The American Dream in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”
Introduction: The American Dream Concept
The term American dream refers to the chances available to citizens of the United States and those who come here to live. The American dream is identified as the freedom of speech, entrepreneurship, personality, and the capacity to work hard to accomplish personal objectives and achievements. This term also refers to a significant increase in one’s quality of life. The research paper synthesizes various sources to compare and contrast the definitions of the American dream and defines whether the concept refers to wealth or liberty and brotherhood.
Notably, the United States has been regarded as a place of opportunity. The widespread acceptance of this concept has been a distinguishing feature of the American ethos (Wolak and Peterson 968). Therefore, the American dream is a concept in which all Americans, regardless of class or position, may achieve success and have a higher standard of living than their ancestors, assuming they are fully committed and ready to work hard.
Additionally, not only is the American dream a component of how individuals perceive their chances in the country, but it is also a fundamental component of political debate. According to Wolak and Peterson, during the 114th Congress, the phrase ‘American dream’ occurs over 500 times in the Congressional Record and is used in the titles of four measures presented during the session (968). Consequently, the American dream’s notion has been ingrained in American political culture, reaffirmed by leaders, highlighted by the media, literature, music, and shared by generations within families.
Comparison and Contrast of the Definitions of the American Dream
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest novels written on the subject. At first look, Jay Gatsby’s narrative appears to be the American dream realization. He was successful, wealthy, and established a career; nonetheless, the lovely picture comes crashing down when readers discover the real cause behind the extravagant party obsession. Gatsby fell in love with Daisy Buchanan, a girl from an affluent family when he was younger. Important to add that Daisy married another man, leaving Jay Gatsby behind. Soon after, Jay Gatsby learned about illegal and highly profitable enrichment techniques to earn money and, also, prove that he deserved Daisy’s attention and love. Nonetheless, Gatsby never discovered that she was never interested in his money.
Fitzgerald is usually regarded as a “Romantic” writer because of his lyrical vocabulary, transcendent vision, and heroic ideals. It is essential to consider Jay Gatsby to grasp Fitzgerald’s transcendental collection of human values, such as life, love, freedom, faith, and happiness, excising in writer’s artistic core (Lee 128). Fitzgerald so fully nurtured this pleasant atmosphere around his personal life that it has entrenched into the only Romanticism people usually associate with his literature (Lee 128). Although the pursuit of the American dream derives from the concept of pure and genuine hard work and accomplishments, Jay Gatsby’s method of obtaining it leads to his destruction (Habib et al. 34). Because of the ethically perverted image of the American dream, his interactions with other characters, particularly Tom and Daisy Buchanan, were contaminated.
Fitzgerald expands on the theme of the American dream becoming a societal blight in the American way of life by often mentioning racism in his work. The image of ‘colored people’ ascending to their social standing is repugnant to the elite, experiencing the ‘inherited’ American dream of the jazz age (Habib et al. 34). For instance, the difference between races is highlighted in Tom Buchanan’s dialogue “… it’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things” is then replied by Daisy Buchanan as “We’ve got to beat them down,” (Fitzgerald 13; Habib et al. 34). Tom’s hatred, in particular for Gatsby, is racist in its essence and is only a barrier to living the American dream.
To summarize, Jay Gatsby took advantage of his good fortune to transform his life. It was not simple for him to realize his ambition. He put in five years of effort to make his ambition a reality. Gatsby’s goal in obtaining his dream was to win Daisy’s love and transform his life. His occupation, which made him wealthy, was not a legal one. Suppose Gatsby represents the American dream in the novel. In that case, the dream must be corrupt because Gatsby gets it only by illegal acts, a reality that severely deflates the picture of the honest, diligent person that the dream is meant to promote.
One of the brightest examples of American dream representation in the musical world is the song by Bobby Womack. The American singer and songwriter tells about his model of ideal America: “America is essentially a dream. It is a dream of a land where men of all races of all nationalities and all creeds can live together as brothers” (Bobby Womack – American Dream 0:00:04-0:00:22). Essentially, people must resurrect the concept of a just society in which everyone has a chance to achieve the most incredible stature of which they are intrinsically competent (Shiller). The same idea is expressed in the song by emphasizing the importance of brotherhood.
A society living the American dream should understand that each person has equal rights and opportunities. For instance, Bobby Womack sings: “I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality in this day, (where rainbows…), with this faith (…and blue skies)” (Bobby Womack – American Dream 0:03:47-0:03:59). Hence, he associates the American dream with clear blue skies and rainbows, referring to peace and denial of war. Society’s dream is to live peacefully under a blue sky, where children run freely, and people accept and support one another.
The same view of the American dream is represented in Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes (1901-1967) produced books, short tales, musicals, and poetry, and he is also noted for his involvement with jazz and its effect on his work (Hughes). Hughes states that people should share love to make a dream come true:
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme (Hughes lines 6-8).
In addition, the author emphasizes the importance of true patriotism, opportunity, and liberty:
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe (Hughes lines 11-14).
Important to add that based on Womack and Hughes, equality, liberty, brotherhood, diversity, and peace are the fundamental principles of the American dream.
