The Failure of Gatsby’s American Dream

Category: American Dream, Failure
Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023
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The Failure of Gatsby’s American Dream In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is portrayed as being an admirable, wealthy, kind, and genuinely impressive man. However, that being said, he is also portrayed as pretentious, deceptive, criminal, and most importantly to the plot, completely insatiable. Even though the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, heavily sympathizes with Gatsby, he has many character flaws that ultimately assure the failure of his “dream”, and even lead to his untimely demise.

The first bit from the novel that demonstrates Gatsby’s inability to be content, is the fact that he is not Jay Gatsby. It is learned about halfway through the novel that Jay Gatsby from California is actually a man names James Gatz, who comes from Chicago. The fact that Gatsby fabricated his past and lives his life under an alias shows that he is unable to be content even with his own origins. To go through the trouble of making up an entire past for himself rather than simply revealing the truth shows that either he was too ashamed to tell of his family for his financial background, or as is more likely, he found it to be boring.

By very nature, Gatsby craves excitement and adventure. In order to make himself seem more exciting and adventurous, he became Jay Gatsby. After examining that, it’s best to look at Gatsby’s chosen vocation. Although Gatsby claims to have his money from being born of a wealthy family from the West, he is later revealed to have earned his money from the illegal business of manufacturing and selling bootlegged liquor. Seeing Gatsby use criminal means to achieve wealth and the “American Dream” demonstrates how desperately he wants to be taken seriously.

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Using his fake persona and fool-proof criminal processes to get wealth and social status means to him that most certainly, he could not be looked down upon or judged for being born of a lower class family and not having any of his own wealth to speak of. Working in the criminal underground also means, however, that he would make very few social connections, and have few true friends, bringing me to my next point. Gatsby desperately longs for personal relationships.

This is apparent in everything from the way he desperately clings to his love of Daisy to his willingness to allow Ewing Kilspringer, whom Gatsby barely knows, to sponge off him and virtually live at his mansion. Since the adventure and excitement of his fake persona and his criminal lifestyle are not enough to satisfy Gatsby, he figures that the only way to obtain true happiness would be through interactions with people, who can be around him and always admire his accomplishments and somehow complete him.

However, Gatsby is unable to make social connections because of his own social awkwardness, which as becomes more and more apparent, he compensates for with his wealth and possessions. The best example of this is Gatsby’s parties, in which the guests all have an excellent time, and know of Gatsby, but know almost nothing about him, even to the point where nobody seems to know where he even came from. Gatsby’s awkwardness and fear of real people causes him to close himself off even at his own parties, and hope that somehow the good time people have will make them admire him more (which, oddly, seems to work).

The desire for intimate personal relationships becomes Gatsby’s own version of “The American Dream” which manifests itself most strongly in his “love” for Daisy Buchanan. Daisy and Gatsby were briefly lovers before Gatsby was sent off to the First World War. Having been the last person who Gatsby felt any true emotions toward, Daisy becomes the object of his desire, affections, and now, his energy and will to achieve. Gatsby’s dream however is crushed by the realization that Daisy is not the ideal person who he thinks she is.

Since Gatsby is a lover of fantasy and exaggeration, he holds all people to an impossible standard of how he thinks people should be, even himself. The real Daisy is almost too shallow to really love, as is most evidenced by the way she is so emotionally moved by some silk shirts that Gatsby has, calling them the most beautiful things she has ever seen. Despite the fact that Daisy is not who Gatsby wants her to be, he clings to her, either realizing his impossible standard, or so far into his delusion that he is unable to see her as anything but ideal despite her major character flaws.

Beginning an affair, the two plot to stand up to Daisy’s abusive husband Tom, and run away together. When the plan finally has the chance to come to fruition, however, Daisy is unable to tell Tom that she does not love him. The reason for this is not because Gatsby is undeserving, but because he is so insatiable, and unstoppably ambitious to the point that he doesn’t know what he truly wants, that he is unable to actually achieve anything that might make a true difference in his life. Tom on the other hand, while rude and pushy and genuinely unkind, knows exactly hat he wants and has no problems in simply taking it. After a car crash kills Tom’s lover, Myrtle, Gatsby attempts one more act of gallantry in order to prove his worth and determination. He takes the blame for Myrtle’s death in an attempt to save Daisy, who was really to blame. As Gatsby stops to finally take in all that he has accomplished, and finally appreciate what he has (symbolized by him finally using his pool) he is murdered by George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband who then takes his own life.

Oddly enough, after Wilson’s murder/suicide, the reader is then struck by the striking similarities between Wilson and Gatsby. They both tired of being taken advantage of, they both loved a woman who was not real, and they both longed for true companionship. The only difference is that one of them was able to achieve greatly on a more worldly level, which despite his large personal shortcomings, made him into that person of his own creation that he had so desperately wanted to be: The Great Gatsby.

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The Failure of Gatsby’s American Dream. (2017, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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