In his novel, titled ‘The Great Gatsby’ F. Scott Fitzgerald uses Nick’s narration as an expression of his critique of America in the 1920s. During the Jazz Age, there was a distinct class divide between the newly rich and those of “old money.” As a nation, America has always been a country of hope and for most of it’s history the idea of the American Dream, that through hard work one can achieve wealth and happiness, has been a source of both inspiration and comfort for many. Intertwined in the plot, characters, symbols and themes in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is the authorital intent to expose the decay and corruption of the American Dream into a hedonistic, materialistic desire.
Jay Gatsby, a man with an “incredible gift for hope” is the basis of Fitzgerald’s exploration of the American Dream. In theory, Gatsby achieved the American Dream, and built his wealth to an exceptional level. However, Gatsby is not content and constantly strives after another dream – his dream to attain the perfect, platonic version of Daisy Fey. Throughout his desire to obtain Daisy, Jay Gatsby builds his wealth via corrupt means and criminal activity. Gatsby’s dream is dependent on these corrupt and criminal activities and as he attempts to attract Daisy he hosts extravagant parties that attract people from all over America “like moths” into a pleasure seeking, purposeless and restless whirl of alcohol and excessive material goods. These parties show the transition of positive energy and creativity into affairs that are shameful and destructive to society and themselves.
In comparison to that of old money, these values are decayed as their unrestrained desire for wealth surpassed the more noble goals. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the two characters of the highest aristocratic wealth and status also have decayed morals and often are guilty of “smashing up things…then retreating back into their money and vast carelessness.” This act of “living above the hot struggles of the poor” shows the true irresponsibility and arrogance of America’s wealthiest at the time. Even those who had achieved the American Dream are seeking more, through cruel and selfish means. While Daisy and Tom posses a sophisticated taste in their material possessions, they lack emotion and kindness. They use their wealth, to remove themselves both physically and psychologically from the drama they create constantly throughout the novel. At the end of the novel, The Buchanan’s “retreat into their wealth” and after “conspiring together” they decide to move back West rather than face the shocking consequences of their destructive behaviour by attending Gatsby’s funeral. This heart-less behaviour occurs despite Gatsby’s pure heart and extreme loyalty to Daisy, watching like a knight over her all night. Gatsby’s good qualities lead him to his death, through taking responsibility for Myrtle’s death, even though Daisy was at fault. It is shown again, in Tom’s treatment of both Myrtle and George Wilson, of the Valley of Ashes. He destroys their marriage while sleeping with Myrtle and even has the arrogant confidence in himself to attempt to bully George into remaining in the East after he became aware of Myrtle’s affair. Tom never admits to his relationship with Myrtle, just as Daisy never reveals that it was her behind the wheel when Myrtle was killed. The Buchanan’s remove themselves, unscathed from the situation, thanks to their wealth, despite their impure personalities.
This demonstrates so clearly the decay of the American dream, the belief that those of humble beginnings can achieve wealth is destroyed when witnessing the Buchanan’s bullying behaviour over both the newly rich and the poor grey people of the Valley of Ashes.
Gatsby’s belief in his ability to “repeat the past” is vital to the exploration of the destruction of the pure American