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Symbolism Of The American Dream: An Analysis Of The Role It Plays In The Great Gatsby

In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, all the characters are, in one way or another, attempting to achieve a state of happiness in their lives. The main characters are divided into two groups: the rich upper class and the poorer lower class, which struggles to attain a higher position. Though the major players seek only to change their lives for the better, the American Dream is inevitably crushed beneath the harsh reality of life, leaving their lives without meaning or purpose.

Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the rich socialite couple, seem to have everything they could possibly desire; however, though their lives are full of material possessions and worldly goods, they are unsatisfied and seek to change. Tom, the arrogant ex-football player, drifts on “forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game”(pg. 10) and reads “deep books with long words in them”(pg. 17) in order to have something to talk about. Though he appears happily married to Daisy, Tom has an affair with Myrtle Wilson and keeps an apartment with her in New York.

Tom’s basic nature of unrest prevents him from being satisfied with the life he leads, and so he creates another life for himself with Myrtle. Daisy Buchanan is an empty character, someone with hardly any convictions or desires. Even before her loyalty to either Tom or Gatsby is called into question, Daisy does nothing but sit around all day and wonder what to do with herself and her friend Jordan. She knows that Tom has a mistress on the side, yet she doesn’t leave him even when she learns of Gatsby’s love for her.

Daisy makes her love to Gatsby apparent, yet cannot bring herself to tell Tom goodbye except when Gatsby forces her too. Even then, once Tom begs her to stay, even then Daisy ultimately leaves Gatsby for a life of comfort and security. The Buchanans are the ultimate examples of wealth and prosperity, and the American Dream. Yet their lives are empty, unfulfilled, and without purpose. Though Myrtle Wilson makes an attempt to escape her own class and pursue happiness with the richer set, her efforts ultimately produce no results and she dies. She is basically a victim of the group she wanted to join.

Myrtle tries to join Tom’s class by entering into an affair with him and taking on his way of living, but in doing so she becomes corrupt as if she were rich. Her constant clothing changes signify her dissatisfaction with her life – she changes personalities every time she changes her dress: “with the influence of the dress her whole personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality was converted into impressive hauteur”(pg. 35). She treats the elevator boy in her apartment building with disdain: “Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders.

These people! You have to keep after them all the time. ‘”(pg. 36). . Myrtle strives for a new life for herself, yet she is corrupted by the supposedly ‘better’ group and finally falls victim to it. Gatsby’s idealistic view of Daisy Buchanan is blurred and this becomes apparent when he is confronted by reality. Over the course of five years, Gatsby has built Daisy up in his mind to be the perfect woman, someone that the actual Daisy could be: “no amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart”(pg. 1).

Daisy cannot help but fall short of Gatsby’s dream, and so Gatsby is disappointed that the woman he loves does not exist as he imagines her to be. Though Gatsby is rich, he is part of the lower rich class , however he attempts to join the upper class with Daisy. He wasnts a better life and he thinks he can do this if he puts his mind to it, which is also a part of the American Dream. However, Gatsby’s dream collapses when he fails to win Daisy and is rejected by the higher social group.

All his wealth cannot help him and though he is killed physically by a bullet from old man Wilson’s gun, Gatsby dies spiritually when Daisy chooses Tom over him and the stability that comes with him. The failure of Gatsby’s ideals is directly related to the failure of the American Dream in that it is destroyed by reality, in this case by the reality of Daisy’s rejection. Without his dream, Gatsby has nothing, no fire to keep him going, no direction and no purpose. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald shows the collapse of dreams, whether they are dreams of money, status, or simply of happiness.

The biggest collapse, however, is of the American Dream. The failure of the American Dream is unavoidable, not only because the reality of life cannot compare to idealistic dreams, but also because the ideals are usually far too perfect to be paralleled in reality. Dreams give purpose to life. Without dreams one’s life has no meaning, as shown by Gatsby and the Buchanans. Their lives become empty so very fast. The American Dream is something all people work toward to some extent (well I know I do) Although it is an admirable goal, it is an unobtainable one. The American Dream is just that, a dream.

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