Maria Dillet Professor S. Simon Introduction to Fiction English 2342 The Distortion of the American Dreams The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is perhaps one of the most recognized authors associated with the literary flowering of the 1920’s in America. The concern of most authors during this time was of the materialism that had suddenly swept the country. Credit was easy, interest rates were low, and corruption abounded. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald portrays how the American dream of success was extinguished until it was nothing more than greedy desire.
The sanguine American dream that had turned no one away and had given all an equal opportunity for happiness and success was no longer. Through use of his main character, Jay Gatsby, and through various symbols in the novel, Fitzgerald develops his sketch of the downfall of American society. Jay Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s embodiment of the American dream of rags to riches. Gatsby began life as the son of poor farmers living on the shores of Lake Superior. Early in his youth Gatsby “knew he had a big future in front of him”. He later changed his name from James Gatz to the more fashionable sounding Jay Gatsby.
The narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway, is astounded by Gatsby’s ambition. “There was something gorgeous about him… it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is likely I shall never find again”. Gatsby was determined to attain his goal and self-disciplined Gatsby was as a young dreamer. He wanted to change the world by being the one who would invent a “needed invention”. Young Gatz was bound to make it big. He had what it took: the brains, the will power, the looks, and the ambition.
However Gatsby’s intentions were the purest when he was a young boy, by the time he was grown man he had already made it in the world, his story of success is quite different from that which his dreams foretold. What Fitzgerald is trying to show is the change of Gatsby’s original pure American dream to his success, infected with corruption. Nick’s opinion of Gatsby changed many times throughout the novel, and it is not until the end that he can identify what had happened to Gatsby’s dream, what had “preyed on Gatsby”. Gatsby was evidently involved in shady business.
He had friends who were gamblers and he was also involved in bootlegging grain alcohol. Sadly, he became the kind of man who would take lightly “playing with the faith of fifty-million people” by doing business with men who should be in jail. The nature of Gatsby’s business turned him into a secretive person unable to enjoy even the shadiness of his wealth. In addition to using his main character to express the theme that “Outward appearances can be deceiving. ” Fitzgerald also employs the use of three main symbols that tell of decay. The first of the three is the green light.
Gatsby seems to always be staring or thinking about the green light. The green light symbolizes the hope and longing for Daisy. All that Gatsby wants is to get back together with Daisy. After arriving home from a visit with Tom and Daisy, Nick sees Gatsby out in his front lawn, reaching out for the green light. This emphasizes his need for Daisy. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out farther… Nick refers to the green light as the hopes and desires of everyone, that everyone has something for the future that they long for. Another symbol is ‘The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’. They represent someone watching over all of the people in the story. It expresses the morals of the people of the 1920’s and the decline of American purity and spirituality. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their carelessness … and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
A third symbol is the valley of ashes in between West and East Egg. This valley represents the garbage dump where the poor live. It symbolizes the moral and social decline because of everyone wanting to be rich. The rich people only think of themselves and don’t help the poor. “This is a valley of ashes …where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally… of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. The downfall of the American dream was due to many factors. Fitzgerald attempts to present and explain a few of those. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores one man’s wholesome yearning for success and how his desire to succeed drove him to be corrupted by the materialism of society. Fitzgerald also sprinkles the novel with rich symbolism, presenting a vision of the beautiful young America in contrast with the dirty, industrial city life of the times, and with past hopes and dreams, now long forgotten.