Construction of a Definition of the American Dream
The concept of the American dream is a subjective one, which means that each individual is free to select how to interpret, characterize, and perceive the dream. Fitzgerald himself provides the personal part of how one might perceive success and the American ideal when he states, “life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.” (Fitzgerald 6). According to Bak and Yi, the American dream fails when facing racial and socioeconomic inequality (1321). Moreover, the American dream should associate with freedom, equality, diversity, and support.
Essentially, people strive for a remarkable life, hoping for wealth and equal opportunity with others. Gooden and Myers suggest that the American dream is based on three founding principles: equal opportunity to participate and the potential to start over, a fair expectation of success, and the belief that success is within one’s control (1). To conclude, social equality is an unavoidable component of the American dream, which migrants frequently do not find in their home country.
Conclusion: The Reality of Achieving the American Dream Today
Notably, the American dream nowadays is absolute and can be achieved if the community members realize genuine values over materialistic goals. For instance, Abrams conducted a survey and presented surprising results. When he asked what makes the American dream a reality, Americans did not list getting wealthy, owning a home, or having good work as vital elements (Abrams). Instead, eighty-five percent said that having ‘the freedom to choose how to live’ was critical to realizing the American ideal. Furthermore, eighty-three percent said that ‘a good family life’ was crucial (Abrams). The results also suggest that most Americans feel they are reaching this version of the American dream. Forty-one percent stated that their families are already living the American dream and the other forty-one percent informed that they are on their way to achieving it (Abrams). This tendency describes the American dream as a concept about society, connectedness, and personality than monetary achievement and social mobility, which existed across socioeconomic and cultural lines.
To summarize, Americans believe they are searching and embracing individuality and family cultures, not wealth and real estate, in the national dream. Therefore, achieving the American dream in 2022 is attainable if people focus less on the material temptations of current consumerism and more on the well-being, brotherhood, and diversity of communities they are a part of and express their freedom to live as they desire.
Annotated Works Cited
“Bobby Womack – American Dream.” YouTube, uploaded by Bobby Womack, 2020, Web.
The official lyric video of American Dream by Bobby Womack on behalf of ABKCO Music, Inc.
Abrams, Samuel. J. “The American Dream Is Alive and Well.” The New York Times, 2019, Web.
Abraham suggests that the American dream is alive and well in his article published by The New York Times. The author presents his research and findings and states that Americans associate the American dream with family and individuality.
Bak, Hyuna, & Youjae Yi. “When the American Dream Fails: The effect of Perceived Economic Inequality on Present‐oriented Behavior. Psychology & Marketing, vol. 37, no. 10, 2020, pp. 1321–1341. Web.
The article supports the idea that the American dream fails when facing economic inequality. Additionally, economic inequality is worsening globally and is linked to a variety of societal issues.
Fitzgerald, Francis S. The Great Gatsby. 1925. Feedbooks, Web.
The website, namely Feedbooks, offers the opportunity to download the Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is perhaps Fitzgerald’s finest work and, without a doubt, his most well-known masterpiece. Gatsby captivated the spirit of the author’s generation and gained a lasting position in American folklore as a portrayal of the Jazz Age in all of its debauchery and excess.
Gooden, Susan T., and Samuel L. Myers. “The Kerner Commission Report Fifty Years Later: Revisiting the American Dream.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 6, 2018, pp. 1–17, Web.
Gooden and Myers discuss the Kerzner commission report in order to revisit the American Dream. The Kerner report was the final report of a panel created by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 28, 1967, in reaction to prior and ongoing racial riots in a number of major cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Newark.
Habib, Muhammad S. et al. “The American Dream in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: A Boon or a Bane.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, vol. 7, no. 4, 2020, pp. 34-36, ResearchGate, Web.
The authors illustrate the concept of the American dream based on The Great Gatsby. The paper investigates The Great Gatsby textually and examines how Gatsby pursues a goal, Daisy, that he cannot fulfill despite becoming monetarily affluent, and how the corrupt ideals of the American Dream become the reason that he cannot accomplish his aspirations.
Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again.” Poets, 1902-1967, Web.
The website lists various poems, including Let America Be America Again by Hughes. The author describes his understanding and perception of the American dream.
Lee, Derek. “Dark Romantic: F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Specters of Gothic Modernism.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 41, no. 4, 2018, pp. 125–42, Web.
The article claims that Fitzgerald’s latent Gothicism not only sheds fresh light on his lost short stories and most famous books but also establishes him as a key character in the burgeoning Gothic modernism discourse.
Shiller, Robert. J. “The Transformation of the American Dream.” The New York Times, 2017, Web.
Robert Shiller is a Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale who describes the possibilities of the American dream in his article published by The New York Times. He claims that people have become excessively obsessed with housing and wealth over the last decade.
Wolak, Jennifer, and David A. M. Peterson. “The Dynamic American Dream.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 64, no. 4, 2020, pp. 968-981. Web.
The American dream is fundamental to the national ethos, representing people’s confidence that anyone willing to work hard enough may have a better life than their parents. The public’s belief in the achievable nature of the American Dream is distinct from its support for the concept of the American dream itself. Wolak and Peterson investigate the origins and dynamics of the public’s belief in the attainable nature of the American dream.