Essay, Research Paper: The Great Gatsby

Literature: The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been celebrated as one of the
greatest, if not the greatest American novel. Yet this is ironic for the society
which has so hailed the book is precisely that which is criticized throughout
it. Politically, the American dream was a foundation of ideals and hopes for any
and every American individual. Specifically, one of the ideals was an American
dream free of class distinction; that every person has the opportunity to be
whomever they hope to be. In a sort of Cinderella-like fashion, it is in essence
an ideal of social mobility and freedom. The social reality, however, is far
more cruel. Because of the harsh truth of social America, by way of its
pretentiousness and decadence, the American dream is lost. Through Nick’s
honest and poignant observation, the parallel lives of Myrtle Wilson and Jay
Gatsby reflect The Great Gatsby as a social commentary about the polluted
American Dream. Myrtle is that infamous model of how the political and social
ideals of America conflict so that the American dream becomes a nightmare.
Contrary to the naivete the American dream, there are indeed fine class
distinctions. With them comes certain social boundaries. In a sense, it is
almost as if there are unspoken sumptuary laws understood by low and high
classed individuals alike. Myrtle Wilson is no exception. Instead of abiding by
them, Myrtle, who represents the low and ignorant class of America, tried to
break the social barriers and thus pursues wealth by any means necessary. Using
her sexuality and vulgar mien, she becomes false for abandoning and dismissing
her own social foundation, and like Nick, we as readers are repulsed by her
grotesque approach to entering the rich class. At one point, and quite
humorously to the knowing onlooker, Myrtle complains about a service done for
her that was so expensive that "when she gave [Myrtle] the bill you’d of
thought she had [her] appendicitus out" (35). Obviously misusing her
wording, it is comical only because she is trying so hard to fit into the
snobbish upper class persona, and failing miserably. Her rudeness becomes more
apparent when she "rejected the compliment [about her dress] by raising her
eyebrow in disdain" (35). She is so false in her manner that Nick observes
that she "had changed her costume…and was now attired in an elaborate
afternoon dress" (35). This articulate description of Myrtle captures her
fraudulence. She was not being herself, but almost putting on an act to perform
as an upper class lady. It is a detestable, ambitious tactic to chase social
superiority. Another tactic is her affair with Tom Buchanan, who represents the
rich upper class. This affair and connection with Tom represents the falseness
and decay in class distinction. Out of context, Myrtle’s political aspirations
are admirable: she is a woman who is practically able to change her social
position.—an American ideal. Socially, she is an adulterous woman using her
sexual ardor and coarse manner to force her way into something she does not
belong to—an American reality. The American dream of social mobility has been
twisted into disgusting ambition. The American dream has collapsed. Jay
Gatsby’s social weakness falls along the same lines as Myrtle’s. However,
Gatsby’s warmth and dedication makes his an infinitely more significant
struggle. He too desires Daisy Buchanan in all of her upper-class glory. At
first, one cannot make a serious social distinction between Gatsby and Daisy.
But those tacit social edicts will be harsh. Daisy is presented as wealthy and
she also comes from a rich background. Gatsby is rich, but comes from quite a
different upbringing and earned his money in an illegal way. As with Myrtle,
this can be seen as a positive achievement, for Gatsby has climbed the social
and economic ladder and succeeded. But because he had to change who he was, and
become a bootlegger, he is thus tainted, and will never be truly accepted in the
Buchanan social mold. Listening to the many lives and "pasts" of Jay
Gatsby, at one point, Nick becomes utterly frustrated that Gatsby invents
different backgrounds for the sake of his false pursuit. Nick’s intuitive gift
for observation came the moment he met Gatsby. Gatsby’s "elaborate speech
just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a
strong impression that he was picking his words with care" (53). Although
Gatsby is not blatant or crude like Myrtle, Nick immediately notices that he
seems well-rehearsed. It is impressive, but unnatural. More importantly, Nick
later on questions where Gatsby came from: I would have accepted without
question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from
the lower East side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men
didn’t…drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound
(54). Once again, Nick realizes that behind Gatsby’s neat ruse was something
false and out of place. Like Myrtle, Gatsby tries to fit himself into another
social group, and so he too is false. Moreover, Daisy’s wealth is presented as
pure and clean, while Gatsby’s achieved wealth is gaudy and tasteless. Perhaps
what is most tragic is that Gatsby dies while waiting for Daisy, and never
really understands his pathetic condition. We not only mourn the death of a
good-hearted, naïve man, but the death of his metaphorical counterpart—the
American dream. Admittedly, this is a sad and often disheartening social
commentary. But what makes The Great Gatsby so excellent, and the commentary
that much more true, is that it is timeless. Over half a century has passed
since Fitzgerald wrote this piece, and it applies to the present as much as it
does to the past. Then, now, and always, the social foolishness of America has
turned promising, good individuals into nasty, pitiful beings. But there is
something that is so imperative never to forget. That beneath all the flash and
materialism, there is something quietly breathing and still alive. Behind what
has been lost, we still find honesty. We, like Nick, can see America’s tragic
flaws in ourselves and in others. Perhaps this is not something to be proud of,
but it may be a step towards something larger. By finding Nick’s touching
quality in all of us, we can revive the American dream.

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