Go back to the Fitzgerald page for more texts and other resources.

The Great Gatsby is a devastating analysis of the ‘foul dust’ that floats in the wake of the American Dream

This essay examines the fall of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the consequences of the failure of this dream

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald examines the fall of the American Dream and the consequences of the failure of this dream. Through Jay Gatsby of West Egg, the Buchanan?s of East Egg and the Wilson?s of The Valley of Ashes the full implications of the American Dream are realised. The corruption and degradation of the American Dream are the source of this ?foul dust? and any attempts to salvage this fallen dream are futile.

The American Dream describes an attitude of hope and faith, which goes back to the beginning of American civilisation, back to the first pilgrims. It relates to the desire for spiritual and material improvement, but this dream became corrupted. The material aspect of the dream was quickly and easily realised and wiped out these spiritual ideals. So there emerged a state of material comfort but lacking in spiritual life and purpose. The Great Gatsby is not a text that criticises the American Dream, but is a text critical of the corruption of the American dream. This aspect of the corruption of the American Dream is embodied by the Buchanan?s, while the spiritual ideals and purpose in life is by Jay Gatsby, where the ideals of the American Dream are still very much alive. Gatsby is juxtaposed against Tom and Daisy Buchanan; they both represent extremes of the American Dream, each as destructive as the other. Gatsby?s dream is self destructive, whereas the Buchanan lifestyle destroys others. Also, Gatsby centers on the dream, and has a purpose in life. He represents the idealism of the American Dream. The Buchanan?s symbolise the destruction of the American Dream, the corruption of values and the vulgar pursuit of wealth so evident in 1920?s American society. People like Tom and Daisy cannot see beyond the material values, but Gatsby cannot see beyond the dream and is cut off totally from the rational and practical by this. This explains why Gatsby is vulnerable and dies in the pursuit of his dream whereas the Buchanans and the corruption of the American dream escape unscathed.

The American dream cannot be realised because of the social barriers that exist between classes. American political ideals clash with the actual social conditions that exist. This is shown through Myrtle Wilson, and through Jay Gatsby. Myrtle Wilson seeks to escape from her own class, and into the group to which the Buchanan?s belong- but this attempt is doomed to fail. She does this through an affair with Tom Buchanan, which reflects the corruption of values and takes on his way of living. Myrtle only becomes corrupt and vulgar like the rich but never manages to break into the group: social barriers between classes will never allow that to happen. To them, her social ambition means nothing. Like Myrtle, Gatsby also struggles to fit into another social group, but his desire and dream is different from Myrtle?s. Her attempts spring from social ambition, whereas Gatsby?s struggle is related to his dream and his idealism. The culmination of his dream is all the more significant as his entire life depends and centers upon it, and failure is all the more disastrous for him. With the failure of the dream his life loses all meaning. The American Dream consists of ideals that go beyond the reality of inequality and barriers between classes, and the class system of America does not allow for the merging of class barriers. This discrepancy between the ideals and the reality means the American Dream is one that is impossible to be realised.

The failure of Gatsby?s dream and the failure of the American Dream is because reality cannot keep up with ideals. The ideals of equality, equal opportunity and the resulting happiness of wealth are all a baseless fantasy not only because of social barriers, but because these ideals are too fantastic to be realised in any case. Gatsby?s dream, for instance, centers on the impossible: to recreate the past.

?Can?t repeat the past?? he cried incredulously. ?Why of course you can!?
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
?I?m going to fix everything just the way it was before,? he said, nodding determinedly. ?She?ll see.?

The naivet? and impracticality of Gatsby?s dream reflects the American Dream, explaining why both dreams cannot be achieved, as they are essentially the same. Both dreams reflect the unattainable. The impossibility of both Gatsby?s dream and the American Dream lies in the fact that both dreams are too fantastic to be realised, based on impractical ideals which can never be achieved. Both dreams go against social values, and strive for equality where equality is not achievable. There is also the assumption that the accumulation of material wealth brings happiness, where in fact it brings a corruption of values and a baseless existence. Gatsby only has a spiritual existence because he is chasing a dream, but his spiritual existence will only last as long as the dream does. Gatsby shows the unreality of the American Dream through his own ideals, as they are impossible. Gatsby?s dream cannot last because of the corruption of the American dream in society.

The ?foul dust?, which floats in the wake of the American Dream is not only a reflection of the corruption of the American Dream, but of the negative consequences of the pursuit of the American Dream. The Valley of Ashes, where George and Myrtle Wilson reside, embodies the decline of spiritual life and the degradation of values associated with the vulgar pursuit of wealth. In this Valley of Ashes the consequences of the fall of the American Dream are realised. Images of death and hopelessness are associated with the valley of Ashes, and this describes the consequences of the American Dream on society. This valley shows the ugliness of social failure, the failure of the American dream. However, farm images and images of death are juxtaposed in the Valley of Ashes. This ?fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat? shows the ugliness of the failure of the American dream, but illustrates the necessity of this failure so people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan can live their lavish lifestyle. This ?careless? lifestyle comes at the cost of those in the Valley of Ashes, who are forced to realise the consequences of their actions. The death of Myrtle Wilson occurs in the Valley of Ashes, and this sets off the chain of events that lead to the death of Gatsby and his dream. To live and work in this valley of ashes is to be constantly reminded of what others seem to have, but what you cannot reach. This leads both George and Myrtle Wilson to seek a life other than what they have been given, and both die as a result of their search for something more, the realisation of the impossible American Dream.

