Happiness, equality, liberty, opportunity, success, and social mobility all exemplify the American Dream; the belief that anyone from any race, religion, class or gender can be successful in America, and a dream which turned into nothing but a desire for wealth. In an era coming out of World War 1, a lost generation of artists and writers and the flourishing of the Harlem Renaissance is a time where fortune, greed and materialism colonized America. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby seems a love story at its surface, truly was an indirect and discouraging critique of the American Dream, questioning whether it can really be defined, and what it truly represented, all shown within the characters in this story. Daisy, Tom, Gatsby, and The Wilsons, were the characters who represented Fitzgerald’s view of the American Dream as it has become an unattainable goal. Daisy and Tom, both individually and accumulatively are a perfect representation of materialism, and the view of how wealth has become a priority in peoples mind.
Taking a look at Daisy’s individual character, it is not hard to see how her life revolves around a luxurious lifestyle, as well as her materialistic attitude and how she places wealth above all. Daisy’s attitude was shown when she was shocked observing the beautiful possessions and fortunes in Gatsby’s mansion:”They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before” (Fitzgerald, 64).
Daisy’s materialistic side is emphasized in this particular quote, as she broke down when she notices Gatsby’s new wealth, not really caring about what kind of personality and reputation that he evolved. Similarly, Tom is a character whose wealth has given him an overpowering personality, as he feels his wealth gives him the right to act like he’s predominant in the society he’s in. This is shown in chapter 7:”Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over” (Fitzgerald 93).
Through these sentences, a sense of greater power is shown. Tom sees himself greater and more powerful than both Gatsby and Daisy, as he shows Gatsby he isn’t worried about him attempting to win back Daisy while allowing her to go home with Gatsby. This again goes back to the idea of inequality, and materialism, as Tom finds himself to be greater than everyone else because he has the old money, and he is a “national figure”. Tom and Daisy’s marriage is striking in how wealth manages to stabilize their relationship as it seems the financial comfort overrules any real emotion between the two. Nick summarizes this relationship towards the end of the story as he quotes: “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, 121). There are no true values in Tom and Daisy’s marriage.
Nick was then noting that they “weren’t happy…and yet they weren’t unhappy either” (Fitzgerald, 100), which justifies just how highly materialistic their society is, seeing that neither of them cared about Myrtle nor Gatsby’s death, they value wealth over the human soul. Gatsby, once a man with no wealth, rises to become an infamously wealthy man to prove the pure corruption of the American Dream. “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 out our arms farther.
. . .
And one fine morning.”-Nick Carraway (Fitzgerald, 122). Nick seems to have brought the moral of the book through this quote, and all seen within Gatsby. Nick’s claim clarifies how Gatsby has been chasing his dreams to win Daisy back, and retain her love, but the problems of old money being superior in that society have seen nothing but his dreams shattered and facing the biblical truth that his goal is simply out of reach. Similarly, the green dock has represented Gatsby’s dream just as much as it represents the state of the American Dream. It symbolizes the American Dream as it is a portrayal of hope and a motivational yet improbable achievement, it seems as we move forward, the dream moves farther and farther away. Gatsby has shown that you don’t need hard work in order to become wealthy, which is what the American Dream would designate.
Gatsby struggled to earn money through hard work when working for Dan Cody, and instead built his fortune quickly through crime, yet struggled to fit in with the old money crowd, almost completely contrasting the American Dream in it’s showing of hard work getting you to where you want to be, as well as the presence of social mobility. At the end of the day, Gatsby’s wealth slipped away from him, as he is still left craving for Daisy’s attention and love, and loses everything in the process. All of Gatsby’s dreams have been centered around Daisy, ever since he kissed her and fell in love, his head was in one place, “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (Fitzgerald 77). Gatsby has been brainwashed by love and the rich crowd only to make matters worse for himself.
Being married for 4 times as long as Daisy and Tom, you may think that George and Myrtle Wilson’s marriage is far more stable… except it is the polar opposite. George and Myrtle have seemed to have a corrupt marriage from the beginning, with neither one of them having any past fortunes from family members or ancestors of any sort, George in particular has been relying on hard work to earn a living, using the American Dream’s statements that hard work gets you where you want to be as motivation. Motivation can only get someone so far, until they’re stuck, which is what seems to be the best way to describe the Wilsons relationship, simply stuck and not knowing where it goes from here. George is a weak character, who strives for success but his lack of any strength, and being one of those worn-out men means Tom was able to take advantage of him, and have affairs with his wife without any fear that George may find out, with this being described in chapter 7, “Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn’t working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife’s man and not his own” (Fitzgerald 94). Myrtle on the other hand had a rather confident attitude, however in all the wrong ways. Myrtle liked to appear much richer than the actually is, and likes to present a strong personality especially towards her friends.
Her character was shown in particular while Nick mentions how often she changed her clothes, “Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur” (Fitzgerald, 24).
Despite the differences between both characters, they emphasize the same problems with the American Dream. Both Myrtle and George are disempowered in a way due to their lack of pure financial capabilities, which has allowed people like Tom to take advantage of the both of them. Myrtles desperation has caused her to act like nothing other than Toms pet, just to get a taste of the wealthy lifestyle, which ultimately cost her her life. George, already being a weak character, was devastated by his wife’s death, and despite his rough attitude towards Myrtle just before her death, this event left him completely lost for words and unconscious to reality, which led to him taking away the life who he thought was the murderer, Jay Gatsby. George was lost for words, and his reaction was further described in chapter 7: “Some man was talking to him in a low voice and attempting from time to time to lay a hand on his shoulder, but Wilson neither heard nor saw. His eyes would drop slowly from the swinging light to the laden table by the wall and then jerk back to the light again and he gave out incessantly his high horrible call.”O, my Ga-od! O, my Ga-od! Oh, Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od!” (Fitzgerald, 96).
George’s weakness couldn’t bare with taking away a mans life, nor dealing with his wife’s death, or feeling like Toms captive, which lead him to believe taking his away his own life was the best decision. George and Myrtle emphasize the books discouraging view of the American Dream, and the sad truth of how it is near impossible to make a name for yourself without the old money, with all the tiring hard work seeming to come off as a total waste of time and energy. Fitzgerald has shown just how corrupt the dream has become, by showing that not anyone can reach the top, in fact, only those who have old fortunes have survived, whereas the characters who had an unfortunate past and attempted to succeed, otherwise known as the strivers (Gatsby and the Wilsons) faced fatality. This has left questions of the what the American dream truly emphasized, why is it that the people working hardest to achieve something in their lives have ended up dead? Why is it that Tom and Daisy who were the true causes of the deaths leave happy with no consequences? How is it fair that the most apathetic, dull, and lethargic characters in the book are the ones with the enormous wealth? The American Dream is no longer a representation of equality, liberty, success, and mobility, but rather nothing but a seeking of wealth. The fact that there has been no change to the middle-class wage in over 15 years, the middle class in itself has continued to fall since the financial crisis that took place in 2008.
America’s current situation has been seeing the middle class find it near impossible to have one parent only working and the other staying at home due to the inflation of transportation, education, and home costs. Not only that, but health insurance and medication have been increasingly less affordable for most people in America and it seems that no American can look forward to securing retirement in terms of the middle class. All these events taking place has been seeing a large number of Americans continue to struggle financially hence leaving only the wealthy with power and comfort. Fitzgerald has used the characters in his novel to emphasize his views that who follows the American Dream will never be satisfied, as it involves striving for the greater things we don’t have. The American Dream is simply tainted by reality.