The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a bold and damning social commentary of America which critiques its degeneration from a nation of infinite hope and opportunity to a place of moral destitution. The novel is set during the Roaring Twenties, an era of outrageous excesses, wild lavish parties and sadly, an era of regret and lost potential. As the audience, they take us on a journey guided and influenced by the moral voice of Nick Carraway, a character who is “simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” Nevertheless, when Carraway rejects the East, returning to the comparatively secure morality of his ancestral West, we realize that gaiety was merely a thin facade, and that behind it lurked a hideous ugliness that penetrated to the essence of the human spirit.
It was during the Jazz generation that the common man, a man no different to James Gatz, pursued the glowing icons of his age. As religion gradually faded away, it was money that had become an object of veneration. The desire to become wealthy was parceled in the form of the American Dream, a savage ideal that was fundamentally flawed from the outset. The fallacy of the American Dream cursed all who aspired to its promises while the upper class enjoyed the luxuries that accompanied their status, exploiting those below them as a means to reaffirm their superiority.
Consequently, James Gatz, under the influence of characters like Dan Cody and Meyer Wolfshiem, underwent a self-transformation to become Gatsby, a new man who was founded on his “Plutonic conception of himself.” As the embodiment of idealism and innocence, Gatsby strives to create order and purpose yet he is faced with hostile surroundings and thus his attempts to are futile. All Gatsby wants is to seize the green light in his fingers but light is intangible, and like Gatsby’s dream, it will always remain beyond his grasp. Gatsby is trapped in a state of timelessness where his future is an illusory reflection of this past. His unbridled imagination has created a world in which reality is undefined to itself and thus through this wilderness of illusions, Gatsby attempts to realize the possibilities of life.
Such was the “colossal vitality” of Gatsby’s illusion that he believed that his social status could recreate the past. “Why of course you can,” was his automatic response. Yet once the “party was over,” reality begins to dominate and tragically, Gatsby falls to his demise. Gatsby finds himself in a world “material without real” and as he “looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves… he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.” Confronted by reality, Gatsby realizes how disgusting it really is compared to his world of illusions. Yet while the “whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house,” Fitzgerald questions the essence of reality and asks us if it is really worth sanctifying. He demonstrates that given the ugliness of Gatsby’s surroundings, his dream served a purpose, though it led to utter destruction.
Fitzgerald parallels Gatsby’s demise with the degeneration of the American nation. Both were once faced with a “transitory enchanted moment,” a moment of infinite hope and potential. Yet their pure visions, their “incorruptible dream[s]” were polluted by the very foundations of these visions. Much like the new land “flowered” before the Dutch sailors eyes, so too did Daisy “blossom” before Gatsby and there was a time when Gatsby could “suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.” However, there could never be a union between Gatsby’s “unutterable vision” and Daisy’s “perishable breath” for this vision was simply far too ‘great’ for the emptiness and social rigidity which Daisy personified. So too was the bounty of new land, the “fresh green breast of the new world” polluted by the old European ways which had traveled with the Dutch sailors. Consequently, since Gatsby represented the last vestige of hope from that age of purity, his death ensures that the “solemn dumping ground” will remain rooted in American history.
It therefore follows that Gatsby’s demise represents the plight of the American nation. Fitzgerald criticizes the stagnant upper class that has developed, the forgotten promise of an egalitarian society; he condemns the society that flaunts their wealth and victimizes those who fall to the glamour of the American Dream. The American people have failed to look back to that “vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night,” they have failed to learn from this sanctuary of hope and consequently they “beat on… against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” as they are forever haunted by the shameful foundations of the American Dream.
The only optimism which Fitzgerald leaves the audience with is that upon the realization of chaos, the innate qualities of the human spirit are prone to regenerate ourselves. That the triumphant nature of the human spirit is that we will “run faster, stretch out our arms further” and then perhaps, on “one fine morning” there will be another Gatsby “worth the whole damn bunch together.” And maybe then, American will again see that “fresh green breast of the new world” and begin a new era of history which never actually began.
The universal nature of Fitzgerald’s message engenders The Great Gatsby to critique not only the fate of the American nation but also the destiny of human kind. It is a novel with a haunting tone that questions the very essence of our pursuits in life and ultimately, the meaning of life itself. It can only be hoped that we will heed this powerful message.