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The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story on the surface, but it's most commonly understood as a pessimistic critique of the American Dream. In the novel, Jay Gatsby overcomes his poor past to gain an incredible amount of money and a limited amount of social cache in 1920s NYC, only to be rejected by the "old money" crowd. He then gets killed after being tangled up with them.

Through Gatsby's life, as well as that of the Wilsons', Fitzgerald critiques the idea that America is a meritocracy where anyone can rise to the top with enough hard work. We will explore how this theme plays out in the plot, briefly analyze some key quotes about it, as well as do some character analysis and broader analysis of topics surrounding the American Dream in The Great Gatsby .

What is the American Dream? The American Dream in the Great Gatsby plot Key American Dream quotes Analyzing characters via the American Dream Common discussion and essay topics

Quick Note on Our Citations

Our citation format in this guide is (chapter.paragraph). We're using this system since there are many editions of Gatsby, so using page numbers would only work for students with our copy of the book.

To find a quotation we cite via chapter and paragraph in your book, you can either eyeball it (Paragraph 1-50: beginning of chapter; 50-100: middle of chapter; 100-on: end of chapter), or use the search function if you're using an online or eReader version of the text.

What Exactly Is "The American Dream"?

The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of race, class, gender, or nationality, can be successful in America (read: rich) if they just work hard enough. The American Dream thus presents a pretty rosy view of American society that ignores problems like systemic racism and misogyny, xenophobia, tax evasion or state tax avoidance, and income inequality. It also presumes a myth of class equality, when the reality is America has a pretty well-developed class hierarchy.

The 1920s in particular was a pretty tumultuous time due to increased immigration (and the accompanying xenophobia), changing women's roles (spurred by the right to vote, which was won in 1919), and extraordinary income inequality.

The country was also in the midst of an economic boom, which fueled the belief that anyone could "strike it rich" on Wall Street. However, this rapid economic growth was built on a bubble which popped in 1929. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, well before the crash, but through its wry descriptions of the ultra-wealthy, it seems to somehow predict that the fantastic wealth on display in 1920s New York was just as ephemeral as one of Gatsby's parties.

In any case, the novel, just by being set in the 1920s, is unlikely to present an optimistic view of the American Dream, or at least a version of the dream that's inclusive to all genders, ethnicities, and incomes. With that background in mind, let's jump into the plot!

The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

Chapter 1 places us in a particular year—1922—and gives us some background about WWI.  This is relevant, since the 1920s is presented as a time of hollow decadence among the wealthy, as evidenced especially by the parties in Chapters 2 and 3. And as we mentioned above, the 1920s were a particularly tense time in America.

We also meet George and Myrtle Wilson in Chapter 2 , both working class people who are working to improve their lot in life, George through his work, and Myrtle through her affair with Tom Buchanan.

We learn about Gatsby's goal in Chapter 4 : to win Daisy back. Despite everything he owns, including fantastic amounts of money and an over-the-top mansion, for Gatsby, Daisy is the ultimate status symbol. So in Chapter 5 , when Daisy and Gatsby reunite and begin an affair, it seems like Gatsby could, in fact, achieve his goal.

In Chapter 6 , we learn about Gatsby's less-than-wealthy past, which not only makes him look like the star of a rags-to-riches story, it makes Gatsby himself seem like someone in pursuit of the American Dream, and for him the personification of that dream is Daisy.

However, in Chapters 7 and 8 , everything comes crashing down: Daisy refuses to leave Tom, Myrtle is killed, and George breaks down and kills Gatsby and then himself, leaving all of the "strivers" dead and the old money crowd safe. Furthermore, we learn in those last chapters that Gatsby didn't even achieve all his wealth through hard work, like the American Dream would stipulate—instead, he earned his money through crime. (He did work hard and honestly under Dan Cody, but lost Dan Cody's inheritance to his ex-wife.)

In short, things do not turn out well for our dreamers in the novel! Thus, the novel ends with Nick's sad meditation on the lost promise of the American Dream. You can read a detailed analysis of these last lines in our summary of the novel's ending .


Key American Dream Quotes

In this section we analyze some of the most important quotes that relate to the American Dream in the book.

But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. (1.152)

In our first glimpse of Jay Gatsby, we see him reaching towards something far off, something in sight but definitely out of reach. This famous image of the green light is often understood as part of The Great Gatsby 's meditation on The American Dream—the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves that is just out of reach . You can read more about this in our post all about the green light .

The fact that this yearning image is our introduction to Gatsby foreshadows his unhappy end and also marks him as a dreamer, rather than people like Tom or Daisy who were born with money and don't need to strive for anything so far off.

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."

Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder. (4.55-8)

Early in the novel, we get this mostly optimistic illustration of the American Dream—we see people of different races and nationalities racing towards NYC, a city of unfathomable possibility. This moment has all the classic elements of the American Dream—economic possibility, racial and religious diversity, a carefree attitude. At this moment, it does feel like "anything can happen," even a happy ending.

However, this rosy view eventually gets undermined by the tragic events later in the novel. And even at this point, Nick's condescension towards the people in the other cars reinforces America's racial hierarchy that disrupts the idea of the American Dream. There is even a little competition at play, a "haughty rivalry" at play between Gatsby's car and the one bearing the "modish Negroes."

Nick "laughs aloud" at this moment, suggesting he thinks it's amusing that the passengers in this other car see them as equals, or even rivals to be bested. In other words, he seems to firmly believe in the racial hierarchy Tom defends in Chapter 1, even if it doesn't admit it honestly.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)

This moment explicitly ties Daisy to all of Gatsby's larger dreams for a better life —to his American Dream. This sets the stage for the novel's tragic ending, since Daisy cannot hold up under the weight of the dream Gatsby projects onto her. Instead, she stays with Tom Buchanan, despite her feelings for Gatsby. Thus when Gatsby fails to win over Daisy, he also fails to achieve his version of the American Dream. This is why so many people read the novel as a somber or pessimistic take on the American Dream, rather than an optimistic one. the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes--a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." (9.151-152)

The closing pages of the novel reflect at length on the American Dream, in an attitude that seems simultaneously mournful, appreciative, and pessimistic. It also ties back to our first glimpse of Gatsby, reaching out over the water towards the Buchanan's green light. Nick notes that Gatsby's dream was "already behind him" then (or in other words, it was impossible to attain). But still, he finds something to admire in how Gatsby still hoped for a better life, and constantly reached out toward that brighter future.

For a full consideration of these last lines and what they could mean, see our analysis of the novel's ending .

