In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald employs the use of characters, themes, and symbolism to convey the idea of the American Dream and its corruption through the aspects of wealth, family, and status. In regards to wealth and success, Fitzgerald makes clear the growing corruption of the American Dream by using Gatsby himself as a symbol for the corrupted dream throughout the text. In addition, when portraying the family the characters in Great Gatsby are used to expose the corruption growing in the family system present in the novel.
Finally, the American longing for status as a citizen is gravely overshot when Gatsby surrounds his life with walls of lies in order to fulfill his desires for an impure dream. F. Scot. Fitzgerald, through his use of symbols, characters, and theme, displays for the reader a tale that provides a commentary on the American dream and more importantly on its corruption. Though success lies at the heart of the American dream, Fitzgerald deftly portrays the ease with which this sacred idea can become tainted by commenting on the corruption of wealth.
Gatsby exemplifies the American dream in his ideals, in this case the desire for success and self-substantiation; however, this dream become corrupted because he is not able to distinguish the acquisition of wealth from the pursuit of his dream, embodied by Daisy, and is tainted by the illicit foundations of his wealth as well as his desires for an unsuitable married woman. Fitzgerald uses the symbol of the green light at the beginning of the novel to represent Gatsby’s dream and even uses the light to introduce him for the first time.
He [Gatsby] stretched his arms out towards the dark water in a curious way, and as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward- and distinguished nothing but a single green light, minute and far away”(Fitzgerald 26). The author uses the light to represent the American dream; initially the color green represented fertility, which plays a prominent role in the dream, but as the story progresses the green light grows to symbolize money.
In his essay “Money, Love, and Aspiration”, Roger Lewis discusses the means by which Gatsby amasses his wealth and poisons his dream. Gatsby’s money does not “smell” right- however explicitly tacitly condoned by the denizens of Gatsby’s world illegal and shifty means (bootlegging, stolen securities) have been used to make that wealth. Gatsby does not see that the corruption at the base of his fortune in effect compromises his vision of life with Daisy Obviously, Gatsby builds the foundations of his dream upon a structure of crime and deceit thus negating any nobility his dream once had.
Throughout the book Gatsby continually throws outlandish parties where scores of people, whether invited or not, attend and revel in his hospitality; he later reveals his purpose in throwing these overly grandiose festivals, when Nick and he are talking after a party which Daisy has just attended. “‘She didn’t like it Gatsby} said immediately… She didn’t have a good time'” (Fitzgerald 116) fully expresses that his entire life at West Egg has been spent in pursuit of a woman who could never possibly fulfill his dream.
The 1999 “Gatsby project” discussed the portrayal of wealth in The Great Gatsby by talking about Gatsby’s car as a symbol. The automobile is a major motif that makes a regular appearance in the story. The automobile has always been a kind of status symbol in the United States. Expensive cars are associated with the possession of great wealth. Gatsby’s car is described as the epitome of wealth. His reason for buying the car is to convey his material success and newfound prosperity.
The fact that his car is yellow instead of the uniform black of the period stresses the idea that he is absorbed with the preoccupation of displaying his material wealth. At a time when the car is just beginning to become available to the generality, Gatsby’s car symbolizes materialism and the show of delight in material possessions to gain the acceptance of Daisy, the object of his long quest, presents the unwholesome root of his desires. Status reflects another important part of the American Dream that Fitzgerald critiques; the ability to cast a vote, or to be thought well of in the community exemplifies this trait.
The author reveals the opinions of other characters about Gatsby to show the differing ideas surrounding Gatsby’s status and whether or not it has any value. For instance, when Nick Caraway, the narrator, introduces the readers to Jay Gatsby, he give contrasting opinions of the man. “Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn. Gatsby turned out all right in the end. “(Fitzgerald 6) though Nick can hold sympathy for Gatsby as a “good” person and as a dreamer, the man ends up representing a picture of corruption.
Furthermore, Lewis sights instances with varying characters discussing Gatsby’s reputation. “Gatsby has shifting identities according to which party guest one listens to, but most of the identities have something of the unreal or fantastic about them. When they do not, they seem fantastic by being juxtaposed with others that do” Despite his valiant efforts, the reputation he has is not necessarily of a positive nature; the people at his parties are just nameless flatterers using him; many think of him with a sense of negative mystery.
Before going into town, Tom comments on Gatsby’s attire, which has been purchased for him by a consultant in England. “Oxford ManLike hell he is! He wears a pink suit! “(Fitzgerald 129) Despite all the money he has obtained, integrity and taste, and ultimately status, the ideal of the American dream, cannot be bought with dirty money. Moreover, Lewis comments that “Fitzgerald is quick to point up the emptiness of this [Gatsby’s funeral]: Klipspringer cares more about his lost tennis shoes than Gatsby’s death”
American literature often portrays love and family as the most important part of the American dream, but F. Scott Fitzgerald uses it in just the opposite way to show the corruption of the American dream, by examining the relationships present, Gatsby’s longing for a relationship with Daisy, the valley of ashes, the sacred garden image, and Daisy’s daughter. Initially, when Gatsby first arrives at the Buchanan’s house, Daisy kisses him passionately while her husband leave the room, and then introduces him to their daughter.
Gatsby leaned down and took the small reluctant hand. After that, he kept looking at the child with surprise. I guess he never really believed in its existence”(Fitzgerald 123). The awkwardness expressed by Gatsby in this scene shows not only his uneasiness of having a family of his own (because surely if Daisy were to go away with him she would take the girl), but also shows, through the girl, the impurity of Gatsby’s dream, for to fulfill it, by having a family with Daisy, they would be destroying another.
Roger Lewis, when talking about the theme of love, points out Fitzgerald’s display of relationships in The Great Gatsby. “Daisy and Tom’s marriage has gone dead; they must cover up their dissatisfactions with the distractions of the idle richMyrtle and Tom are using one another; Myrtle hates George”. The author clearly wishes to continually demonstrate broken and corrupted relationships in order to display how the failing of the American dream can poison the family.
In addition, at one point in the book, Gatsby works with Nick to bring her over so that he can see her again and show her his house. The moment when they appear truly happy together occurs when they are together in Gatsby’s gardens. Fitzgerald plays upon the classic garden image to show that the two are only happy in their naturally state, but they are not; they live in the world tainted by the actions and more specifically the failings of mankind. Furthermore, Roger Lewis implies the importance of the valley of ashes in the portrayal of the theme of Gatsby.