The eyes of T.J Eckleburg represent the death of god, and the consequent death of morality of 1920?s American society. These eyes are located in the Valley of Ashes, and ?brood on over the solemn dumping ground.? They are placed near Wilson?s garage because that is where the most selfish acts take place: the affair between Tom and Myrtle and the death of Myrtle Wilson. These crimes go unpunished, for Tom who has the affair and for Daisy who gets away with killing Myrtle. This advertisement gives an eternal presence over the ash-covered valley and Wilson refers to the eyes as God and tells Myrtle that ?God knows what you?ve been doing, everything you?ve been doing. You may fool me but you can?t fool God? God sees everything.? The eyes of T.J Eckleburg seem to be the ?God? that sees everything, but forgives nothing. They act as a constant reminder of the moral decay of society and watch the decay silently, offering neither guidance nor solace. The unpunished crimes of Tom and Daisy are inevitable, given their social standing but only the sightless eyes of T.J Eckleburg are left to judge their crimes. They stand in the ?foul dust? of the failure of the American Dream, and see the failure and the hopeless that the both the corruption and the pursuit of such a dream brings.

The American Dream cannot exist because people like Tom and Daisy Buchanan wield the power in American society. They use their position to look down upon others and to live their lives carelessly. Nick says of Daisy;

?in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.

It is this superior mindset which allows Tom and Daisy to do what they wish without having to face the consequences of their actions. With their attitudes towards other people and their social standing Tom is able to have an affair with Myrtle and Daisy is able to kill Myrtle and get away with it. Tom and Daisy Buchanan have been spoiled so much by their wealth that they have lost all sense of morality and have become ?careless? as a result.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made?

Tom and Daisy are in fact in a position to make the American Dream true for some, but as they are ?careless? and think only of themselves they will never make the effort to bring happiness to anyone else but themselves. As people Tom and Daisy wield power in American society, the American dream will never be true for anyone.

The American dream seems to be attainable and to be a set of ideals which brings happiness because of the glamour held by those of East Egg, who seem to hold the American dream. In fact, the American dream is a baseless fantasy, which is impossible to achieve because of the inevitable corruption of values which lies with those of East Egg. The ?foul dust? which floats in the wake of the American Dream is actually caused by those who are chasing this baseless fantasy one that can never be attained. Death is a likely result from the pursuit of such a fantasy: no positive outcome is possible, as only disillusionment will result. The emptiness of this dream is shown in the first instance by the balloon image of Daisy and Jordan on the couch. This depiction of the two young women ?buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon? creates a balloon image which is symbolic of the emptiness of the American dream, a fa?ade of the beauty which is imagined by those who are outside the East Egg. The dream cannot be attained because it is not held by anyone in the first place. To characters such as Gatsby and the Wilson?s, the American dream is to be like those of East Egg. This can never be attained because of social barriers, but the American dream does not exist even for those on East Egg, as the corruption of values has led to only material wealth and a baseless, spiritless existence.

The green light at the end of Daisy?s dock symbolises the impossibility of the American dream. The light is symbolic of Gatsby?s longing for Daisy but the green light means much more than that. Gatsby has spent his whole life yearning for something more: money, acceptance, success and Daisy. Daisy is an unattainable goal and no matter how much money and material wealth he has be will always yearn for Daisy and the sense of completion he imagines having Daisy to bring. Even when Gatsby is having an affair with Daisy: as close as he will ever get to having her: he wants Daisy to leave everything she has for him, even her child. Gatsby is always reaching for something more, and the green light is the unreachable light, the American dream, something that can never be attained. Gatsby sees the green light as his dream, and this is what he reaches out for, ??a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbours mansion? it was Mr. Gatsby himself? he stretched out his arms toward? a single green light, minute and far away?. Gatsby can never reach the light and thus can never attain his goal of Daisy and spiritual fulfillment, as it, like the American dream, is not possible.

Gatsby?s death and the death of Myrtle and George Wilson illustrate the hopelessness and futility of the American dream, while the survival of the Buchanans reflects the corruption of this dream, which renders it impossibility. The people that try to realise the American dream die as a result of their futile efforts to chase after what is not there. The ?foul dust? which floats in their efforts to realise the American Dream is something that can not be overcome, and only death can result from such a pursuit of a hopeless dream. Not only are there social barriers which prevent such a dream from being fulfilled, but there is a corruption of the American dream so that it itself no longer exists, as the corruption has wiped out any chance of a meaningful spiritual existence. ?Foul dust? floats in the wake of the American dream because any attempt to salvage such a fallen dream can only result in death and further destruction.

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us