Analyzing Characters Through the American Dream

An analysis of the characters in terms of the American Dream usually leads to a pretty cynical take on the American Dream.

Most character analysis centered on the American Dream will necessarily focus on Gatsby, George, or Myrtle (the true strivers in the novel), though as we'll discuss below, the Buchanans can also provide some interesting layers of discussion. For character analysis that incorporates the American Dream, carefully consider your chosen character's motivations and desires, and how the novel does (or doesn't!) provide glimpses of the dream's fulfillment for them.

Gatsby himself is obviously the best candidate for writing about the American Dream—he comes from humble roots (he's the son of poor farmers from North Dakota) and rises to be notoriously wealthy, only for everything to slip away from him in the end. Many people also incorporate Daisy into their analyses as the physical representation of Gatsby's dream.

However, definitely consider the fact that in the traditional American Dream, people achieve their goals through honest hard work, but in Gatsby's case, he very quickly acquires a large amount of money through crime . Gatsby does attempt the hard work approach, through his years of service to Dan Cody, but that doesn't work out since Cody's ex-wife ends up with the entire inheritance. So instead he turns to crime, and only then does he manage to achieve his desired wealth.

So while Gatsby's story arc resembles a traditional rags-to-riches tale, the fact that he gained his money immorally complicates the idea that he is a perfect avatar for the American Dream . Furthermore, his success obviously doesn't last—he still pines for Daisy and loses everything in his attempt to get her back. In other words, Gatsby's huge dreams, all precariously wedded to Daisy  ("He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God" (6.134)) are as flimsy and flight as Daisy herself.

George and Myrtle Wilson

This couple also represents people aiming at the dream— George owns his own shop and is doing his best to get business, though is increasingly worn down by the harsh demands of his life, while Myrtle chases after wealth and status through an affair with Tom.

Both are disempowered due to the lack of money at their own disposal —Myrtle certainly has access to some of the "finer things" through Tom but has to deal with his abuse, while George is unable to leave his current life and move West since he doesn't have the funds available. He even has to make himself servile to Tom in an attempt to get Tom to sell his car, a fact that could even cause him to overlook the evidence of his wife's affair. So neither character is on the upward trajectory that the American Dream promises, at least during the novel.

In the end, everything goes horribly wrong for both George and Myrtle, suggesting that in this world, it's dangerous to strive for more than you're given.

George and Myrtle's deadly fates, along with Gatsby's, help illustrate the novel's pessimistic attitude toward the American Dream. After all, how unfair is it that the couple working to improve their position in society (George and Myrtle) both end up dead, while Tom, who dragged Myrtle into an increasingly dangerous situation, and Daisy, who killed her, don't face any consequences? And on top of that they are fabulously wealthy? The American Dream certainly is not alive and well for the poor Wilsons.

Tom and Daisy as Antagonists to the American Dream

We've talked quite a bit already about Gatsby, George, and Myrtle—the three characters who come from humble roots and try to climb the ranks in 1920s New York. But what about the other major characters, especially the ones born with money? What is their relationship to the American Dream?

Specifically, Tom and Daisy have old money, and thus they don't need the American Dream, since they were born with America already at their feet.

Perhaps because of this, they seem to directly antagonize the dream—Daisy by refusing Gatsby, and Tom by helping to drag the Wilsons into tragedy .

This is especially interesting because unlike Gatsby, Myrtle, and George, who actively hope and dream of a better life, Daisy and Tom are described as bored and "careless," and end up instigating a large amount of tragedy through their own recklessness.

In other words, income inequality and the vastly different starts in life the characters have strongly affected their outcomes. The way they choose to live their lives, their morality (or lack thereof), and how much they dream doesn't seem to matter. This, of course, is tragic and antithetical to the idea of the American Dream, which claims that class should be irrelevant and anyone can rise to the top.

Daisy as a Personification of the American Dream

As we discuss in our post on money and materialism in The Great Gatsby , Daisy's voice is explicitly tied to money by Gatsby:

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.105-6)

If Daisy's voice promises money, and the American Dream is explicitly linked to wealth, it's not hard to argue that Daisy herself—along with the green light at the end of her dock —stands in for the American Dream. In fact, as Nick goes on to describe Daisy as "High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl," he also seems to literally describe Daisy as a prize, much like the princess at the end of a fairy tale (or even Princess Peach at the end of a Mario game!).

But Daisy, of course, is only human—flawed, flighty, and ultimately unable to embody the huge fantasy Gatsby projects onto her. So this, in turn, means that the American Dream itself is just a fantasy, a concept too flimsy to actually hold weight, especially in the fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world of 1920s America.

Furthermore, you should definitely consider the tension between the fact that Daisy represents Gatsby's ultimate goal, but at the same time (as we discussed above), her actual life is the opposite of the American Dream : she is born with money and privilege, likely dies with it all intact, and there are no consequences to how she chooses to live her life in between.

Can Female Characters Achieve the American Dream?

Finally, it's interesting to compare and contrast some of the female characters using the lens of the American Dream.

Let's start with Daisy, who is unhappy in her marriage and, despite a brief attempt to leave it, remains with Tom, unwilling to give up the status and security their marriage provides. At first, it may seem like Daisy doesn't dream at all, so of course she ends up unhappy. But consider the fact that Daisy was already born into the highest level of American society. The expectation placed on her, as a wealthy woman, was never to pursue something greater, but simply to maintain her status. She did that by marrying Tom, and it's understandable why she wouldn't risk the uncertainty and loss of status that would come through divorce and marriage to a bootlegger. Again, Daisy seems to typify the "anti-American" dream, in that she was born into a kind of aristocracy and simply has to maintain her position, not fight for something better.

In contrast, Myrtle, aside from Gatsby, seems to be the most ambitiously in pursuit of getting more than she was given in life. She parlays her affair with Tom into an apartment, nice clothes, and parties, and seems to revel in her newfound status. But of course, she is knocked down the hardest, killed for her involvement with the Buchanans, and specifically for wrongfully assuming she had value to them. Considering that Gatsby did have a chance to leave New York and distance himself from the unfolding tragedy, but Myrtle was the first to be killed, you could argue the novel presents an even bleaker view of the American Dream where women are concerned.

Even Jordan Baker , who seems to be living out a kind of dream by playing golf and being relatively independent, is tied to her family's money and insulated from consequences by it , making her a pretty poor representation of the dream. And of course, since her end game also seems to be marriage, she doesn't push the boundaries of women's roles as far as she might wish.

