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Ronald Reagan once said “The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man, the American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become.” Generations before the 1920s, people had been pursuing the “American dream.” It isn’t until the 1920s that the death of the American dream comes about. But just what is the American dream? Is it to be rich in morals and work ethic, or is the American dream turning into being rich in money and status? Throughout The Great Gatsby we see the death of the American dream through the characters, the narrator, and symbols that are displayed.
The American dream was brought about by the Declaration of Independence in which it states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
’ This American dream encouraged citizens to work hard and to build a better life for themselves. However, the work ethic and prosperity for success was no longer as evident in the 1920s. The 1920s brought about the death of the American dream. Americans were no longer seeking to attain a better life, but rather to gain higher status and be rich in money and material goods. Many Americans learned that money and status were not going to them everything they wanted. Working hard was still going to be the way to earn a happy life.
We see throughout The Great Gatsby, that wealth doesn’t make a person happy.
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is trying to create the life that he never had. He changes his name, and earns money through illegal activity to try and attain his picture-perfect life. Gatsby buys a large gothic mansion, expensive clothing, and luxury cars, in order to try and impress Daisy Buchanan. He even goes as far as throwing parties for people he doesn’t even know in hopes that Daisy will show up to one of the parties. The American dream ties into Gatsby’s actions because he thinks that he is setting himself up for a better life, however in the end he truly isn’t happy with all of the money he has.
It is apparent that the American dream has died because Gatsby’s pursuit of wealth instead of happiness isn’t actually setting him up for a “better” life. Although Gatsby wins Daisy’s love by taking the blame for the death of Myrtle, he also loses his life when Myrtles husband shoots him dead. Everything that Gatsby had worked for is suddenly no longer relevant, because he has now lost what was most important, his life. What really shows us that money is not everything in The Great Gatsby is that Gatsby was so infatuated with money that he lost the respect of his family and friends. Nick had to stage a funeral for Gatsby because he had a hard time getting anyone to come to the funeral.
The narrator in The Great Gatsby is Nick Carraway. Nick Carraway is Daisy Buchanan’s cousin, and he lives next door to Jay Gatsby. In The Great Gatsby, Nick tells us the story from a 1st person point of view. This is instrumental throughout the story because we are able to see both ends of the spectrum. Since Nick is a cousin to Daisy, and a neighbor to Gatsby, we are able to see the emotions and feelings of each person. Whereas, if Gatsby were the narrator and telling of his life, we would not see the feelings of Daisy. By choosing Nick as the narrator, we are able to see Gatsby’s feelings and Daisy’s feelings, even though Nick is only telling the story of Gatsby. The authors choice of narrator was very important in order to lay out Gatsby’s life. It helped the audience to comprehend everything that was going on within the story by knowing the emotions of all of the characters. Nick is not poor, but he is not rich, so he is able to illustrate the death of the American dream from a neutral point of view. The death of the American dream is also illustrated by symbols throughout the story.
Symbols were another great use in The Great Gatsby that helped to lay out details to the audience. One symbol used was the green light across the lake on Daisy’s dock. This green light illustrates Gatsby’s desire and hope for a future with Daisy. Being able to look at the green light was something that Gatsby hung on to because he knew that Daisy was not far away. It gave him a false hope that his money was eventually going to be worth something to her someday, he just had to give it time. Another symbol used in the story was the valley of ashes. The valley of ashes is an area of wasteland between New York City and West Egg. It was used to symbolize the decay that was occurring from the pursuit of wealth. By pursuing wealth instead of a happy life, moral and social values were being overthrown and forgotten. Money was taking people’s lives and stealing their happiness.
We see throughout The Great Gatsby that money doesn’t bring anyone complete happiness. People who seek acceptance of others through money are not truly happy in their life. If they sought to earn acceptance of others through their kindness and care, they would be happier with the way they were living. Money isn’t everything and it can only get you so far. Be happy with the life you are given and know that money isn’t what life is about. Life is about being happy and being happy with your loved ones around you.
The death of the American dream was corrupted by the desire for money and wealth of material goods. By analyzing The Great Gatsby’s use of characters, narration, and symbols, the death of the American dream is illustrated to us. We must not desire a life of wealth, but rather of happiness and fulfillment.
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