The Mirage of the American Dream

Image Source: Simon & Schuster

The Great Gatsby is one classic that’s very polarizing for people. Many of us read this in high school and I think the general consensus is you either love it or hate it. Thankfully, I fell on the side of loving it. 

One of the main reasons I really enjoyed The Great Gatsby is the setting. The aesthetic of America in the 1920s–the parties, the scandals, and the sheer opulence of the new money class that took the decade and the country by storm–was a perfect mix that my teenage self found very appealing. This book drew me in with its glitz and glamor and then managed to make me genuinely interested in the symbolism and thematic elements behind the narrative. It introduced me to the idea of the American dream, and how it drives so much of the appeal and aspirations behind every new generation of immigrants hoping for a fresh start in this country. It also further introduced me to the idea of old money versus new money, which acted as a large culture shock to the U.S. in this era as people were building their wealth from the ground up rather than being born into it. The novel’s discussion of class divides, even between those who more or less belong to the same upper class, sheds a light on the inherent classism and elitism that existed back then and still exists to this day. 

This novel also highlights the importance of perspective and narrative choices in literature. The decision by Fitzgerald to tell the story from Nick’s point of view is an important aspect of humanizing Gatsby. He appears to be this illustrious, mysterious figure with a biased reputation within the community and Daisy in particular, but Nick is able to be a third-party observer who sees past Gatsby’s facade as well as Daisy and Tom’s: the three sides of the triangle encompassing the myth of the American dream. 

The overall theme of the story is that the philosophy of the American dream, personified through Daisy, is something that the new money class (Gatsby) is told will be possible for them if they simply work hard enough. But by the end of the novel we can see how that is truly a myth, for the reality is that the American dream is skewed to benefit those with generational wealth (Tom, who’s of the old money class) instead of those who achieved wealth on their own. The sentiment that anyone can achieve their dreams in America puts the onus on the less fortunate to build their own lives, while the ones that were born into wealth simply have all their advantages built directly into the system. The book itself acts as a poignant critique of the classism that’s been woven into the fabric of America for centuries.