The Broken American Dream of the 1920s An accurate name for the 1920s is the roaring twenties. This was a decade full of social transformation and industrialization. Through this shift, a degradation in social moral occurred. A victim of this shift is the character J. Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is “corrupted by values and attitudes that he holds in common with a society that destroys him”(44). Through this mutual and obscured social moral, Gatsby seems to obtain a destructive view of his “American Dream”.
Where the American Dream once “consisted of the belief that people of talent in this land of opportunity and plenty could reasonably aspire to material success if they adhered to a well-defined set of behaviors”(Trask). These behaviors were actions such as working hard, staying honest, and better educating ones self; much like the list that Gatsby made as a young boy. But with the boom of industrialization, came a trend of bootlegging and get rich quick schemes and unfortunately Gatsby became a victim of the era. As a matter of fact, Gatsby is not the only one who has suffered from this time of moral deterioration.
Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s object of obsession, also is a victim of a society that allows her to not take responsibility for her actions. Daisy hides behind her public facade and her innocent carefree charm. Her husband Tom Buchanan has also manipulated the greedy, selfish social society that exists on East egg. Tom has no dreams or aspirations and “seeks excitement first in sport, then in infidelity, seeking identity in a book of racist political philosophy”(Wershoven). In a time of moral peril, each character is corrupted by a societal idea that taints their grasp of the “American Dream”.
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During Gatsby’s adolescent years, he has a clear and healthy mindset about what he wanted to accomplish in his life. Gatsby was self-motivated to make something of his life. But once he meets Daisy, Daisy becomes the embodiment of his dreams and the object of his obsession.
As a young boy, growing up in North Dakota, Gatsby was motivated to be successful. Gatsby’s father said “ Jimmy was bound to get ahead”. Even as a young adult, Gatsby refused to think of himself as an average person. Gatsby’s parents were “shiftless and unsuccessful” and Gatsby never “ really accepted them as his parents at all. Instead Gatsby had a schedule of each day that would help him to attain his wealth.
As Trask says, “ He early decided that he could contemplate future glory. ” Early on Gatsby embodies the ideals of society before the 1920s; he is determined and eager to work hard to independently reach success. This is until he meets Daisy, the idea of Daisy is what sways Gatsby’s dreams off the right path. Gatsby met Daisy as a young man and hopelessly fell in love with her. However in the end, Daisy broke it off with Gatsby since he was not financially suitable for maintaining her lifestyle.
It seems as though Gatsby never recovered from getting his heart broken by Daisy. As Nick says, “ [Gatsby] had a extraordinary gift of hope- a romantic readiness such I have never found in any other person and which is not likely I shall find ever again”(2). Nick also says “Gatsby turned out alright at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-wind elations of men”(2). Indeed, it was the idea of winning Daisy’s love that drove Gatsby to his success.
It corrupted his earlier ideas of working hard and saving his money; now he had to make money fast and resorted to bootlegging. Gatsby becomes frantic at the idea of coming wealthy and instead of slowly climbing up the success latter, he desperately and quickly makes money in any way he can so he can win Daisy back as quickly as possible. Gatsby became consumed with the idea of winning Daisy’s affection and rekindling their past romance. This is apparent when Gatsby describes their first kiss; “His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own.
He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions of her perishable breathe, his mind would never romp again like the mind of god. So he waited…Then he kissed her…and the incarnation was complete”(112). Gatsby is brought down by Daisy and the “refusal to see the nature of his own dreams”(Wershoven). Nick sums up Gatsby’s debacle perfectly when he says that perhaps Gatsby’s “dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity.
What nick says is true, Gatsby was so blinded by love that he could not see Daisy’s flaws and Gatsby ended up paying the ultimate price . As Trask says, Daisy could never become a “legitimate actualization of Gatsby’s illegitimate dream”(Trask). Among those who have distorted dreams, Daisy Buchanan might perhaps be the worst. Daisy is a selfish, rich girl who has never “been held responsible for her actions, for she embodies the pure freedom of endless choice without consequences”(Wershoven). Daisy has never had to concern herself with worrying about money or materialistic things.
Daisy has always gotten things handed to her and would not want it any other way. Daisy takes advantage of the fact that she lives in a society that has put her on a pedistal, and allows her to “smash” up things without any consquences. Her attractive nature and charm has helped her support this type of lifestyle. Daisy cannot even fathom the idea of having to work for something and therefore she has a sense of entitlement to everything that is given to her. At first Daisy seems harmless and bored as she mindlessly wonders out loud what she will do with the rest of her days.
But as the novel goes on, it becomes quite clear that Daisy is not what she seems. Daisy has become a master of manipulation in order to maintain her lavish lifestyle. She knows exactly how to agree with what society expects of her and knows how to dress and maintain her appearance. But despite her warm and inviting appearance, Daisy is quite cold and superficial. Daisy’s ideals of wealth and money lead her to live a superficial and meaningless life that wreaks havoc in the lives of the other characters. It is this love of money that led here to marry her husband Tom Buchanan.
Instead of waiting for Gatsby to return to the war, Daisy just decides to marry Tom because of his wealth and promise of a lavish life. Tom even gives her a three-hundred thousand-dollar pearl necklace. Even this amount of money is not enough to ensure Daisy’s fidelity. As soon as Gatsby comes back into town, she begins to have an affair. Even after years of leading Gatsby on, she still breaks his heart when she says that she “loves them both. ” This is when it comes apparent that Daisy will never leave Tom.
