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The American Dream Is Invariably Seen to Fail: Discuss in Relation to 'the Great Gatsby'

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"The American Dream is invariably seen to fail. Discuss"

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald is seen as one of the greatest American writers, admired by his contemparies and by modern audiences of today. Fitzgerald was very much in tune with the early twentieth century American culture. He is credited with capturing the 'Jazz Age', which he described as "a generation grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken". Fitzgerald observed the culture around him with a critical eye. Despite being able to depict America like few others could, many see Fitzgerald's writing as an indictment on its values.

Works such as The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Absolution (said by Fitzgerald to be an introduction to The Great Gatsby ) are regarded as attacks on the concept of the American Dream and that Fitzgerald believed it to be futile. This disillusionment is most starkly and tragically explored in The Great Gatsby.

The character of Jay Gatsby could be perceived as the embodiment of the American Dream. He comes from a poor working background, where he is James Gatz, and reinvents himself into the wealthy popular figure of Jay Gatsby. He represents the idea that "anybody can make it in America".

After Gatsby's death, his Father shows Nick his 'schedule' from when he was a boy;


Rise from bed 6.00 A.M

Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling 6.15 - 6.30 "

Study electricity, etc. 7.15 - 8.15 "

Work 8.30 - 4.30 P.M

Baseball and sports 4.30 - 5.00 "

Practise elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00 - 6.00 "

Study needed inventions 7.00 - 9.00 "


No wasting time at Shafter's or [a name, indecipherable]

No more smoking or chewing

Bath every other day

Read one improving book or magazine a week

Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week

Be better to parents

This schedule tries to include all the things he believes will make him perfect; intelligence, ingenuity, sporting prowess and physical perfection. His 'general resolves' strive for moral integrity. Gatsby uses these idealised American values of what people should be like, to try and escape his family's poverty and become successful. "Gatsby's imperishable dream repeats the pioneers' dream of creating a new life for themselves." He throws off his background, reinvents himself and become the ideal American.

"I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people - his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God - a phrase which if it means anything, means just that - and he must be about His Father's business, the service of vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."

However, Gatsby knows that he is "a poor boy who has made phenomenally good... and has arrived at the fringes of exclusive society" and he tries to compensate for this. Nick and Gatsby live in the West Egg, where self made people, with 'new money' live. The East Egg is home to people such as the Buchanans, who look down upon the inhabitants of West Egg.

Gatsby wants to appear 'old money' to seem more impressive, so he does nothing to dispel the varied myths about his past or the 'Oxford' rumours and puts on affectations such as "old sport". His lavish parties display his wealth and popularity, but despite being surrounded by people Gatsby is essentially very lonely.

"I glanced back once. A wafer of moon was shining over Gatsby's house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell."

Ultimately, the real reason that Gatsby amasses such wealth and cultivates his popularity, is to win back Daisy. Daisy Buchanan, like many of Fitzgeralds' characters, is superficial and emotionally shallow. However, Gatsby knows that she will be impressed by money and describes her in terms of wealth, "'Her voice is full of money', he said suddenly" Gatsby knows that the only chance he has left with Daisy is to dazzle her with his material possessions. Daisy, tellingly, maintains her composure when she is reunited with Gatsby after four years, but breaks down over his collection of expensive shirts.

"He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-coloured disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher - shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

'They're such beautiful shirts,' she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. 'It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful



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