So while the women all push the boundaries of society's expectations of them in certain ways, they either fall in line or are killed, which definitely undermines the rosy of idea that anyone, regardless of gender, can make it in America. The American Dream as shown in Gatsby becomes even more pessimistic through the lens of the female characters.  


Common Essay Questions/Discussion Topics

Now let's work through some of the more frequently brought up subjects for discussion.

#1: Was Gatsby's dream worth it? Was all the work, time, and patience worth it for him?

Like me, you might immediately think "of course it wasn't worth it! Gatsby lost everything, not to mention the Wilsons got caught up in the tragedy and ended up dead!" So if you want to make the more obvious "the dream wasn't worth it" argument, you could point to the unraveling that happens at the end of the novel (including the deaths of Myrtle, Gatsby and George) and how all Gatsby's achievements are for nothing, as evidenced by the sparse attendance of his funeral.

However, you could definitely take the less obvious route and argue that Gatsby's dream was worth it, despite the tragic end . First of all, consider Jay's unique characterization in the story: "He was a son of God--a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that--and he must be about His Father's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty" (6.7). In other words, Gatsby has a larger-than-life persona and he never would have been content to remain in North Dakota to be poor farmers like his parents.

Even if he ends up living a shorter life, he certainly lived a full one full of adventure. His dreams of wealth and status took him all over the world on Dan Cody's yacht, to Louisville where he met and fell in love with Daisy, to the battlefields of WWI, to the halls of Oxford University, and then to the fast-paced world of Manhattan in the early 1920s, when he earned a fortune as a bootlegger. In fact, it seems Jay lived several lives in the space of just half a normal lifespan. In short, to argue that Gatsby's dream was worth it, you should point to his larger-than-life conception of himself and the fact that he could have only sought happiness through striving for something greater than himself, even if that ended up being deadly in the end.

#2: In the Langston Hughes poem "A Dream Deferred," Hughes asks questions about what happens to postponed dreams. How does Fitzgerald examine this issue of deferred dreams? What do you think are the effects of postponing our dreams? How can you apply this lesson to your own life?

If you're thinking about "deferred dreams" in The Great Gatsby , the big one is obviously Gatsby's deferred dream for Daisy—nearly five years pass between his initial infatuation and his attempt in the novel to win her back, an attempt that obviously backfires. You can examine various aspects of Gatsby's dream—the flashbacks to his first memories of Daisy in Chapter 8 , the moment when they reunite in Chapter 5 , or the disastrous consequences of the confrontation of Chapter 7 —to illustrate Gatsby's deferred dream.

You could also look at George Wilson's postponed dream of going West, or Myrtle's dream of marrying a wealthy man of "breeding"—George never gets the funds to go West, and is instead mired in the Valley of Ashes, while Myrtle's attempt to achieve her dream after 12 years of marriage through an affair ends in tragedy. Apparently, dreams deferred are dreams doomed to fail.

As Nick Carraway says, "you can't repeat the past"—the novel seems to imply there is a small window for certain dreams, and when the window closes, they can no longer be attained. This is pretty pessimistic, and for the prompt's personal reflection aspect, I wouldn't say you should necessarily "apply this lesson to your own life" straightforwardly. But it is worth noting that certain opportunities are fleeting, and perhaps it's wiser to seek out newer and/or more attainable ones, rather than pining over a lost chance.

Any prompt like this one which has a section of more personal reflection gives you freedom to tie in your own experiences and point of view, so be thoughtful and think of good examples from your own life!

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#3: Explain how the novel does or does not demonstrate the death of the American Dream. Is the main theme of Gatsby indeed "the withering American Dream"? What does the novel offer about American identity?

In this prompt, another one that zeroes in on the dead or dying American Dream, you could discuss how the destruction of three lives (Gatsby, George, Myrtle) and the cynical portrayal of the old money crowd illustrates a dead, or dying American Dream . After all, if the characters who dream end up dead, and the ones who were born into life with money and privilege get to keep it without consequence, is there any room at all for the idea that less-privileged people can work their way up?

In terms of what the novel says about American identity, there are a few threads you could pick up—one is Nick's comment in Chapter 9 about the novel really being a story about (mid)westerners trying (and failing) to go East : "I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (9.125). This observation suggests an American identity that is determined by birthplace, and that within the American identity there are smaller, inescapable points of identification.

Furthermore, for those in the novel not born into money, the American identity seems to be about striving to end up with more wealth and status. But in terms of the portrayal of the old money set, particularly Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, the novel presents a segment of American society that is essentially aristocratic—you have to be born into it. In that regard, too, the novel presents a fractured American identity, with different lives possible based on how much money you are born with.

In short, I think the novel disrupts the idea of a unified American identity or American dream, by instead presenting a tragic, fractured, and rigid American society, one that is divided based on both geographic location and social class.

#4: Most would consider dreams to be positive motivators to achieve success, but the characters in the novel often take their dreams of ideal lives too far. Explain how characters' American Dreams cause them to have pain when they could have been content with more modest ambitions.

Gatsby is an obvious choice here—his pursuit of money and status, particularly through Daisy, leads him to ruin. There were many points when perhaps Gatsby ;could have been happy with what he achieved (especially after his apparently successful endeavors in the war, if he had remained at Oxford, or even after amassing a great amount of wealth as a bootlegger) but instead he kept striving upward, which ultimately lead to his downfall. You can flesh this argument out with the quotations in Chapters 6 and 8 about Gatsby's past, along with his tragic death.

Myrtle would be another good choice for this type of prompt. In a sense, she seems to be living her ideal life in her affair with Tom—she has a fancy NYC apartment, hosts parties, and gets to act sophisticated—but these pleasures end up gravely hurting George, and of course her association with Tom Buchanan gets her killed.

Nick, too, if he had been happy with his family's respectable fortune and his girlfriend out west, might have avoided the pain of knowing Gatsby and the general sense of despair he was left with.

You might be wondering about George—after all, isn't he someone also dreaming of a better life? However, there aren't many instances of George taking his dreams of an ideal life "too far." In fact, he struggles just to make one car sale so that he can finally move out West with Myrtle. Also, given that his current situation in the Valley of Ashes is quite bleak, it's hard to say that striving upward gave him pain.

#5: The Great Gatsby is, among other things, a sobering and even ominous commentary on the dark side of the American dream. Discuss this theme, incorporating the conflicts of East Egg vs. West Egg and old money vs. new money. What does the American dream mean to Gatsby? What did the American Dream mean to Fitzgerald? How does morality fit into achieving the American dream?

