The Great Gatsby as an Exploration of the American Dream
The American Dream lies deeply rooted in the American cultural imagination. The idea behind the Dream is that if an individual is sufficiently determined, he or she has a fair chance of achieving wealth, and the freedom and happiness that go with it. Essentially, it offers the opportunity of achieving spiritual and material fulfillment. "Although these ideals can be traced back to the original settlers, perhaps one of the earliest written manifestations of the Dream can be found in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence"(Spindler 41). The document promises the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to all citizens. "The Great Gatsby" is both an evocation and a condemnation of these values, for whereas American democracy is based on the idea of equality, the truth is that social discrimination and divisions of class are not so easily overcome. The behavior of Fitzgerald's upper classes is also a comment on the failure of the American Dream: "their decadence and carelessness show how material success has destroyed spiritual life"(Posnock 207 ).
Jay Gatsby is unquestionably the most prominent example of both the successes and failures of the American Dream. Initially, he appears to follow in its tradition, the archetypal self-made man. Nick Carraway, newly arrived in West Egg, sees Gatsby's enormous imitation-French mansion with its "marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawns and gardens" and assumes he is just another member of the fashionable super-rich. Yet Gatsby is not the "florid and corpulent" man Nick expects. He is young, elegant and charming. Nick has established himself to be a good judge of character, and when he instantly likes and approves of Gatsby, he guides the reader to do the same. Gatsby is something of an enigma at first. Nick cannot understand how such a young man can "drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound". At this point in the novel, Gatsby is living the American Dream; a self made, wealthy man, he is a shining example of how hard work can lead to material success. Gatsby's mansion also provides the location for his lavish parties. However, when Nick attends one such party he finds Gatsby to be the focus of malicious gossip, suggesting all is not well. Gatsby's true past, or at least a fraction of it, is not revealed until the end of chapter four, and the full story until chapter eight.
"Jay Gatsby" confesses to have been the carefully constructed creation of his seventeen year-old self, James Gatz. Gatsby has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve wealth and success through imagination and determination. The child of "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people", he manages to cross the class barrier and escape from his humble beginnings. Gatsby raises himself above working class obscurity through hard work and persistence - he has risen above the "hot struggles of the poor"....