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The American Dream, and All Its Splendor (great Gatsby)

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The 1920s were a decade of rebirth characterised by the founding of the "American

Dream" -- the belief that anyone can, and should, achieve material success. The defining

writer of the 1920s was F. Scott Fitzgerald whose most famous novel, The Great Gatsby,

has become required reading for present-day high school students. We study Fitzgerald's

novel for the same reason we study Shakespeare. The literature composed by both authors

contains themes and morals that continue to be relevant to modern society. As a result,

this novel could have easily been written in modern times. In his novel, Fitzgerald criticises

the American Dream by describing its negative characteristics: class struggles between the

rich and the poor, the carelessness of the rich, and the false relationship between money

and happiness.

"The Great Gatsby ... describes the failure of the American dream, from the point of

view that American political ideals conflict with the actual social conditions that exist. For

whereas American democracy is based on the idea of equality among people, the truth is

that social discrimination still exists and the divisions among the classes cannot be

overcome" (Internet 1). It is impossible for all people to become rich, since wealth is

based largely on social position, and classes prevent the poor from becoming successful.

"One thing's sure and nothing's surer / The rich get richer and the poor get -- children"

(Fitzgerald 101). Myrtle's attempt to break into the class which the Buchanans belong to

is doomed from the start. She enters into an affair with Tom, takes on all the negative

qualities of his social group, and not only becomes corrupt and immoral, but she scorns

people from her own class. "I thought he knew something about breeding but he wasn't fit

to lick my shoe" (Fitzgerald 39). The adulterous behaviour of Myrtle and Tom, as well as

the carelessness of Daisy and Jordan, illustrates the corruptibility of the rich.

Both Tom and Daisy are morally corrupt, having little concern for how they treat the

people around them. "Daisy and her husband display their indifference to human values in

episodes involving sexual exploitation and careless violence" (Fahey 72). The Buchanans

are not the only shallow ones, Jordan is "incurably dishonest" and her opinion that "'It

takes two to make an accident,'"(Fitzgerald 63) is an attempt to justify of her

thoughtlessness. '"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things

and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or

whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had

made,"'(Fitzgerald 187) says Nick. Since the wealthy social class which they belong to is

immoral, they can get away with being corrupt; a corruption that comes from a false sense

of security in their money, and the belief they have achieved

the american dream.

One of the faults in the American dream is that it equates material wealth and

possessions with happiness. However, not everything, nor everyone, can be bought. Nick,

for example, refuses Gatsby's business preposition. '"But, because the offer was obviously

and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there"'

(Fitzgerald

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