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How does Gatsby represent the American Dream?

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

essay by Erica Cho

The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or class they were born into, can achieve success. It is the belief of a society where moving up the ladder is possible for anyone if you simply work for it. The American Dream is the dream of opportunities. I believe that this national ethos involves one reaching out for something visible but just out of reach. It is to be willing to sacrifice and give it all to achieve something greater than oneself. Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the embodiment of this American Dream. His ambition for success and unfaltering determination for love make him the complete representation of the American Dream.

Jay Gatsby is ambitious for success, to say the least. He is born into a family stuck deep in poverty—his parents “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.”(88) For seventeen years Jay Gatsby, originally James Gatz, suffered grueling poverty but he never accepted his reality at the time. Gatz felt he was destined to be better, to be successful. The moment when he changed his name to Jay Gatsby was the beginning of his pursuit for the wealth that he so wanted. Like the American Dream, he believed he could be whoever and achieve whatever. Gatsby starts off as a poor nobody and ends up becoming staggeringly rich, even if it was through illegal means. His glamorous parties become famous for its excessiveness beyond comparison. “At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers...with several hundred feet of canvas...enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs bewitched to a dark gold...main hall with a bar...orchestra...swimmers...”(34) Gatsby was able to achieve economic success to the point of lavish luxury from his beginnings as a penniless boy. He was able to do this through his commitment and ambition, and that is exactly what the American Dream is.

Though acquiring wealth is undoubtedly a main object of the American Dream, I believe that the same mindset towards financial success can be applied to a different kind of goal, such as love. If determination and willingness to do anything to achieve a higher goal is the American Dream, then Gatsby also embodies this in his pursuit of Daisy. Gatsby is determined to make Daisy his and make the dream of a life with his only love become reality. The American Dream involves hurdles that the person has to overcome to reach what they want. With Gatsby, being poor is the first obstacle between him and Daisy and when that obstacle is defeated, a new obstacle appears—Daisy gets married to another man. However, Gatsby does not give up because just like the American Dream ideology, he believes that he can achieve anything if he just works for it. Gatsby “[buys a]house so that Daisy could be just across the bay”(69) and hosts extravagant parties for the sole purpose of Daisy coming to one of them one day. “He half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night.”(70) Daisy Buchanan is the final piece to Gatsby’s American Dream. To have this girl is to finally have his dream of being the Great Gatsby become reality. His yearning for Daisy is shown through his infatuation with the green light at the dock in front of her house. To Gatsby, this green light soon becomes a symbol for Daisy, visible but unreachable. At night, Gatsby reaches out to the green light across the bay, where the love of his life lives. “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling...a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. “(19) His determination to have Daisy, ignoring whatever impediment stands in his way, is the epitome of the American Dream.

The American Dream, as alluring as it is, is not typically attainable. Gatsby’s American Dream ends up being nothing but just that. A dream. A glorified fantasy. Even when it seems like Gatsby has achieved the financial aspect of his dream, his riches are ultimately a mere imitation. His mansion in West Egg, though huge and lavish, is garishly decorated, showing tastelessness and lack of sophistication. Everything about his wealth does not feel manifest genuinity–from the excessiveness of the house to the very way Gatsby came upon his riches, are all just echoes of authentic affluence. Furthermore, Gatsby is blinded by his fantasies and cannot see Daisy for who she really is. He fails to see the shallowness and selfishness of her character and makes a fool of himself. His naive dream of a perfect life with Daisy is simply an illusion that Gatsby devotes himself to. Finally, the impossibility of the American Dream is shown through Gatsby’s death. Gatsby dies and all his hard work, ambition, determination, and efforts die with him. Even to his death Gatsby represents the American Dream and its inevitable demise.


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