Materialism: The Corruption of the American Dream What is the American Dream? Is it settling down, having a family and good job that pays the bills? Or is it merely a pursuit for wealth and high status in society? While both notions are attributed to being central ideas behind the American Dream, the latter is the most common.
From the 1920s to this day, the idea of the American Dream has evolved into a desperate struggle to attain a luxurious lifestyle with a large house, nice car, and whitecollar job.
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald critiques this materialistic side of society that prompts one towards the American Dream; however, Fitzgerald asserts that the Dream is a hopeless endeavor that inevitably urges one down a path of greed that keeps one from living a life of happiness and content. Fitzgerald describes a society constrained by its social classes where those of the rich flourish while the rest remain invisible in the dust. This division of class can be seen through
Fitzgerald’s juxtaposition of the “unusual formations of land” (9) known as the East and West
Eggs. These masses of land are “unusual” in the sense that although both are equally affluent, they do not have an equal reputation for social standing. The West Egg is described as being “the less fashionable of the two” (9) with those living in it being known as the “newly rich”. These people, particularly Gatsby, do not come from a line of wealth but instead work for everything they have, thus they embody the American Dream and the idea of a selfmade man. To those in the East Egg, the amount of money one has is irrelevant so long as that person doesn’t have a noble name for themselves. For this reason, Gatsby’s lavish displays of money through his
exorbitant parties and mansion with a “marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden” (9) come across as tacky attempts to imitate the riches of the East Egg. The East
Egg however, is home to the “old wealth” who come from prominent families that have upheld their names for generations. They consider themselves superior, having class, manners, and morals; however, they are no better than the rest of society as many of them, namely Tom and
Daisy, have affairs and others, such as Jordan Baker, cheat their way into receiving recognition.
These people despise the American Dream, looking down on anyone who is not born into money. Fitzgerald uses the Eggs ultimately to symbolize the changing moral values during the
20’s. In the early days of the United States
when it was known as the colonies
—, colonists came desperate to escape from the corruption of the King, traveling from East to West, growing more powerful as the colonies expanded West. During the 20’s however, Americans experienced a shift in values hoping to achieve wealth and status; in order to do so, they had to go from West to East. In other words, the West was no longer a source of power and those who sought status had to be a part of the East Egg. This shift in direction is used by Fitzgerald to symbolize the decline of not only the American Dream, but also American ideals; thus, showing that the search for wealth and status is essentially corrupting society.
In a society where material objects and having a ‘name’ are of utmost importance, those who are members of the lowerclass will find themselves desperately searching for any sort of recognition and taste of of upperclass lifestyle. Fitzgerald describes the setting of the novel as having separate regions for particular social classes. Amongst these ranges is the “Valley of
Ashes”; where those who have little money live. Fitzgerald describes the valley as a “desolate… grey land” where “spasms of bleak dust drift endlessly” and men “move dimly… already
crumbling through the powdery air” (27). The dramatization of everything being coated with
“grey dust” delineates a lifeless and