failing like never before


The Dream of Gatsby

I figure since I'm going through my old stuff, I might as well post some of old essays from high school. So here's another essay, on The Great Gatsby, with "works cited" at the end. (And yes, this is one is also pretty bad, as essays go.)

You can find my second and final draft (read: better draft) here.

One of the major themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is the death of honest, hard work. Certainly, this theme could be described as the death of the American Dream, but Fitzgerald's novel has now extended far beyond the borders of America to encompass the majority of the world, and it would be better to refer to the motif in a more worldly manner. The theme is seen more clearly through the carefree lifestyle of Tom and Daisy Buchanan and the extravagant mannerisms of Jay Gatsby, who are deeply contrasted by the frugal lifestyles of Nick Carraway and George Wilson. Through his characterization of the Buchanans, Nick, Gatsby, and Wilson, Fitzgerald attempts to display the manner in which humanity has come to value the possession of money rather then the process of obtaining it, so that future generations might gain a reprise from the despondent lifestyle similar to the one Fitzgerald lived.

Sparknotes mentions in "Themes, Motifs & Symbols," that "the unrestrained desire for money and pleasure surpassed more noble goals" during the decadent 1920s. Jay Gatsby sought only the pleasure that he could obtain through money, so he ignored the nobility of honest work, and instead turned to a far more profitable line of employment: bootlegging. Gatsby describes Daisy Buchanan's voice as being "full of money" (Fitzgerald 120), which allows us to see more fully into the nature of Gatsby, for Gatsby does not love Daisy for her wit and charm, but rather for the wealth that she epitomizes. His goal is to simply be on top with a mound of money and the “golden girl” alongside him. Whether he attains this goal through wooing her, or by buying her attention with his ill gained money, makes no difference to Gatsby. Novel Analysis says in "Character Profiles," that Gatsby has created his own "personal version of the American Dream." Gatsby's dream is a world where his money can bring the world to bow at his feet, and make the "golden girl" become his bride. In his perverted dream, there are no noble pathways to a happy ending; there is only a lonely beginning, and a glorious end.

The nobility that Sparknotes made reference to, does not lie purely in the goal, but instead lies in the pathway taken. Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the "old money" class, inherited their money from the forefathers. Unlike Gatsby, who obtained his money through illegal work, the Buchanans did nothing to obtain their fortune, and squander it according to their view of it. Because they have had to make no attempt whatsoever to attain their wealth, they have no value for it, and thus the nobility of it is severely diminished. After all, there is no discernible reason for placing value in an object which cost oneself nothing. Nick Carraway says that the Buchanans "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 188). The money had become their prime focus, and the Protestant work ethic which had once driven America was dead in their minds.

Contrasting the lifestyle of Gatsby and the Buchanans is that of the humble bond salesman, Nick Carraway. Sparknotes describes Nick as “Honest, tolerant, and inclined to reserve judgment” in their “Analysis of Major Characters.” Nick’s honesty and integrity represents the last hope in the American Dream. While there still hope in the ancient dream, it is in fact, quite small. For Nick, despite his honesty, is far to passive to be of any use in upholding the age old dream, and is instead an ephemeral last breath.

Nick, is the antithesis of Gatsby, who is the embodiment of Fitzgerald, the king of the jazz era. In writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald unveiled his faults in his depiction of the bootlegger, Gatsby. Gatsby, failed to grasp the importance of the end goal, the wealth that has been the American Dream. Fitzgerald’s first novel This Side of Paradise was written for the purpose of gaining money, so that he could marry Zelda Sayre. This prostitution of one’s talent, purely for the sake of money, shows that the value of honest hard work has diminished in view of the end result.

It is this insistent focus on a glorious end that dictates the ruin of men like Gatsby; Gatsby who wove an intricate web of lies and presented himself like the great Houdini, so that he might win the heart of Daisy Buchanan.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 2004.

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