The Great Gatsby and the American Dream

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but thats no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

All of us have dreams, but not all of us have the capacity to turn our dreams into reality. Alexander the Great had a dream to conqueror the world  one which he could fulfill, and therefore he has come to be known as the Great. Jay Gatsby, on the other hand, did not have a great and ambitious dream, he was by no means a world conqueror though perhaps he could have been one. His aspirations were much more modest. Like a typical enterprising young man of a progressive society, Gatsby simply wanted to become rich and live the good life. He succeeds in achieving his dream at a very young age, rather like Alexander. And again like the great world conqueror, Gatsby too dies young. Since Gatsby achieved his dreams, he too is great in a way. Author F Scott Fitzgerald, however, did not really want to convey the greatness of Gatsby through his novel but the emptiness of pursuing the American dream, especially when the pursuit is carried out by resorting to unfair or illegal means.

The stories of both Alexander and Gatsby show the futility of it all in the end. Legend goes that when Alexander was about to die, he told his caretakers to keep both his empty hands hanging out of the casket so that the world could see that he was not carrying anything with him to the grave. Alexander was a kind of criminal, he had to kill thousands of innocent people by way of realizing his ambitions. Gatsby too is possibly a criminal, although the nature of his underworld activities is not confirmed by indulging in bootlegging and other criminal activities, he may have brought sorrow and ruin to many families. However, just like Alexander he has no interest in the moral side of his actions. Gatsby seems to be essentially concerned only with his wealth, power and position in the society, besides the woman he loves. He is on the track of rising fast in his stature in the society and claiming for himself all the privileges of the aristocrats, but his premature death puts an end to his ambitions as well as to his love. For Gatsby, the great American dream has been realized too soon, but it is also all over all too soon, as the great achiever sinks back into oblivion.

Gatsby somehow formed a very grandiose conception of his destiny, one which is the polar opposite of his actual origins. At a very young age, Gatsby became a man on a mission, we can even call it a divine mission. The allusions that Carraway, the narrator of the story and Gatsbys friend, makes about Jesus Christ while outlining Gatsbys past are not very concealed. Like Alexander or Jesus Christ or some other great figure of history, Gatsbys mind was made up at an early stage in his adolescence. He knew he was born to fulfill some great destiny and realize some great dream. However, unlike these towering personalities of history, Gatsby was not concerned with the wider world. Jesus wanted to save the whole mankind from sin, Alexander wanted to conqueror the whole earth and unite humanity under the banner of Greek civilization. Gatsby had high ambitions but he did not have noble purposes such as those which motivated many great personalities in history. Jesus became the Christ, Alexander became the Great, and Gatsby too was made into a great by the author of the story, but there is something very ironical about Gatsbys greatness.

This is so because Gatsbys dreams did not have a wider scope to them. Certain thoughts never occurred to him, thoughts such as how to make the country wealthier and how to contribute to the progress of humanity. For a person to have this kind of deep concern with something much bigger than himself or his own life is an essential requisite of greatness, and Gatsby did not possess this quality at all. This is the fundamental flaw of his character, and this is a basic deficiency in the so-called American dream itself. Gatsby eventually realizes the American dream, for all practical purposes his tragedy is not that he did not realize the American dream, Gatsbys tragedy arises from the fact that the American dream itself is deeply flawed. Fitzgeralds novel is obviously a critique of the American dream, and not a championing of it.

Gatsby had the intelligence and imagination to see that life is meant for some greater purpose. He never could imagine himself doing some regular job and leading a mediocre existence. But he did not have the vision to see himself as being a part of the greater humanity and as a part of the long history of humanity. Jesus, Alexander and other great persons of history could do this, but such a conception was something simply beyond the mental reach of Gatsby. We must always keep in mind that Gatsby is simply a representative of the American dream, and therefore the deficiencies in Gatsby are deficiencies in the American dream and the whole way of life it stood for.

The fundamental fault of Gatsby is, to use Carraways phrase, his overwhelming self-absorption  and this is the fault of the 1920s as such, the decade in which the novel was set. This is the fault with the American dream itself it provides a lot of fuel, drive, ambition, but it does not provide a greater vision and a greater arena in which to play out the ambition. This is the reason why America is a great country, and yet it could not fulfill the real potential of its greatness.

If we look at Gatsbys character closely, he is an achiever, not an enjoyer. For example, he keeps throwing most lavish parties, but these parties are not meant for fun and enjoyment for himself. They are not ends in themselves, they are simply means to elevate his status in society, and to attract the attention of Daisy who is now married to another man. A majority of men live for the sake of experiencing pleasure and happiness for themselves. We can regard such people as consumers, they believe in taking as much enjoyment as possible from life. But Gatsby is not a consumer, he is a producer. A producer lives for creating something and achieving something. All the great people of the world have emerged only from this latter category, a consumer-type can never be great. Gatsby had so much potential to produce something, to contribute something to the world, however he did not have the vision to understand his possible role in the world.

For so many years, he simply wanted to be wealthy and pass off for an aristocrat and he wanted the girl he is fixated upon. And now he had them both. It is true that Daisy was still wavering, and seemed to favor her husband over Gatsby. But this was really a temporary hitch, the girl was now practically his. And even if this was not so, Gatsby may have begun to see that Daisy was not worth craving for. Either way, deep down Gatsby did not have a strong reason to live further. Therefore he was promptly killed. He died a glory-less and pointless death, shot by a cuckolded husband who was acting under a misapprehension. He is hardly mourned for and nobody misses him much.

The greatness of Gatsby is that he could achieve and live the American dream, even if only for a brief period, and even if only by illegal means. But what is tragic about him is that he could not see beyond the American dream, he was simply stuck there. Gatsby may have resorted to various illegal activities in order to become rich quickly, but he is not really a criminal, just in the way Alexander was not a sadistic monster. Alexander killed innocent people only when it served some purpose, and not simply for the pleasure of doing so. Similarly, Gatsby took to the route of crime only because he had no alternative to realize the American dream. Once he made himself wealthy, however, he could have harnessed his genius and used his wealth for positive purposes which could have benefitted himself and the society. However, contributing to society is not part of the American dream.

People may or may not contribute to the society in realizing the American dream, the concept of American dream does not lay any stress on altruistic or noble values. Some people invent things and become rich and realize the American dream, some others steal and become rich and realize the American dream. As a concept, the American dream is neutral about the means employed, fair or foul the end becomes all important. This is the problem with it. And once the riches are achieved, what further The American dream does not have an answer. Jay Gatsby simply squanders his money, sinks into decadence, wastes his life in trivial pursuits, and dies. His death may have been an accident, but he really did not have a reason to live further. Great men live for a dream, and Gatsby did not have any dream anymore.

Gatsbys father regrets that had his son lived, he would have been a really great man If hed of lived hed of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. Hed of helped build up the country. But perhaps his father is mistaken. Or perhaps Gatsby could have changed himself and his ways of thinking had he lived, and then worked to create something which made a difference to the world. We cannot say for sure. We can only be certain that Gatsby had greatness in him, but failed to bring it out in any good measure. Amassing so much wealth, even if only through illegal means, is a feat in itself but it does not equate to greatness. Gatsby realized the American dream, but missed true greatness.


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