and Gatsby symbolizes the increase of organized crime as well as bootlegging.
The character whose name is Nick in chapter nine successfully tells Fitzgerald his view of the American dream. According to Nick, the American dream was about innovation, individualism as well as meant the pursuit of happiness. However, in the period shown in the book, easy money and decayed social values have ruined the dream, particularly on the geographic side of the East Coast. Besides, the plot of the book describes this assessment, as Gatsby’s vision of loving Daisy faces frustration due to the differences in their social statuses. Gatsby’s decision of turning to crime in order to impress Daisy is a description of the extent Americans could go to in order to achieve their goals. Daisy’s rampant materialism characterizes the carelessness of the American aristocracy and the shortsightedness of their acts. In addition, places and objects in the novel are meaningful because the characters instill them with the meaning (Tsimpouki 162). The eyes of Doctor Eckleburg significantly exemplify this. According to Nick, the ability to form meaningful symbols is a principal component of the American dream because early Americans founded the new nation, based on their own ideals and values.
The writer further depicts the corruption of the American dream by describing the corrupting effect of wealth to the soundness of the dream. Characters like Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Dan, and Meyer Wolfsheim are outstanding instances of the people, corrupted by their wealth. Daisy, was born as well as married to riches, displays no values and purpose in life. Her existence is boring, composed of floating from one social scene to the other. She usually dresses in white with gold accents, which is further depiction of her wealth. The writer says that she even speaks like money. However, regardless of her wealth, Daisy does not know what she will do with her future. Even the daughter fails to rejuvenate Daisy’s life. This is because she considers the child as a plaything. Her boredom leads her to an affair with Gatsby while she is only 18 years old. Her attraction to Gatsby is his handsomeness and the army fatigues. She even has an affair with Gatsby while being married to Tom because of her boredom. She considers the affair to be a “trifling entertainment” (Prigozy 50). Besides, Daisy does not empathize with others and does not value their life. For instance, she does not stop the vehicle even after hitting and killing Myrtle Wilson. Following the shooting of Gatsby, she does not even call or send flowers. Daisy only worries about her safety and entertainment. This shows the extent of the corruption of the American dream as people target shallow goals instead of the ultimate ones.
Nick gives a comparison between the green America rising from the sea and the green light at Daisy’s dock. Gatsby’s tries to instill Daisy with an idealized perfection that she does not possess, just as Americans have attached meaning to America basing on their dreams for their personal lives. The unworthiness of the object of Gatsby’s dream ruins the pursuit the same way as money and pleasure ruin the American dream in the period depicted in the book. Gatsby dreams of reliving his vanished past in Louisville with Daisy, the same way Americans of the 1920s unsuccessfully seek a past era when their dream had value. When Gatsby’s dream falls to pieces, all that remains for him is to die. On the other hand, all that Nick can do is going back to Minnesota, a region that still boosts of sound American values.
It is evident that the theme of decline of the American dream cuts across the entire novel. The other themes in the great Gatsby, such as love, wealth, dissatisfaction, isolation, and mortality only serve to build the principal theme of the failure of the American dream. As a result, the principal theme in this novel is the failure of the American dream in the 1920s.
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