The American Dream in the Great Gatsby Essay Example

The American Dream, that we can find extraordinary success and happiness through hard work, simply isn’t going to happen for most people. It has always been more an ideal than a reality. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the American Dream is a constant underlying theme, and it’s decline in 1920’s society is explored and critiqued through the challenges each character faces throughout the book. Because of unequal opportunity, gender inequality, and economic standards, Fitzgerald shows that during the 1920s the American Dream declined and was revealed for what it is: an illusion. 

Throughout the story, George Wilson’s experiences demonstrate this decline in the American Dream. Despite his his hard work and dedication to both his wife and job, Wilson makes almost no money and is respected little by others. The first time Wilson is introduced, Fitzgerald describes his garage as “unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner,” (Fitzgerald 28). The tone here clearly highlights how empty Wilson’s life is, and its lack of happiness and value. After Wilson learns of Myrtle’s affair, he confronts Tom about his plan to move out west and states,“I need money pretty bad and I was wondering what you were going to do with your old car,” (Fitzgerald 131).

Here, Wilson is grasping at straws, he is so desperate that the only way he can think of making a profit is by asking for people’s old vehicles so he can fix the up and re-sell them. His life is beginning to fall apart right in front of him. The plan to move shows how he has completely given up on his dream of making a life for himself in the east. Wilson hopes that moving will allow him to start anew, but when Myrtle is killed, he loses his mind, “Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind,” (Fitzgerald 170). With Myrtle gone he is faced with the utter emptiness of his life. He has almost no money, no family, even his friends believe that he caused Myrtle’s death, and the American Dream has completely slipped away. 

Contrary to Wilson, Daisy lives a life of wealth and grandeur, but it is not without its challenges. In her world, Daisy knows that being a girl means that she can’t work or do anything for herself, therefore eliminating her chance of achieving the American Dream. While part of her wants to be free to think and act, she is also stuck in the classic gender roles in society. When talking to Nick about the her daughter Daisy says that once she learned they had a girl she cried, and then she told the nurse she hoped her daughter will be a fool. Daisy believes “that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” (Fitzgerald 20) which highlights how women, even in infanthood, were raised to be rely on others for support instead of supporting themselves. Once again, gender roles are shown limiting women when Tom states, “Women run around too much these days to suit me,” (Fitzgerald 111), he believes that as a man he has the right to do as he pleases, but women need to be restricted. Daisy’s internalized beliefs are also demonstrated when Gatsby describes the summer he and Daisy first met. She was mostly confined to her house unless suitors came to meet her and although she was in love with Gatsby, her family prevented her from leaving in order to start her own life. As Gatsby describes this, he tells Nick, “She wanted her life shaped now, immediately”  (Fitzgerald 161), highlighting once again the way that society tells her to sit back and avoid independence.

Finally, Gatsby demonstrates how high social and economic standards prevented people from building their dream. His entire life’s purpose is to become a rich man, all for Daisy, and although he makes the fortune his dream remains just out of reach. Because of his economic situation as a young man, Gatsby was unable to provide for Daisy back when he had the chance and they had just fallen in love. Because he holds out hope of providing for her one day “he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security” (Fitzgerald 159). His economic situation also prevented Daisy from being able to leave her family.

So she eventually gave up on him and waited for a richer man who could support her. “That force took shape in the middle of spring with the arrival of Tom Buchanan,” (Fitzgerald 162) and from then on, Gatsby was nearly forgotten. At the end of the story, Gatsby’s funeral emphasizes his failure to get what he wanted. Despite his wealth and lavish lifestyle only a “procession of three cars reached the cemetery and stopped in a thick drizzle beside the gate—first a motor hearse, horribly black and wet, then Mr. Gatz and the minister and I in the limousine,” (Fitzgerald 186). Not even Daisy bothers to show up because he missed his opportunity to get her before she moved on and married Tom. Gatsby continually falls short of the American dream and represents it’s decline in the ‘20s because he never manages to fulfill his desire to build a life with Daisy. 

During the 1920’s the effect of the war and new social movements allowed Americans to see for the first time the true unreality and unfairness of the American Dream. They realized that the average person could never truly become rich and happy despite what American propaganda was telling them. With unequal opportunity, gender inequality, and certain social standards, the American Dream became an idealized vision. This is important to recognize because it demonstrates the developing economic and political movements of the time and provides insight to the changing views of young Americans striving to make it during that time.