This prompt allows you to consider pretty broadly the novel's attitude toward the American Dream, with emphasis on "sobering and even ominous" commentary. Note that Fitzgerald seems to be specifically mocking the stereotypical rags to riches story here—;especially since he draws the Dan Cody narrative almost note for note from the work of someone like Horatio Alger, whose books were almost universally about rich men schooling young, entrepreneurial boys in the ways of the world. In other words, you should discuss how the Great Gatsby seems to turn the idea of the American Dream as described in the quote on its head: Gatsby does achieve a rags-to-riches rise, but it doesn't last.

All of Gatsby's hard work for Dan Cody, after all, didn't pay off since he lost the inheritance. So instead, Gatsby turned to crime after the war to quickly gain a ton of money. Especially since Gatsby finally achieves his great wealth through dubious means, the novel further undermines the classic image of someone working hard and honestly to go from rags to riches.

If you're addressing this prompt or a similar one, make sure to focus on the darker aspects of the American Dream, including the dark conclusion to the novel and Daisy and Tom's protection from any real consequences . (This would also allow you to considering morality, and how morally bankrupt the characters are.)

#6: What is the current state of the American Dream?

This is a more outward-looking prompt, that allows you to consider current events today to either be generally optimistic (the American dream is alive and well) or pessimistic (it's as dead as it is in The Great Gatsby).

You have dozens of potential current events to use as evidence for either argument, but consider especially immigration and immigration reform, mass incarceration, income inequality, education, and health care in America as good potential examples to use as you argue about the current state of the American Dream. Your writing will be especially powerful if you can point to some specific current events to support your argument.

What's Next?

In this post, we discussed how important money is to the novel's version of the American Dream. You can read even more about money and materialism in The Great Gatsby right here .

Want to indulge in a little materialism of your own? Take a look through these 15 must-have items for any Great Gatsby fan .

Get complete guides to Jay Gatsby , George Wilson and Myrtle Wilson to get even more background on the "dreamers" in the novel.

Like we discussed above, the green light is often seen as a stand-in for the idea of the American Dream. Read more about this crucial symbol here .

Need help getting to grips with other literary works? Take a spin through our analyses of The Crucible , The Cask of Amontillado , and " Do not go gentle into this good night " to see analysis in action. You might also find our explanations of point of view , rhetorical devices , imagery , and literary elements and devices helpful.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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did gatsby achieve the american dream essay

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The American Dream—that hard work can lead one from rags to riches—has been a core facet of American identity since its inception. Settlers came west to America from Europe seeking wealth and freedom. The pioneers headed west for the same reason. The Great Gatsby shows the tide turning east, as hordes flock to New York City seeking stock market fortunes. The Great Gatsby portrays this shift as a symbol of the American Dream's corruption. It's no longer a vision of building a life; it's just about getting rich.

Gatsby symbolizes both the corrupted Dream and the original uncorrupted Dream. He sees wealth as the solution to his problems, pursues money via shady schemes, and reinvents himself so much that he becomes hollow, disconnected from his past. Yet Gatsby's corrupt dream of wealth is motivated by an incorruptible love for Daisy . Gatsby's failure does not prove the folly of the American Dream—rather it proves the folly of short-cutting that dream by allowing corruption and materialism to prevail over hard work, integrity, and real love. And the dream of love that remains at Gatsby's core condemns nearly every other character in the novel, all of whom are empty beyond just their lust for money.

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Great Gatsby Essay: The Pursuit of the American Dream

  • Great Gatsby Essay: The Pursuit…

A major theme in The Great Gatsby is the pursuit of what can be termed the American dream. Do you agree? By choosing a major character or a situation in Fitzgerald’s novel, discuss how or whether Fitzgerald is successful in exposing the underside of the American dream)

This represents the idea of the American Dream, where qualities of hard work and ambition are shown. The novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald embodies many themes; however, the most significant one relates to the corruption of the American dream.

The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working hard towards prosperity and or wealth and fame. By having money, a car, a big house, nice clothes, and a happy family symbolizes the American dream. This dream also represents that people, no matter who he or she is, can become successful in life by his or her own work.

The desire to strive for what one wants can be accomplished if they work hard enough. The dream is represented by the idea of a self-sufficient man or woman, who works hard to achieve a goal to become successful. The Great Gatsby is a novel that shows what happened to the American Dream in the 1920’s, which is a time period when the dreams became corrupted for many reasons.

The American dream not only causes corruption but has caused destruction. Myrtle, Gatsby and Daisy have all been corrupted and destroyed by the dream.

The desire for a luxurious life is what lures Myrtle into having an affair with Tom. This decision harms her marriage with George, which leads to her death and loss of true happiness. Myrtle has the hope and desire for a perfect, wealthy and famous type of life.  She enjoys reading gossip magazines which represent her hope for the life of “the rich and famous”.

This shows how the one reason she wants to be with Tom, is because he represents the life of “the rich and famous”. When Myrtle first got married to George Wilson, she thought that she was crazy about him and thought that they were happy being together. Myrtle says, “The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake.

He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out…” (Fitzgerald, 37) This shows how materialistic Myrtle is, and that she didn’t appreciate how George couldn’t afford his own suit to get married in. She looks at Tom in a different way. She looks at him as someone who can afford to buy their own suit for their own wedding. Myrtle is attracted to not only Tom’s appearance but his money as well.

She believes that Tom is the ideal picture-perfect man that represents the advertisement of the American Dream. Myrtle is considered to be lower class, as she doesn’t have a lot of money. Myrtle sleeps with Tom to inch her way to an upper-class status. People who are upper class are the ones that have money, drive fancy cars, and have nice big houses. Myrtle isn’t one of those people but desires to be one of them. This, later on, causes destruction and destroys Myrtle.

It was later found that Daisy was the one that hit Myrtle with her car which resulted in the death of Myrtle. It is ironic that Daisy was the one that killed her, since Myrtle was having an affair with her husband, Tom. This shows how the desire for a luxurious life and having the American dream, only caused destruction in this novel and destroyed someone’s life.

The hope for happiness is something that Daisy hoped to have, but finding out she married the wrong man changed who she is and her outlook on life. Early on in the novel, Daisy finds out a secret that Tom is hiding from her. Jordan says, “She might have the decency not to telephone him a dinner time.

Don’t you think?” (Fitzgerald, 20) Tom got a call from some women at dinner time, and Jordan claims that the woman is Tom’s, suggesting that he is sleeping with someone else. You learn throughout the novel that Tom and Daisy’s relationship is not to most ideal, happy relationship. Tom seems to be abusive towards her and rather does not seem to care much about her. Daisy thinks she has everything, wealth, love, and happiness which all tie into the American dream, but then she discovers that she has nothing and that she has been corrupted by this specific dream.

