“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the nake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (Fitzgerald 7) claims Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel by Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Through Nick’s view of Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald illustrates how “what preyed on Gatsby,” or his misconception of himself and his world, represents the disintegration of the American Dream. For instance, Gatsby’s irresistible longing to achieve his dream through his pursuit of money and material success, his idealization of Daisy, and his attempt to recreate the past lead to his downfall; exemplifying the theme of the corruption of the American Dream.
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Gatsby makes a false connection between his dream of winning Daisy and gaining wealth and material success. Nick observes that “[Gatsby] invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” (104), showing Gatsby’s amazing aptitude to transform his hopes and dreams into reality by inventing his ideal human being named, “Jay Gatsby.” By re-inventing himself, Gatsby’s powerful dream of attaining happiness with Daisy has become his motivation of lavish excesses and even criminal activities. Next, when Gatsby realizes that “[Daisy’s] voice is full of money.” (127) he relates Daisy to treasure, which is difficult to obtain. Gatsby holds a fallacy that by achieving his visionary dream through crime and money and impressing Daisy, he is able to attain happiness. By making shallow and capricious Daisy the focus of his life, Gatsby narrows down his extraordinary power of imaginative hope to the sole ambition of becoming wealthy. Furthermore, much like the crumbling of the American Dream when America’s powerful optimism, liveliness, and individualism became subsidiary to the amoral interest of wealth, Gatsby’s failure to realize that money is not the key to fulfill his dream leads to his death.
Gatsby invests Daisy with an idealistic impeccability that she cannot possibly attain in real life. Although Gatsby actually recognizes that Daisy is not as Gatsby had envisioned her in the past, he “had thrown himself into [the colossal vitality of his illusion] with creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way” (101).
Gatsby is confused about how his vision of Daisy and the actual Daisy varied extremely, but he does not alter his view of her. Gatsby keeps placing Daisy on a high pedestal of everything that he wants her to be. Gatsby’s continual idealization of Daisy makes him unable to realize the faults in his lifestyle. In addition, Nick describes Gatsby’s blinded life at the end of the novel, saying, “he must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass” (169). Thinking about Gatsby’s death, Nick implies that all symbols are produced by the mind and not come with any inherent meaning, but people invest them with meaning. Nick hints that roses are not beautiful inherently, and that people only consider them that way because they decide to do so. In the same way, Daisy is “grotesque” because Gatsby has imbued her with meaning and beauty by having her as the object of his dream. If Gatsby had not invested her with such values, Daisy would be an idle, boring, rich young woman without any particular moral strength or loyalty. Due to his illusion, Gatsby experiences a downfall, just as the American Dream fell short of many people’s expectations during the Roaring Twenties.
Gatsby chooses to recapture the past created by his memories with Daisy; as a result, he is unable to accept the changes in the present. In fact, Gatsby reveals his intense desire of returning to the past when he exclaims, “‘Can’t repeat the past?’â€¦ ‘Why of course you can!’ He looked around him wildly, as if the past were luring here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand” (117). Gatsby firmly believes that the past can be recreated and is forced to speak to Nick about it in an anxious effort to keep it alive. Even after confronting with Tom, Gatsby cannot accept that his dream is dead. Gatsby is lost in his dream and believes that anything can be repeated, which is also shown when he drops Nick’s clock, in an effort to stop time and regain the past. Moreover, Nick remarks that “[Gatsby] did not know that [his past] was already behind him, somewhere in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (189), depicting that Gatsby is unable to break free from his past and cannot resist to recreate the it in the present. Upon losing Daisy after the war, Gatsby decided that his future must lie in the past; as there was no way that the elation he felt with Daisy could ever be replaced; so he created a convoluted plan to recreate his past. Gatsby’s inability to figure out that his dream was unrealistic and impossible since it had already passed portrays a disintegration of the American Dream, as people had tendencies to exaggerate the past and cast it into the future.
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The American dream was initially about innovation, individualism, and the quest for happiness. In the 1920s, the setting of the novel, however, effortless money and relaxed social values have degraded the dream, especially in the East Coast. As the corruption of the American Dream caused Gatsby’s misconception of believing that success can be achieved by wealth and materialism, idealizing Daisy, and trying to recreate the past; the American Dream in the 1920s was corrupt and disastrous.
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