A Robust Misunderstanding of the American Dream
Ronald Regan once professed, “The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends him to become.” Under this idea of the American dream, opportunities prove boundless. Every American has the freedom to explore any of his individual passions with the feasible probability of material comfort. In its essence, the American dream is a profound concept, as it provided the foremost illustration of equal-opportunity in our modern world. The Roaring Twenties, however, tested the waters of this idealistic notion of self-prompted prosperity. With its lavish parties and cultural decadence, the Jazz Era exemplified the deficiency of integrity among upper-class citizens. The American dream had become skewed by self-gratification and indolence, rather than the complete expression of hard work in order to overcome disadvantaged odds and achieve success. A keen observer of such distorted values, F. Scott Fitzgerald constructed the novel The Great Gatsby with efforts to shed light on his observations.
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Despite the novel’s widespread popularity and literary acclaim, some critics did not care for the novel. At any rate, Fitzgerald intended to write a novel to highlight the lopsided sense of morality among the upper-class members of society.
Gatsby’s obsession with unimportant objects, like money and material luxuries, demonstrates his lack of morality as a wealthy character of the Jazz Age (“F. Scott Fizgerald’s True Purpose for Jay Gatsby”).As a symbolic paradigm of his lack of ethics, Gatsby dies an obscenely prosperous member of society, but without love, happiness, or family.Due to the fact that he never established proper moral principles, he became obsessed with capital and self-love throughout the course of his life.This overabundance of self-focus becomes fully manifested in the fact that hardly anyone shows up to his funeral.Ultimately, Fitzgerald wanted to show that money does not outweigh integrity in terms of importance, and he follows accordingly through Gatsby’s love of self and elaborate indulgences.
Likewise, the manner by which Gatsby acquires his wealth reveals the author’s assessment of the vast exploitation of the American dream during the Roaring Twenties (“F. Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream”).Jay Gatsby makes a living through his business with Meyer Wolfsheim, a powerful black-market criminal and an illustrious bootlegger.When Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway to Meyer Wolfsheim, Wolfsheim says, “I understand you’re looking for a business gonnegtion” (Fitzgerald 42).Nick Carraway, the only consistently honest character throughout the whole novel, politely declines to get into business with Wolfsheim.This single moment provides a glimpse into the window of the author’s purpose. Nick Carraway, the character that represents decency and moral respectability, refuses to become rich through illegal activities. He chooses, rather, to follow the American Dream in the traditional sense, and keep his well-earned occupation. Essentially, through the character of Gatsby, the author intends to rebuke the common misapplication of the American dream.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald effectively portrays the ills of the affluent class in the Jazz Age.With the end of World War I, a new wave of young-adults was introduced to the distinctive side-effects of a war-torn generation (“Jazz Age Influence in The Great Gatsby”).Flapper culture began to set its course and became an advancement for women’s rights.Jazz music became increasingly popular, progressively influencing popular culture as a whole. While these boisterous times seemed exciting through an immediate lens, the broader picture was met by a clashing sense of debasement and corruption.The prohibition of alcohol gave rise to widespread bootlegging and other illegal activities (“The Roaring Twenties”).Many of these defining characteristics of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Era are strongly reflected in The Great Gatsby.The novel’s portrayal of Gatsby’s extravagant parties, the bootlegging scene, and the fancy automobiles on the 1920’s all stem from the author’s witness of the culture.In general, members of the well-heeled estate began to disrupt the integrity of the American Dream.
The author’s background provides the novel with a framework for many characters.For one, Fitzgerald’s experience proves revealingly outward within the character of Jay Gatsby (“Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald: Artist, Dancer and Wife”).Jay Gatsby serves in the military, briefly attends a prestigious university, and eventually drops out.Though the sequence of events occurred in a different order, F. Scott Fitzgerald did all of the previously-mentioned undertakings. Additionally, the character of Daisy Buchanan symbolizes the author’s real-life love interest, Zelda Sayre. Initially, Zelda Sayre broke off her engagement with F. Scott Fitzgerald due to his lack of affluence. Fitzgerald worked tirelessly to produce a novel, This Side of Paradise, in order to acquire enough wealth to earn the affection of Zelda Sayre.In a similar fashion, Daisy Buchanan could not marry Gatsby, because he lacked wealth and material possessions. A little more romanticized than the author’s life, Gatsby devotes the rest of his life to attain enough fortune to earn the love of Daisy Buchanan. These obvious parallels of the author’s real-life experiences help the readers to contextualize the fullness of the novel.
While Fitzgerald’s novel was almost universally appraised, not all critics took a liking to The Great Gatsby. In 1925, H.L. Mencken wrote a review in The Chicago Tribune, where he belittles the novel (“H.L. Mencken’s 1925 review of The Great Gatsby”). Mencken, an avid fan of Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, disliked The Great Gatsby’s so-called lack of meaning. He claims that the novel merely tells a suspenseful story without any deeper substance for the readers to ponder, “Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, “The Great Gatsby” is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that” (Mencken). While this review stands merely as a reference, the novel received praise from most literary critics.
Altogether, Fitzgerald sought to write a novel in order underline the skewed sense of morality among the upper-class members of society. Jay Gatsby’s obsession with insignificant material items determines his lack of morality as a wealthy character of the Jazz Age. The illegal manner by which Gatsby acquires his wealth reveals the author’s critique of the systemic manipulation of the American dream during the Roaring Twenties. In addition, Fitzgerald effectively portrays the ills of the affluent class in the Jazz Age. Lastly, the author’s background provides the novel with a framework for many characters. Despite the upper-class’ frequent misinterpretation of the American dream, self-prompted success is still alive and well for those who desire it.