She thought she has all she desired but truly realized she had nothing. She has a child, who does not seem important to her at all. The child is never around, which shows a lot about Daisy. When her child was born, Daisy said “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful fool.” (Fitzgerald, 22)

Daisy basically explained that there are limited possibilities for women, and she would have rather had a boy. The baby has to be a beautiful fool in order to be happy and successful. Woman back in the 1920’s all married for money, and not necessarily love. Daisy thought she had loved when she married Tom, but truly in the long run, only came out with money.

With Gatsby, Daisy realized something that broke her heart. When reunited with Gatsby, who she has not seen in about five years Daisy breaks down and starts to cry. “They’re such beautiful shirts, it makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.” (Fitzgerald, 89) At this time Daisy realizes that she did marry for money and not for love.

She figures out that she could have married for money with Gatsby but would have had love too. The chase for the American dream and the ideal man to be with destroyed Daisy’s happiness.

The ambition for something has thrown Gatsby over the edge. His love and chase for Daisy have taken over his whole life. He feels that he has to live up to the American dream to accomplish what he truly dreams for, which is Daisy. While Gatsby was away fighting in the war, Daisy met Tom and married him.

Daisy had always been rich and Gatsby thought that in order to get Daisy back, he needs to have money so that he would be able to give Daisy anything she wanted. There was a green light where Daisy lived that Gatsby would always look out for.

The green light is of great significance in this novel. It becomes evident that this green light is not Daisy, but a symbol representing Gatsby’s dream of having Daisy. The fact that Daisy falls short of Gatsby’s expectations is obvious. Knowing this, one can see that no matter how hard Gatsby tries to live his fantasy, he will never be able to achieve it.

Through close examination of the green light, one may learn that the force that empowers Gatsby to follow his lifelong aspiration is that of the American Dream. Fitzgerald uses the green light as a symbol of hope, money, and jealousy.  Gatsby looks up to the American dream and follows it so he can be the picture-perfect man that every girl desires.

Gatsby cares a lot about how people see him, and his appearance towards others. He wants everything to look perfect for Daisy, as he wants Daisy to view him as a perfect man. “We both looked down at the grass – there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected he meant my grass.” (Fitzgerald, 80)

This presents the theme of appearance vs. reality and how Gatsby wants everything to look nice and presentable when he meets up with Daisy for the first time in five years. Gatsby becomes corrupted because his main goal is to have Daisy. He needs to have an enormous mansion so he could feel confident enough to try and get Daisy. Gatsby was blinded by the American dream and as a result of this, cause the destruction of Gatsby himself. He didn’t end up getting what he wanted because the American dream took over who he truly was.

The American dream is a powerful dream that was significant in the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. It was evident that this dream only truly caused corruption and destruction. The desire for something sometimes causes people to be someone they are not and this usually does not result in a positive outcome.

The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working hard towards prosperity and or wealth and fame. Most characters in the novel The Great Gatsby all wanted money, wealth, and happiness and would do anything in their power to get this.

The Great Gatsby is a novel that shows what happened to the American Dream in the 1920s, which is a time period when the dreams became corrupted. The American dream not only causes corruption but has caused destruction.

Myrtle, Gatsby, and Daisy have all been corrupted and destroyed by the dream and it was clear to be true. Money cannot buy you happiness which is something that the three characters in the novel The Great Gatsby truly did not realize.

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  • The Great Gatsby: Corruption of the American Dream in the 1920’s

Author:  William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)

Tutor and Freelance Writer. Science Teacher and Lover of Essays. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0



you are a life saver

could you please give information for an MLA citation?

Hi. Please see the Author box.

thank you for leaving how to cite this

Your parenthetical references are incorrect and but the key points were helpful

WOW it really helped me on my essay. Thanks!!!

Hello Can I please get the authors name who wrote this and the date of when they wrote it,


@bill simpson

can teachers find this with there plagiarising finder websites?

I just saw your comment…5 years after you wrote it

2 years after…yeah turnitin prob will catch that

Ich habe diese Webseite meinen Lesezeichen hinzugefügt – gekonnt und umfassend geschildert – spitzen. So könnt ihr weitermachen – ich möchte mehr davon verschlingen!

Great explaination (:

WOW, this is amazing. Thank you so much. You saved my life, and a lot of work and time for me. Thanks.

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The 'American Dream' in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun also Rises

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Rebecca Poulter

In his critical work, The American Novel and Its Tradition, Richard Chase contends that “the best American novels achieve their very being, their energy and their form, from the perception and acceptance not of unities but of radical disunities.” [1] This conviction is supported perhaps most potently in the literature of the 1920s, which documents social and economic revolution in light of the financially prosperous decade, which preceded the “spectacular death” [2] of October 1929’s Wall Street Crash. Published between times of warfare, also,   1920s texts expose the tensions of the ‘lost generation’, of which many young people were distrustful of their native country’s moral superiority after seeing many of their peers killed in action during 1917-8. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), documents these social ‘disunities’ in one’s navigation of the skirmish of ‘Old Money’ versus ‘New Money’, most notably how a character’s wealth and historical background informs his sense of identity in America’s modern setting. Meanwhile Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1927) portrays the experience of an American expatriate of the ‘lost generation’, mediating his dual sense of cultural identity and reconciling himself as a transcendental being in the absence of the oppressive “nature of American culture that he is expected to make his own”. [3] In this essay, I will argue that both of my selected texts challenge the archetypal American Dream and present alternative methods of lifestyle which unify the individual with a greater sense of autonomy.

