Anyone and everyone can become successful with enough hard work. That was the “American Dream” as it was understood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the beginning of the twentieth century, a time of great corruption was ushered in. The modern values that came along with the materialistic “roaring twenties” era transformed the ideals of the American Dream into a corrupt race for power without regard for morals. In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this degradation of the American Dream is exemplified through the character Jay Gatsby. His desire to become rich and powerful fast causes him to overlook the honest way to fulfill his dreams and enter into a world of decadence and corruption. In the end, his lack of regard for morals is his downfall. Jay Gatsby’s sad story shows that without honest hard work, the American Dream is destined to fail.
In the post World War I era of the 1920s, people began to revel in the newly mass produced commodities like radios and motor vehicles. Automobiles became the symbol of status, something everyone needed to have. This kind of attitude led people to think that their social prestige no longer came from how hard working they were, but rather how much property they had. With these new attitudes came the death of the true American Dream. People took what they had for granted and the emphasis of the dream was shifted to wealth and stature. The American Dream started out as more than just a materialistic desire, it had foundations in spirituality in relation to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. When the first European colonists arrived in America, they treated the dream as an opportunity to become anything they wanted with hard work. With the decadence of the 1920s came people who disregarded the idea of hard work, people who instead of earning a place in society, believed they could purchase it. This “ get rich quick” mentality spawned the dishonest and illegal businesses that corrupted the time period.
Jay Gatsby was born the son of poor, unsuccessful farmers. As a child he lived in a poverty stricken area of North Dakota. From a very early age, he resented the fact that he was not wealthy and it became his dream to amass a great fortune. That dream began to take shape when he was serving military duty in Louisville before leaving to fight in World War I. It was then that he met a very wealthy girl named Daisy Buchanan. The two fell in love but soon Gatsby was torn away to fight in the war. Before he left, Daisy promised that she would wait for him and they would be together when he returned from war. Despite her promise, shortly after the war had ended, Daisy married Tom Buchanan, an extremely wealthy national figure. Gatsby decided to dedicate himself to winning her back. This is where Gatsby began to build his “American Dream”. In an era where everyone was wealthy and living a very decadent life, Gatsby needed a way to build a fortune and social prestige so that he could be accepted by Daisy. He did this by getting involved in organized crime. After just a short time making money illegally through bootlegging and distributing alcohol, Gatsby had become very wealthy. To be close to Daisy, he bought a lavish mansion just across from Daisy and Tom’s home in West Egg. Through the assistance of his neighbor, Nick Caraway, Gatsby was reunited with Daisy and they began to spend time with each other again. Now completely focused on attaining his perfect American Dream of having wealth and Daisy, Gatsby had lost sight of any moralistic ideals, or even a distinction between right and wrong. He was using illegal means of making money and was attempting to steal a woman away from her husband. His dream had spiraled into a mess of dishonesty.
Jay Gatsby was certainly not the only dishonest man in West Egg. Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan was also guilty of amoral behavior. Tom, an extremely wealthy and well-respected individual, had come from a socially solid family and was born into great fortune. While neither Tom nor Gatsby are moralistic individuals, Tom is in a way more corrupt. While Gatsby has good intentions in his behavior, Tom seems almost heartless. Gatsby does everything for his one goal, to have Daisy. Tom on the other hand already has Daisy but does not appreciate her in the least. He treats her badly, and cheats on her with another woman named Myrtle. Perhaps the only honest character in the novel is Nick Caraway. Nick left his familiar home in the Midwest to make a life for himself, to achieve his own vision of the American Dream. When he got settled down in West Egg (next to Gatsby’s mansion), he found a world of twisted morals, decadence, and rich self-centered idiots. Through his dealings with Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle etc, he realized that the American Dream is something that is highly corrupt and mostly unattainable, motivating him to move back home.
By the end of the novel, the corruption that ran rampant in the town of West Egg caused the dreams of Gatsby, Nick, and Tom to fail. So disillusioned by their quests to attain their own American Dreams that their negligence towards morality ended with two tragic deaths. Lost in their dishonest pursuit of being together, Daisy and Gatsby kill Tom’s mistress Myrtle. In turn, Myrtle’s husband Wilson kills Gatsby. Nick, disgusted with the corruption he has witnessed, loses hope for the American Dream and heads back home. The Great Gatsby tells a story of the American Dream that is different from most others. In most tales of the American Dream, someone rises from nothing to become very successful and everyone is happy in the end. The Great Gatsby shows the failure of the dream through the disillusionment caused by corruption. If there is one thing to be learned from The Great Gatsby, it is that without a willingness to put forth an honest effort to attain your goals, the American Dream is destined to fail.