For Daisy, even true love is not enough to make her change her lifestyle. Her love of money has made her cold and reckless when it comes to love. Another example of Daisy’s reckless nature is when Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, is killed. Daisy is perfectly content with letting Gatsby take the fall. Not one time does she even contemplate the idea of coming forward to take responsibility. Instead she hides behind her wealth and her appearance. As Wershoven puts it, “society helps to cover up the deed. ” Daisy is an insatiable girl that has no need for validation by others.
Daisy wants things and people but, “there is no space inside her that can be filled, no unfinished part of her can be completed by another”(Wershoven). Therefore, Daisy views people as at her disposal. This is ultimately the attitude that is responsible for Gatsby’s death. Daisy is so caught up in the materialistic needs of that time that she cannot value anything e else. She views everything she has as an accessory; even her own daughter. Were as most parents feel defined by their children’s lives, the reader almost forgets that Daisy even has a daughter at all.
She only interacts with her child when it is convenient for her; and when it looks good in front of company. Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan is an ex- football star from the same college that Nick attended. Nick describes Tom as “one of those men that reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savors anti-climax”(10). Tom falls victim to greed and cannot satisfy his need for more. As Wereshoven says: “Daisy and Tom are always looking for something, something new and better, for they are bored with the things they already bought.
Daisy wonders what they’ll do each day, and the next day, identifying the dilemma of people who can have whatever they want, as soon as they want it” (Wershoven). Tom is in a perpetuating cycle of greed in which he still cannot find satisfaction. He seeks thrills through sports, literature and even infidelity and all fall short of the glory he had back in college. He shares the same kind of entitlement and ignorance as Daisy. Toms idea of good literature are books like the “The Rise of the Colored Empire” and even expresses to Nick his distress over the submersion of the white race.
But even Tom’s attempts at sounding intelligent fall short and he ends up sounding ignorant and pretentious. Another telling thing about Tom is the way he treats the women in his life. While he appears to be happily married to Daisy, he still is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson. For months, Tom brings Myrtle to his apartment in New York and for months, Tom knowingly leads her on. Tom showers her with gifts and even buys her a dog and an expensive leash. However, Tom has no intention of ever leaving Daisy for Myrtle; someone of lower social status than him.
But yet Myrtle is under the delusional impression that Tom will leave his wife for her; and she will at last be part of the social network she dreams of. Myrtle is so in love with this idea that in turn, she despises the life that she lives without Tom; including her husband, George Wilson. Tom is also the ultimate hypocrite. While he the first one to criticize Daisy and Gatsby’s affair, he himself is having an affair. When Tom finds out about Daisy’s affair, he confronts Gatsby and says I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr.
Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea then you can count me out" (137). He even claims that their affair is a “step toward inter-racial marriage. ” Tom condemns his wife for her infidelity but describes his own as once in a while “going on a spree making a fool out of [himself], but [he] has always come back, and in [his] heart [he] loves her all the time". Not only is Tom cheating with George Wilson’s wife, but he also acts as a bully toward George. George Wilson is an honest, good-hearted man and Tom just toys with him.
Tom promises George that he will sell his car to him but he really never has any intention of doing so. George Wilson is depending on that money so he can start a new life out west and all Tom is doing is giving him empty promises. When George tries to bring up the subject to Tom, Tom gets offended and says “" Very well then, I won't sell you the car at all... I'm under no obligations to you at all... And as for your bothering me about it at lunch time I won't stand for that at all! " (122).
Tom tries to find satisfaction by making George look like a fool and is amused by how easily he is able to do so. Just like Daisy, Tom has no remorse for the pain he inflicts in others. Overall the characters in The Great Gatsby, all embodied ideals that were emphasized in that time. Women were viewed as accessories and not yet contributing members of society. Women were still in charge of maintaining the home, especially in wealthy households, and concerned themselves with the small things. Daisy takes full advantage of this attitude and successfully gets away with murder.
It is Daisy who corrupts J. Gatsby’s ideal of his American dream and instead of working hard, and “pulling himself up y his own bootstraps”, he resorts to crime in order to become rich quickly so that he can win Daisy back. Instead of working hard for his own self-success, he chases this idea of Daisy. And finally Tom, was a victim of his own insatiable appetite that he could not fulfill. In every aspect of his life, Tom wanted more. Tom held an ideal that was very common throughout the 1920s; that his money and high social class would be able to buy him anything in life.
The idea of the American dream is wanting more for ones own life and becoming successful by hard honest work. All these characters shared the same sense of wanting more. But the had immoral ways of fulfilling their needs. Gatsby resorts to criminal activity in order to become wealthy. And Tom and Daisy resort to affairs in trying to satisfy their need for love. Unfortunately Gatsby is the one that pays the price in the end.
- Trask, David F. "A Note on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. " University Review. 3. 3 (Mar. 1967): 197-202. Rpt. in Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 197-202. Literature Resource Center. Gale. 12 Oct. 2009 http://go. galegroup. com/ps/start. do? p=LitRC=a04fu
- Wershoven, Carol. "Insatiable Girls. " Child Brides and Intruders. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993. 92-99. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski. Vol. 157. Detroit: Gale, 2005. 92-99. Literature Resource Center. Gale. 12 Oct. 2009 .
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