In The Great Gatsby , the eponymous character embodies the model American construct of the self-made man. Satisfying the American Dream’s devotion to the possibility that “anyone, no matter how lowly his origins, could rise and become a success”, [4] Gatsby accomplishes wealth and prestige in a society traditionally dominated by the inheritors of ‘Old Money’. Fitzgerald first reflects this image of the self-made man onto Gatsby through the depiction of the character’s humble beginnings. The author discloses that Gatsby’s parents were “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”, [5] however the young man possessed "An instinct toward his future glory”. [6] This ambitious inclination inspires Gatsby’s resolution to surrender the roots which define his social standing and realise his own American Dream of (initially) position and prosperity. Gatsby’s elevation through America’s economic divisions indicates a conviction of Richard Chase:

“Jay Gatsby is in origin an archetype of European legend… it is fascinating to observe how, in Fitzgerald’s hands, this legend is modified and in some ways fundamentally changed in accordance with American ideas.” [7]

Indeed, the character’s “enormous sense of his own destiny” [8] motivates a pursuit of success not unlike the Pips and Dick Whittingtons of the traditional English novel – each character seeking their fortune and renewed sense of identity against the prestigious backdrop of The City. Gatsby’s embodiment of the self-made, All-American Man however transforms this traditional persona into modernity. The character’s combined acquisition of a “splendid” [9] Rolls-Royce motorcar, for example, the “colossal affair” [10] of his mansion, and his collection of “such beautiful shirts” [11] illustrate Fitzgerald’s manipulation of the traditionally European legend, and his ability to attach this modernised American idyll to the hero of his novel. Through the allusion to Gatsby’s self-making, then, Fitzgerald subverts a traditional novelistic form, thus Gatsby personifies the 1920s American fable of attaining fortune in spite of ‘lowly’ origins.

Fitzgerald’s presentation of Gatsby’s enterprising nature reflects the emergent fashion of similar characters within the real society of the time. As Henry Dan Piper summarises:

“Almost every Sunday the society columns and rotogravure sections of the New York newspapers carried accounts of the wealthy young Mid-westerners like the Buchanans… The financial sections of the same papers almost as regularly reported the mysterious appearance of Gatsby-like figures who had suddenly emerged from the West with millions of dollars at their command.” [12]

The Great Gatsby is thus testament to the manner in which traditional class boundaries were reformed, or often completely severed in response to the creation of new money to rival hereditary fortune. Without an established class structure where, as Ruth Prigozy suggests, “the idea of a privileged class comes from British models”, [13] many of the social tensions of the Gatsby decade focus upon the individual’s mediation of the changing economy. This “new wave of instant millionaires”, [14] such as the likes of the novel’s hero thus threatened the dominance of the wealthy, by ascending the social echelons and prompting from the financially established an inevitable condemnation. An example of this in the text is Tom Buchanan’s remark that “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife.” [15] Fitzgerald’s choice of vocabulary here implies Buchanan’s conviction that new money is inferior to the old as it is absent of prestige – characters such as Gatsby are therefore unworthy of familiarity and indeed relationships with the upper-classes. Moreover, Daisy is similarly “appalled” to consider herself as sharing her social standing with the traditionally less affluent inhabitants of West Egg. Fitzgerald describes Daisy as revolted by the location’s “raw vigor” and by the “too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short cut from nothing to nothing.” [16] The image of being transported from a lower social standing to apparently ‘nothing’ further reflects this notion that the success which America’s “newly rich people” [17] discover is in fact hollow. The prosperity of those who attain this American Dream of affluence is rendered meaningless in the absence of prestigious historical background.

Chase explains how Gatsby’s motivation for an accumulation of wealth separates him from his similarly affluent counterparts. So far as the hero knows them, “society and its ways… are not ends but means to a transcendent ideal.” [18] Indeed, the purpose for Gatsby’s social elevation is not simply the product of his pursuit of fortune, but that it signifies the ‘means’ by which he can realise his dream that is represented by Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby has “literally patched himself together out of popular ideas” [19] , of what the wealthy, All-American man should embody, in order to imply his worth and consequently secure Daisy as his own. This is evident in Fitzgerald’s novel, as the hero’s efforts are interpreted by Nick as “like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines”. [20] Indeed, Gatsby’s “elaborate formality of speech”, and the “strong impression that he was picking his words with care”, [21] all construct the image supposedly deemed worthy of his maiden. This self-characterisation leads Daisy to comment towards Gatsby that “You resemble the advertisement of the man” [22] – ‘the man’, being an indiscriminate metaphor for the fashionable All-American male. Having already embarked on a doomed relationship with Daisy, however, Gatsby’s hamartia is his foolhardy idealism: his adamant refusal to confront the reality of passing time. In a dream world “where past, present and future are all one”, [23] Gatsby believes that “of course” one can “repeat” [24] exact past events and consequently yield a better outcome. It becomes clear, however, throughout the novel that Gatsby’s infatuation is focused not on Daisy specifically, but on the image which she represents; “like a card house”, [25] the dream collapses at the slightest indication of Daisy’s non-fulfilment of the promise she personifies:

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.” [26]

Evidently, Gatsby’s ambition usurps the reality of Daisy’s character. There is no evidence of a sexual passion shared between the couple (although Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 adaptation disputes this), thus Gatsby’s adoration appears misinformed; he “does not see her as she is… He sees her merely as beauty and innocence.” [27]   The promise of Daisy draws allusion to the image of a beautiful flower growing natively on the “fresh green breast of the new world”. [28] Gatsby’s dream can therefore be interpreted as a romantic sense of possibility – akin to that of America’s first settlers – which “resides in the unattainable woman who symbolizes the beauty which wealth preserves and protects”. [29] The promise of Daisy is not only Gatsby’s ideal, but indicated the American Dream as a whole; it embodies the “possibilities of this life and eternal life”. [30] Fitzgerald’’s characterisation of Gatsby evidently evokes elements of tragicomedy, as the ridiculousness of the romantic hero’s vision provokes his downfall and ultimate death. The flaw of Gatsby’s aspiration is described by Henry Dan Piper as:

“Gatsby… wants it both ways. He must be a Grail Knight as well as a Wall Street tycoon. He expects Daisy to be the innocent maiden in distress waiting stoically for her knight errant. At the same time, he insists that she be a typical ‘popular’ girl – rich, pretty and consequently self-centred and unadventurous. Confused by these conflicting aims and goals, the vulnerable Gatsby is easily betrayed and destroyed.” [31]

Indeed, a prominent motif throughout the novel is that of death – most persistent is the setting of the Valley of Ashes and the “foul dust” that “floated in the wake of Gatsby’s dreams”. [32] Similarly, Tom’s accusation that Gatsby “threw dust in [Nick’s] eyes just like he did Daisy’s” [33] illustrates the collateral suffered in ‘the wake’ of the hero’s fatal romantic delusion. In spite of this however, it is the character’s capacity to possess and strive to accomplish his “incorruptible dream” [34] which “affirms the unique value as well as the limitations of the philosophy of individualism.” [35] Nick’s ultimate faithfulness to Gatsby’s dream transcends the fact that he “disapproved of him from beginning to end”; [36] the dream calls to Nick’s mind the ideal meaning of America itself. The promise of the New World’s power to inspire “a transitory enchanted moment” [37] presents an elusive magic “between two worlds, the one scarcely dead, the other driven by raw energy yet inexorably drifting towards death”, [38] accessible only to those who dare to dream. Gatsby’s pursuit of the ‘green light’ “invokes the poetic appeal of the frontier” [39] and represents the “orgastic future that year by year recedes before us”. [40] It is a metaphor of the American dream itself and acts symbolically as a bulwark against the “rapacity that fuelled the nation’s expansion, destroying the gifts of nature in the process.” [41] Gatsby’s ideal bears no claim on reality, conversely it is the mere reality of having a dream which is both the flaw and redeeming quality of Gatsby’s persona:

“That’s the whole burden of this novel – the loss of those illusions that give such colour to the world that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they take part in the magical glory.” [42]

  As Fitzgerald himself summarises, it is this capacity to pursue these ‘illusions’ – the way in which we admire those who entertain their own American Dreams – which occupies the moral heart of his novel, The Great Gatsby . Nick’s comment that Gatsby is “worth the whole damn bunch put together” [43] thus carries significance as it illustrates the hero’s ultimate eclipse of traditional American values in place of his own Romantic ideal.

Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises , documents the experience of American expatriates living in Paris. The novel discusses the theme of identity – how it is constructed and manipulated in terms of the “dual allegiance of the American, who in his intellectual culture belongs to the Old World and the New”. [44] Hemingway’s characterisation of Robert Cohn is the first evidence within the text of this discussion, as Cohn embodies the typical American man, conditioned by his native culture. The protagonist, Jake, observes, “I never heard him make one remark that would, in any way detach him from other people”, [45] thus Cohn is emblematic of the stereotypically American preoccupation with democracy and social unity. This is further reflected in the detail that “If he were in a crowd nothing he said stood out”. [46] In his book, Civilisation and its Discontents, it is Freud who suggests that the American democracy inhibits the development of exceptional individuals; its nature specifically inspires society to “identify with one another rather than cultivate their individual sense of life”. [47] Moreover, Hemingway’s crafting of Cohn’s “funny sort of undergraduate quality”, matched with his “Princeton” appearance [48] and proclivity for polo shirts depicts the character as markedly American. Cohn is thus continuously shunned by his compatriots in Europe, who claim that he makes them “sick”, [49] and demand of him: “Don’t you know you’re not wanted?” [50] This scorn derives from the simple fact that Cohn represents the “pressure for conformity that was possibly the most oppressive feature of American life”. [51] Illustrating Cohn in this manner therefore serves as a subtle means by which the author may confront “the values which were most dear to the self-consciously American hearts of his parents”, [52] and celebrate the birth of individualism in the new frontier that is Europe.

Harold T. McCarthy contends that The Sun Also Rises transcends the definition of “an anti-war tract or a breast-beating for the disenchanted”. Instead the novel is “an exaltation of the masculine principle… and of a people’s spiritual community”. [53] There is no theme more appropriate to exemplify this, as the image of the bullfight and the theme of death which it signifies. Hemingway’s protagonist documents the manner in which the matador confronts fatal threat – dances with it – in order to reflect his own inevitable mortality yet meanwhile assert the autonomy of himself:

“Romero’s bullfighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolutely purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize their closeness… he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable.” [54]

The matador’s choice to encounter the fatal possibilities of the bullring indicates a confidence in his own autonomy which is denied through the democratic mass of American culture. McCarthy interprets the bullfight in Hemingway’s novel as an “affirmation of the human spirit”, for it entertains primitive instincts such as courage, grace, and sexuality, which became symbolic for Hemingway as it illustrates “man’s capacity to shape his own existence”. [55] Indeed, acknowledging death is a means by which one can accomplish a sense of his own individuality. In an America which celebrates power en masse, death is obscured, thus the bullfights of Europe present opportunity for Jake and Hemingway alike to indulge their primitive energies and regain a sense of individuality.

Hemingway’s characterisation of the ‘aficionado’ reinforces this theme of rekindled identity, as the bullfight becomes a passion by which man can reacquaint himself with his transcendental being. As Jake summarises, “It was simply the pleasure of discovering what we each felt” [56] which spiritually connects him with similar aficionados and bestows him with a sentiment of illumination impossible to achieve in American society. Indeed, the character of Montoya “smiled as though bullfighting were a very special secret”, [57] meanwhile “it amused [other aficionados] that [Jake] should be American”. [58] Clearly, the passionate experience of the bullfight is typically un-American, as is the notion of having a profound interest in a hobby outside of the status quo. Able to maintain his own sense of individuality away from American culture then, the character of Jake testifies Hemingway's conviction that;

“If you serve time for society, democracy, and other things quite young, and declining any further enlistment make yourself responsible only to yourself, you exchange the pleasant, comforting stench of comrades for something you can never feel other way than by yourself.” [59]

Jake’s status as aficionado is thus his salvation, in a world in which he has supposedly “given more than [his] life”. [60] The novel itself conveys Hemingway’s aspiration to convey “the sense of men’s lives as islands in a stream” as it documents “moments in the process of being” [61] – a notion apparent to the novel’s protagonist through his aficion. Jake consequently appreciates himself as an infinite, eternal being through Hemingway’s deconstruction of American ideals of democracy, unity and death, and consequently he is able to navigate a lifestyle in Europe which spiritually transcends the burden of his horrific physical wounding.

To conclude, both Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s thematic content of their novels demonstrate the tensions experienced within the American society of the 1920s – both on native soil and abroad. The Great Gatsby is seen as a “conscious indictment of the American Dream of success”, [62] as Fitzgerald – through his characterisation of Gatsby’s self-made nature and romantic aspiration – criticises the American upper-middle class’ preoccupation with established wealth. Moreover, Jake of The Sun Also Rises denotes Hemingway’s concerns of a democratic society; smothering dreams of individuality and denying unorthodox passions. It is clear then that both novelists believe that the American Dream is subverted from the original romance of the frontier into something poisonous, reinforcing the notion that “all is vanity except those actions which bring a sense of oneness with natural things”. [63] Gatsby and Jake are thus equivocally portrayed as both the victims and the victors of a society which closes in a “united front” [64] against the social outcast, ultimately providing a challenge of the revered American Dream and what it signifies to the individual of 1920s – and modern day – society.

