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The American Dream represents the growing materialistic desires, an important ideal of the 1920s . F. Scott Fitzgerald pursues the American Dream through his career as a writer and his wife, Zelda. Fitzgerald regards the American Dream as undesirable, problematic, and ultimately unachievable.
Fitzgerald uses figurative language to show the American Dream’s undesirability. In the end, it does not make one happy. Daisy, who has the American Dream, shows the unhappy when Nick reflects on “what a grotesque thing a rose is” .
The petals of the rose embody the American Dream, while reality represents the stem with its thorns. It attracts people with its alluring facade, only to shock them with the experiences of reality. The rose also represents Daisy because she seems blithe and unknowing on the outside, but she understands everything and harbors unhappiness within her. She puts on a disguise to fit in with society. Although she lives the American Dream with a rich husband, lavish possessions, and a beautiful house, these things do not bring joy to her life.
Tangible objects cannot replace things like friendship or the feeling of love. These material possessions just create feigned happiness and cause more discontent. From observing the other characters, Nick realizes that the American Dream isn’t worthwhile, “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” .
Throughout history, people have used boats to search for and arrive at a new life. Boats represent the “dreamers” like Gatsby, Myrtle, and Wilson, who strive for the American Dream and trying to make a new life for themselves.
The current prevents them from reaching their dreams. If a current blocks someone from getting to their destination, they will never overpower the current. This shows that no matter how hard one tries to achieve the American Dream, they will never overcome all the obstacles. When Fitzgerald says, “borne back ceaselessly into the past”, this means that no one can escape from their past. Even though Gatsby has everything, the people of East Egg still do not accept him. Myrtle can wear all the fancy and expensive clothes in the world, yet the “elite” do not embrace her as one of their own. Despite all their efforts, they cannot change their status. They spend their whole lives chasing an unattainable dream that does not ensure happiness.
Fitzgerald’s use of colors shows the problematic nature of the American Dream. Green represents greed and envy. Gatsby shows his greed because he yearns for the unattainable. He always wants more. He keeps forcing Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him, until she says “Oh, want too much!”. He would not just let her alone. Gatsby wanted even more from her. The American Dream causes people to focus only on themselves, creating a vicious cycle of them trying to get what they want. Green also represents jealousy. At first, Gatsby shows jealousy to Tom because he has the only thing Gatsby does not, the girl of his dreams. Of course, Gatsby has lots of money and a beautiful house, with “period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk”, but his envy of Tom lingers. He desperately wants what Tom has, and he will not settle for any other girl. He devotes his whole life to Daisy because Jordan says, “‘Gatsby bought that house so Daisy would be just across the bay”. He also dedicates his entire life to pursuing the American Dream. He even involves himself in illegal businesses to gain more wealth for himself: “I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business” .
This shows the great lengths that greed and jealousy can drive people to achieve the American Dream. Yellow represents happiness, but also deceit and corruption, while white reflects goodness, pureness, and innocence. Both these colors represent Daisy, as “the golden girl” who “dressed in white, and had a little white roadster”. Her name, Daisy, signifies a flower that has white petals and a yellow center. Though she appears pure and innocent on the outside, she reflects deceit and corruption. Gatsby confirms Daisy’s value of wealth and materialism by describing her voice as “full of money”. These colors, green and yellow, show that pursuing the American Dream has adverse effects, including greed, jealousy, and corruption.
Fitzgerald uses symbolism to reveal the unachievable American Dream. Unsatisfied with what he has, Gatsby“ stretches out his arms toward the water and distinguishes nothing except a single green light, minute and far way, that might have been at the end of a dock”. The green light symbolizes Daisy, but more importantly, it represents the American Dream. Fitzgerald uses the word stretching, instead of reaching, to show the magnitude of Gatsby’s desire to achieve the American Dream. The green light, “minute and far away”, radiates so close to Gatsby. Gatsby can almost touch the rays of his dreams the American Dream. Despite this, Gatsby does not achieve his full American Dream, and “he did not know that it was already behind him”. Fitzgerald says that it may seem like one can accomplish the American Dream with hard work, but in reality, one will never reach it, just like how Gatsby and many others aren’t able to. The Valley of Ashes, “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens”, represents the lost hope of the American Dream. The color gray, the opposite of West and East Egg colors, dominates the valley. The people living within this valley, like Myrtle and Wilson, strive despairingly for the American Dream, without success. The green light and the Valley of Ashes symbolize the unattainable American Dream.
Fitzgerald perceives the American Dream as unattainable and not worthwhile, causing unscrupulous effects. Fitzgerald personifies the American Dream because he dreamt of and strived to create a better life for himself. Besides its relevance in The Great Gatsby, the American Dream symbolizes the aspirations of many people who lived during the Jazz Age.
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