American Illusions in The Great Gatsby The American dream. Every American has his or her own ideals and preferences, but all share more or less the same dream. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores what happens when this dream is taken too far. What is one to do when the dream begins to overshadow reality? What are the consequences when a successful man allows the dream to matter more than life itself? Fitzgerald tells all through the hopeless Gatsby, idealistic Nick, and ignorant Myrtle. Mansions, cars, jewels, and extravagant parties- what more could a person want?
Gatsby had it all, yet he was still empty inside, craving more. All the riches Gatsby has mean nothing without his great love, Daisy. Gatsby strived to become successful for the sole purpose of capturing Daisy’s heart. However, Gatsby’s dream is an unattainable and hopeless dream for he can never win her love. Daisy and Gatsby live only miles apart, but their relationship is eons apart, as Daisy is already attached. Gatsby is pursuing “a transcendent significance outside of society and beyond the notability of history” (Lynn 180).
Gatsby is dreaming “the American dream” that anything is possible, but the tragic flaw within him is that he is living in the past and cannot see the destructive future that lies ahead. Gatsby says, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,… She’ll see,” and he does not realize that he cannot make it the way it was before (Fitzgerald 114). When Gatsby does get the chance to prove himself to Daisy, it is already too late. According to Fitzgerald, “the whole caravansay had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes,” (Fitzgerald 114).
Gatsby’s downfall is in the fact that he is unable to determine the fine line that divides reality and illusion in his life. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock burns bright for Gatsby, but Gatsby does not realize that he cannot ever capture the light. He continues to dream blindly. This is evident when Nick tells Gatsby that he cannot relive the past and Gatsby replies, “Why of course you can, old sport! ” (Fitzgerald 116). Gatsby’s dream of capturing Daisy’s love is based on a fantasy of romance, but the truth is that Daisy is already taken and no amount of money or popularity can change hat. His obsession leads him to come out and profess his love for Daisy, but Daisy does not follow in suit and his dream is over. Nick sums up Gatsby by saying “He did not know that [his dream] was already behind him… ” Gatsby’s “American dream” was a one-way street and, with unrequited love, Gatsby’s dream can never come true. Gatsby’s “American dream” leads him to protect Daisy and causes his subsequent downfall, death. Nick has a haughty and idealistic dream of America, which clouds his own judgment.
Nick is more aware than Gatsby. He makes a clear distinction between fantasy and reality. Nick is able to separate romance from real life. He has a perfectionist vision of America, and he judges people against his ideal American society. Nick is the right person in the wrong city associating with the wrong crowd. Nick is raised in an idealist middle-west society “where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name,” and where tradition is part of everyday life (Fitzgerald 184).
Nick dreams the “American dream” that he can travel to the East and become wealthy and still have all the old-fashioned ways of his town. After spending a few months in the East, Nick comes to the realization that the East is corrupt, materialistic, and self-centered. Nick’s view on life is based on Western morals and a “western” American dream; one to which the East cannot measure up. Nick follows his dream according to his western morals of hard work and righteousness, yet in the East he possesses “some deficiency” which made him “subtly unadaptable to Eastern life” (Fitzgerald 184).
Nick is portrayed as a young man who comes to the East to make his fortune, but finally goes back to the mid-west, horribly disillusioned. Nick is let down by his “American dream” and loses a part of his faith in society. Myrtle Wilson, like many other commoners among American society, has the “American dream” to move ahead and become successful. Myrtle is tired of her life as a “nobody from nowhere. ” She wanted power, wealth, and fame. Myrtle’s way out of the ruins of society and the valley of the ashes is Tom. Myrtle feels a sense of power and with Tom she is closer to her “American Dream. Myrtle, as many Americans do, dreams of moving up in the social ladder, up towards the extravagant parties of the rich- the ultimate “American dream. ” Myrtle had no chance of moving up with George Wilson, and she ended up having an affair with Tom to get ahead. Myrtle does not realize she is just a toy on the side for Tom, and her dream will not likely come true. Myrtle is too foolishly stuck in her optimistic and ideal world to realize that Tom will never take a chance at moving a step down the social ladder.
The naive Myrtle dreams of moving ahead with Tom and towards the rich society, yet in the end it is carelessness of that same society which causes her death. Myrtle Wilson turns out to be the brutal victim of Gatsby’s and Daisy’s love affair, as she left in the street for death while Gatsby and Daisy drive off without any thought of what they had done. “They saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath” (Fitzgerald 145).
Myrtle just wanted to attain her “American dream” like many others, but her ambition and lust for power caused her to pay the ultimate price, death. The hopelessness of Gatsby, Nick’s idealism, and Myrtle’s dream all contribute to the illusion of the American Dream. It is not simply American to dream, it is the duty of every person to dream. However, to dream too far and become too entranced and engrossed in one’s dream leads to either destructive behavior, ruin, or to disappointment. The Great Gatsby is based on this idea of an “American dream. ” However, dreams that are taken too far become harmful illusions.
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