[1] Richard Chase, ‘The Broken Circuit: A Culture of Contradictions’ in The American Novel and Its Tradition , (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1980) p.6-7

[2] F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Echoes of the Jazz Age’ in The Crack Up, <>   [accessed 21 st May 2014]

[3] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’ in The Expatriate Perspective: American Novelists and the Idea of America , (Cranbury, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974) p.143

[4] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Hero’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Critical Portrait , (London: The Bodley Head Press, 1966) p.123

[5] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) p.78

[6] Ibid.p.79

[7] Richard Chase, ‘Three Novels of Manners: The Great Gatsby’ in The American Novel and Its Tradition, p.162-3

[8] Ibid. p.163

[9] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p.55

[10] Ibid. p.8

[11] Ibid. p.74

[12] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Hero’, p.114

[13] Ruth Prigozy, ‘Introduction’ in The Great Gatsby, xxxiii

[14] Ibid. xix

[15] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p.103

[16] Ibid. p.86

[17] Ibid. p.103

[18] Richard Chase, ‘Three Novels of Manners: The Great Gatsby’, p.165

[19] Ruth Prigozy, ‘Introduction’, xxvii

[20] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.53

[21] Ibid. p.40

[22] Ibid. p.95

[23] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Form’, p.148

[24] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.88

[25] Ibid. p.90

[26] Ibid. p.76

[27] Richard Chase, ‘Three Novels of Manners: The Great Gatsby’, p.165

[28] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.143

[29] Ruth Prigozy, ‘Introduction’, xxii-iii

[31] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Hero’, p.124

[32] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.6

[33] Ibid. p.142

[34] Ibid. p.123

[35] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Hero’, p.125

[36] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.122

[37] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.143

[38] Ruth Prigozy, ‘Introduction’, xxxiv

[39] Richard Chase, ‘Three Novels of Manners: The Great Gatsby’, p.164

[40] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.144

[41] Ruth Prigozy, ‘Introduction’, xxii-iii

[42] F. Scott Fitzgerald, Letter to Ludlow Fowler, August 1924; Correspondence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 145.

[43] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby , p.122

[44] Richard Chase, ‘The Broken Circuit: A Culture of Contradictions’ in The American Novel and Its Tradition, p.11

[45] Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises , (London: Vintage, 2000), p.39

[47] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’, p.151--2

[48] Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises , p.39

[49] Ibid. p.90

[50] Ibid. p.124

[51] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’, p.147

[52] Ibid. p.139

[53] Ibid p.147

[54] Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises , p.145-6

[55] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’, p.137

[56] Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, p.115

[57] Ibid. p.114

[58] Ibid. p.115

[59] Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935), p.148-50

[60] Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, p.27

[61] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’, p.138

[62] Henry Dan Piper, ‘The Great Gatsby: Finding a Hero’, p.124

[63] Harold T. McCarthy, ‘Hemingway and Life as Play’, p.152

[64] Richard Chase, ‘Three Novels of Manners: The Great Gatsby’, p.114

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The Great Gatsby

Why did gatsby fail to achieve the american dream and to reunite with daisy.

The green light at the end of Daisy's dock is symbolic of both 'The American Dream', where America was perceived as a land of opportunity with limitless possibilities which could be obtained by courage and hard work, and Gatsby's dream to repeat the past and be reunited with Daisy. Discuss why Gatsby ultimately failed to achieve either of these dreams.

Gatsby's dream was unattainable because it didn't really exist. He was in love with a memory, and he eventually realized that Daisy was not the woman he fell in love with (maybe she never was). The brief affair ended because Daisy would never have given up social position for a man who couldn't ever really fit into her world.

Gradesaver explains this beautifully in their Chapter Five analysis;

This chapter presents Gatsby as a man who cannot help but live in the past: he longs to stop time, as though he and Daisy had never been separated and as though she had never left him to marry Tom. During their meeting, Nick remarks that he is acting like "a little boy." In Daisy's presence, Gatsby loses his usual debonair manner and behaves like any awkward young man in love. Gatsby himself is regressing, as though he were still a shy young soldier in love with a privileged debutante.

Nick describes the restless Gatsby as "running down like an over-wound clock." It is significant that Gatsby, in his nervousness about whether Daisy's feelings toward him have changed, knocks over Nick's clock: this signifies both Gatsby's consuming desire to stop time and his inability to do so.

Daisy, too, ceases to play the part of a world-weary sophisticate upon her reunion with Gatsby. She weeps when he shows her his collection of sumptuous English shirts, and seems genuinely overjoyed at his success. In short, Gatsby transforms her; she becomes almost human. Daisy is more sympathetic in this chapter than she is at any other point in the novel.

The song "Ain't We Got Fun" is significant for a number of reasons. The opening lyrics ("In the morning/ In the evening/ Ain't we got fun") imply a carefree spontaneity that stands in stark contrast to the tightly-controlled quality of the lovers' reunion. This contrast is further sharpened by the words of the next verse, which run: "Got no money/ But oh, honey/ Ain't we got fun!" It is bitterly ironic that Gatsby and Daisy should reunite to the strains of this song, given the fact that she rejected him because of his poverty.

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Home — Q&A — Literature — The Great Gatsby — Why Did Gatsby Fail To Achieve The American Dream?

Why Did Gatsby Fail To Achieve The American Dream?

Jay Gatsby spent his whole life earning the wealth and reputation that he thought would win Daisy over, and get the connection they had before he went to war back. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it”, was a quote spoken by Nick Carraway in the book. It portrays the impression that although Gatsby was rich and could afford anything, he would never be able to get the thing he wanted the most, Daisy. Daisy is the final puzzle piece to his grand vision – attaining Daisy will open the door towards his joining the aristocratic class, something his wealth alone doesn't allow. Daisy will give him status, Daisy will bring back the past, Daisy will give his counterfeit life authenticity, Daisy will make him happy. Daisy is Gatsby's idea of the American Dream. However, Daisy never wanted to admit to her husband, Tom, that she had feelings for Gatsby, no matter how much money Gatsby had, which meant he never got his happiness. This situation shows that money doesn’t bring happiness, as Jay could buy anything he wanted, except for the person he wanted. Connections and relationships with people bring happiness, and they are not something you can buy. Gatsby died unhappy with no friends or family because of his money. The Great Gatsby is a novel that demonstrates the failure of the American Dream in post-war America because of people’s misunderstanding of it and their materialistic view of modern life. The early twentieth century saw the corruption of the American Dream which was interpreted by people of a search for an easy, materialistic, often immoral and spiritually quite decadent life.


  • Daisys Love in The Great Gatsby
  • The Great Gatsby Chapter 3 Analysis
  • Daisy vs. Myrtle: A Comparative Analysis
  • The Great Gatsby Is Not Great
  • Differences And Similarities Between Tom And Gatsby
  • Flashback Story Examples

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did gatsby achieve the american dream essay


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