The American Dream is a term that has been used since the beginning of America’s history. It is a term whose meaning has been adjusted decade after decade as the world and our nation continues to change. The American Dream originated as a way to express the mystique of the American West that lay empty, a promise land. But, over the years, it has been extended to include the opportunity to become rich through hard work and the opportunity to break all racial, ethnic, and class barriers in order to give everyone an equal opportunity for success.
Many writers have taken particular interest in the idea of the American dream and have chosen to criticize, fantasize about, define, and even find humor in this indefinable idea that is so close to the heart of all Americans. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the nebulous American Dream in his famous novel The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald manipulates the notion to express a very materialistic version of the story. His story is centered on one character that essentially reaches this American Dream; however, the means by which he does this do not stay true to the idea’s origins. This tale serves to share the story of a man that loses his own identity as he is overcome by this national ethos.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is born with the idea of the American Dream and moving from rags to riches. By the age of sixteen everyone knew, “Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something.” (p. 173) Gatsby, born James Gatz, grew up on a poor farm in North Dakota. He grew up dreaming, dreaming of a life much different from the one he was living. At first, he dreamt of bettering himself by “Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it” and “[studying] needed inventions”, quite similar to the aspirations of the great American hero Benjamin Franklin. (p. 173) However, as Gatsby grew up and began to see the world, he, and his aspirations, changed. His dreams were no longer aspirations to become a better person, but instead they were materialistic dreams to be extremely prosperous by any means possibly. “For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.” (p. 99)
James Gatz, the ceaseless dreamer, died “at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career”. That was the day Jay Gatsby “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself,” and that was the day that everything changed. (p. 98) All of a sudden, as ‘Jay’ began his adventures with Dan Cody, what had been a mere dream for a poor farm boy had come into existence. For the first time in his life he was able to see the “beauty and glamour” that was so far removed from his North Dakota upbringing. (p. 100) However, this was all just a taste of the dream that was to become Gatsby’s. It was the start of a new life, but it was only a tease...