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Literature: The Great Gatsby

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“Then wear the gold hat…bounce for her too, Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted,
high-bouncing lover, I must have you”(1). This epitaph by Thomas
D’Invilliers, found at the beginning of The Great Gatsby, depicts the dream
that Jay Gatsby tries to make a reality. While it embodies characteristics of
the American Dream of rags to riches, it is also a moving dream of love and
happiness. While Gatsby was a fraud, his life and death show the greatness of
the American Dream, not its bankruptcy. The story unfolds in New York during the
early 1920’s, a tumultuous time for Americans. American culture was just
beginning to take on its own identity with the popularization of jazz. The
1920’s was also a time of social upheaval where opportunity was the name of
the game. Prohibition was the law, thus creating opportunities for
business-minded individuals, such as Gatsby, to become bootleggers. During these
affluent years in American history, there were many parties and affairs with the
extravagance and splendor of kings. Rich individuals, like Gatsby, threw huge
parties with “buffet tables…bars with real brass rails…and orchestra[s]”
(44). The Roaring Twenties were years where a person who had the “dream”
could flourish. The American Dream, as it arose in the Colonial period, and
developed in the nineteenth century, was the belief that a person, no matter
their origins, could succeed in life. However, this success depended on a
person’s own skill and effort. During Gatsby’s early working years, he
started from the bottom as a clam digger, dreaming the popularized “rags to
riches” dream. His next stop was the yacht of Dan Cody, where he worked and
lived for five years as a steward. Despite the monotony around him, his mind and
imagination were never at rest. “Each night he added to the pattern of his
fancies…the reveries provided an outlet for his imagination…hint of
unreality of reality”(105). After Cody, we know Gatsby joined the army during
World War I. Five years after returning from Europe, Gatsby is this incredibly
wealthy man with a gargantuan house where he throws lavish parties. The reader
learns that this wealth was accumulated through bootlegging, a highly illegal
but lucrative trade during the Prohibition Era. Thus, Gatsby achieved his
“rags to riches” dream, although his methods were unlawful. What separates
Gatsby from the other characters, who are “foul dust that floated in the wake
of his dreams (6),” is that Gatsby’s American dream was a means for an end
to him. His dream continued past just accumulating wealth and reputation. That
was only a phase of his “master plan.” Gatsby’s ultimate goal is
happiness, which can only be if Daisy is by his side. He achieved riches and
success, but did not become overwhelmed and corrupted by it, although it is
relevant to note he used corrupt methods. His dream is a romantic idealism that
life can be remarkable and beautiful. Gatsby is not interested in power for its
own sake or in money or prestige, but for its ability to help him achieve his
dream. For this, Gatsby is willing to do anything and everything. He uses his
wealth as a resource to steal Daisy away from Tom. This also includes lying and
creating a false impression of himself to others. He is putting on this front to
try to become the man that Daisy desires. His extravagant parties are thrown
only in hopes that she will come to one and they can get rekindle their old
feelings for each other. Ultimately, Gatsby won’t enjoy his riches until he
has Daisy in his arms. Almost everything we believe Gatsby to be is a fraud.
Everything we believe gives us a favorable impression of him though. He is a
fraud for one and only one reason-to win Daisy back. For starters, his name, Jay
Gatsby, is false. It is really James Gatz, but he changed it when he was
seventeen to shed his past and start anew. For me, Jay Gatsby also sounds
youthful, invigorating, and somewhat aristocratic. James Gatz sounds too formal
and harsh, which does not convey a favorable impression of him. Another key
inaccuracy of Gatsby is his educational background, with Gatsby claiming a
degree from Oxford. The shocking and somewhat humorous truth is that he went to
college for a total of five and a half months. When he was eighteen, he spent
two weeks at St. Olaf, a Lutheran college, in Minnesota, leaving because of
“its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny”(105). He went to
Oxford for five months because it was “an opportunity they gave to some of the
officers after the Armistice”(136). This lie further contributes to our view
of Gatsby as the perfect man. He is wealthy, educated, successful, and has
overcome extreme pain and suffering. Gatsby creates all these lies in order to
win Daisy back and to try to recreate the love they shared in the past. While
Jay Gatsby is indeed a fraud, he is not pathetic at all. Pathetic is defined as
“causing or evoking pity” in Webster’s College Dictionary. I never felt
pity for Gatsby at any point in the book. I actually admired his drive and
persistence in reaching his dream. He threw weekly parties where he spent
ridiculous amounts of money. He purchased enough food and drink to feed a
nation, and his entertainment was top notch. All of that just for the special
woman in his heart. Especially noteworthy is when he stood outside Daisy’s
house until four in the morning, just because she wanted him to in case Tom got
violent. This shows is unflinching dedication, abundant love, and steadfast
dedication to her. He is a wonderful example of an individual who has lived the
American Dream, which includes wealth, but is ultimately about happiness. He
went from being a broke, independent seventeen year old, to a rich and
successful adult. Jay Gatsby may not be the perfect example of a person who
lived the American Dream. However, neither does he show the bankruptcy of the
Dream. Rather, he is one of the many tragedies of the Dream. He was an ambitious
man who was driven to achieve success, no matter what he had to do. It was his
drive that shows that the American Dream was alive and well. He refused to
become an arrogant and selfish person, as many people did when they reached the
level of success that Gatsby achieved. He pursued Daisy, who to him represented
happiness, and died trying. In dying though, Gatsby inspires readers of the book
to dream always and to dream big.
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