The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald deals on one level with Jay Gatsby’s hopes and dreams, but on a deeper level also deals with the Great American Dream. The novel starts and ends with a reference to the green light at the end of the dock, indicating an important symbolism. The first time Nick catches sight of Jay Gatsby, Gatsby “stretched his arms towards the dark water […] [Nick] distinguished nothing except a single green light […] that might have been at the end of a dock. ” (Fitzgerald 2000:25). Fitzgerald ends the novel by again referring to the “green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. (171). The protagonist of the novel is Jay Gatsby, a wealthy young man from the Midwest, who has moved to the New York in the East to pursue his dream. As a younger man, he meets Daisy and falls in love with her. Unlike Gatsby, she is from a wealthy ‘old money’ family and Gatsby misrepresents himself as being wealthy in his own right to win her heart. They fall in love, and when he leaves to go to the army, she promises to wait for him. However, before he returns she marries Tom Buchanan and Gatsby’s dream is to recapture her heart.
He realises he has to be wealthy to do this and resorts to various illegal ways of making money, including bootlegging and trading in stolen securities. He associates with known criminals like Meyer Wolfshiem, “who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919. ” (71). His naive belief that wealth and social standing is all he requires to win back Daisy is an echo of the failure of the American Dream. In effect, Gatsby sacrifices his soul to keep his dream alive. He never establishes real relationships, but rather uses people in general, and Nick specifically to pursue his dream
Gatsby’s belief that the end justifies the means is echoed by the Great American Dream. The singleminded pursuit of economic and material success in the 1920’s leads to the corruption of people. Even those who achieve their dreams labour under the belief that there is always something bigger and better to attain, hence Nick’s observation at the end of the novel that “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – “ (171). Gatsby’s dream becomes so all-encompassing that he is unable to live in the resent, or enjoy his wealth. Daisy is the sole component of his vision of “the orgiastic future. ” (171). He has massive parties every weekend for people he doesn’t know, taking no part in them, preferring to stand on the sidelines as an observer. They are solely a means to crossing paths with Daisy again. Even the title of the novel – The Great Gatsby – seems to allude to the illusion of the self-created Gatsby. The emptiness of this existence is echoed by the people who attend these parties, as well as the superficiality of Daisy and Tom.
Nick observes that They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made… (170). The pursuit of pleasure is the overriding motivation of the wealthy, yet they seem bored by these very activities. Again, this illustrates the fallacy of the American dream; the pursuit and attainment of money and pleasure does not bring happiness, leading to the never-ending search for more pleasure and wealth.
The illusion of the American dream is that anyone can achieve their dreams through hard work, regardless of their origins. The flaw is that there are enormous class divides between the rich and the poor, as well as within the wealthy themselves. This is clear from the disdain with which the people living on East Egg regard the residents of West Egg, who they consider to be upstarts with ‘new money’. This is one of the reasons that Gatsby will never attain his dream – Daisy herself subscribes to this class divide.
No matter how wealthy Gatsby becomes, he will never be of the same class as Daisy. Although the East Egg inhabitants frequent Gatsby’s parties, he is never accepted as one of them, as witnessed by the failure of all of them, Daisy included, to come to his funeral. This superficiality is the ultimate moral corruption and Daisy clearly represents these lack of values. The class divide between rich and poor is clearly illustrated by George Wilson, who lives on the edge of the valley of ashes. He is doomed to be viewed as unsuccessful and inferior, both by the wealthy inhabitants of the
Eggs and by his wife, who betrays him with Tom. Clearly, character is not what people value. Wilson is an honest, hardworking man, while Tom is a rather unsavoury character. This corruption of values appears throughout the novel, with the desolate wasteland of the valley of ashes represents the moral decay of the 1920’s. Just as people travel from the Eggs to New York without really noticing the decay, so they pursue their dreams at any cost, not taking heed of the lack of moral fibre and the corruption that money and power brings.
It is fitting that Tom’s mistress lives and dies in this grey wasteland. It is also where Nick meets her for the first time. Gatsby’s dream of Daisy serves to put her on a pedestal. Nick realises that even Gatsby must have understood this: 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. (92). When he eventually engineers their meeting through Nick, he realises that she is not the perfect woman he has conjured up in his mind.
Rather, she is a shallow, flighty socialite of very little substance. He realises when he kisses Daisy that “his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (107). The green light also loses its magical attraction, and simply becomes a green light – “the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. […] His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. ” (90). Nevertheless, Gatsby holds fast to his dream – it has been his raison d’etre for so long, he is unable to let go, even when Daisy decides to stay with Tom.
When Daisy kills Myrtle Wilson, Gatsby is happy to take the blame to protect Daisy, even though she shows a callous lack of conscience about causing someone’s death and allowing someone else to take the blame. As a final insult, Daisy simply moves house to get away from the unpleasantness caused by her own actions, and doesn’t even attend Gatsby’s funeral. This is parallel to the realisation that the image of happiness held by people in their pursuit of wealth and success is an illusion – the reality is never as perfect as the dream.
The corruption is so absolute that people prefer to maintain the illusion rather than admit that their dream may be flawed, or even entirely without substance. At the end of the novel, Nick imagines the East and West Eggs without any houses – as they must have appeared to the earliest settlers – “a fresh, green breast of the new world. ” (171) comparing Gatsby’s dream of reconnecting with Daisy to the discovery of America and the promise it held.
Fitzgerald’s disenchantment with the moral failure of society in the 1920’s is clearly illustrated by the use of green as a symbol of hope, and the failure of that hope to materialise. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock also symbolises the inability to control time, the irretrievability of the past and the futility of trying to recreate the past, despite Gatsby’s belief to the contrary. When Nick asserts that one can’t repeat the past, he exclaims: “Can’t repeat the past? […] Why of course you can! ” (106).
Gatsby naively believes that Daisy can erase the past by simply telling Tom that she never loved him. He tells Nick that “[he’s] going to fix everything the way it was before” (106) and that he and Daisy would “be married from her house – just as if it were five years ago. ” (106). The similarity between Gatsby’s dream and the Great American dream is a central theme of the novel. People pursue their dreams, regardless of the cost to themselves and others, with little regard for the attainability and reality of the dream. In Gatsby’s case, his dream eventually costs him his life.
Similarly, the singleminded pursuit of wealth and pleasure eventually costs people their lives, if not in the literal sense, then in the moral sense. BIBLIOGRAPHY Fitzgerald, F. S. 1926 (rpt. 2000). The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Books Term Papers Lab. http://www. termpaperslab. com (23 July 2008) Sparknotes. com. http://www. sparknotes. com (23 July 2008) Michigan State University. https://www. msu. edu (23 July 2008) Studyworld. http://www. studyworld. com (23 July 2008) Homework-Online. http://www. homework-online. com (23 July 2008) The Great Gatsby Comprehension and Literary Analysis Blog http://honorsenglish. learnerblogs. org/