The Great Gatsby' and American Dream: About Success or Failure

Categories: The Great Gatsby

A definition of the American Dream is 'The belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance'. 'The Great Gatsby' is set in the 1920s jazz era, a time when America was reveling in the economic boom and it was in the 1920s that the American dream became corrupt and started morphing into a want of materialistic greed.

There was the notion that someone else always had more than you. The reality is that the American dream should be the individual's ability to pursue their own idea of happiness. So, can we see in 'The Great Gatsby' that he shows American dream and follow the right (his) dream? We will explore this in the essay.

Portrayal of American Dream in 'The Great Gatsby'

Gatsby succeeds in giving us the impression of having achieved the American Dream, although from the inside he is still constantly trying to seek reassurance that he is impressive enough.

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He asks Nick to assure him about how impressive his house is. His house was made just for the sake of its outward appearance and entertainment. He had a swimming pool which ‘he never had used’ and extensive lawned gardens. He had extravagant parties, his guests, mostly of new money themselves intending to achieve the American Dream that they believed Gatsby had, they did not understand that he was lacking it.

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Gatsby’s dream was not that of success or money. His dream was to win Daisy.

Gatsby is so overly obsessed in blind lust with reuniting with Daisy that it stops him from seeing the truth about her. He won’t let himself see that Daisy has moved on and what her true personality is like. Gatsby is so blind he does not realize how absurd it is to obtain Daisy’s love.

Gatsby entire existence revolves around winning Daisy’s heart back, having her leave Tom and living happily ever after in the house he made for her. Nick tries to tell him ‘you can’t repeat the past’ to which Gatsby replies ‘of course you can’. He throws himself into the ‘colossal vitality of his illusion’.

Nick tells us, ‘But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock’. By looking at this quote right from the start of the novel when we are first introduced to Gatsby, we can already tell he is reaching for something that he can see but is so far out of his reach. The green light could be a symbol for the American Dream, the idea that people area always striving for something greater than themselves, people like Tom and Daisy who were born into money do not need to strive for something so far off. From this first look at Gatsby we could have been given a clue that he is a dreamer and an indication of his unhappy end.

Gatsby as a Modern Tragic Hero With Unrealistic Dreams

The point of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby is that it is an illusion. The ability to acquire the dream is attractive but underneath the surface it is corrupt. Like other characters Gatsby buys into the corruption of the ‘The Dream’, everything; money, parties, Daisy were all corrupt before Gatsby decided to buy into it. Daisy is as alluring and appealing as the American Dream, but both are corrupt, elusive and deadly.

Gatsby’s tragedy is he wants to control time, he wants Daisy to have always loved him despite her marriage to Tom, it is not enough that she loves him now but as Daisy said he wants to much. Gatsby follows the wrong dream and it ultimately destroys him.

The characteristics that Gatsby portrays make him come across as a pitiful fool, but Nick is a sympathetic narrator and he elevates Gatsby to someone a lot more magnificent than he probably is. Nick says, ‘there was something gorgeous about him’. The huge strength of his dream is mesmerizing. Nick insisted that Gatsby turned out alright in the end, he blamed the ‘carless people’ and ‘foul dust’ for his destruction. But even Nick, the one who sticks up the most for Gatsby sees that he perceives Daisy to be idealistic and perfect.

Gatsby is an example of a modern-day tragic hero. He pursues an impossible goal that blinds him to reality, he shows characteristics that show he has a tragic fall; his inability to wake up from his dream, his obsession with recapturing the past forces him to a life of crime and dishonesty. Gatsby’s behavior is self-destructive, and it is this behavior that leads to his untimely death. If you look however, beyond his wealth, you will see that he is just a poor, common man with a big dream. We are given the illusion throughout the novel that he has an abundance of friends, but at his funeral when it really mattered, no one was there except from a select few. This symbolizes how the mighty have fallen, the one person who everyone thought had it all, had no friends, no honest money and no love.

Gatsby held onto his dream right until his end. ‘He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy…He was clutching at some last hope…’. He never gave up on Daisy even taking the blame for her killing Myrtle, there was still a part of him that could not let go, that hoped Daisy would leave Tom.

After his death Nick contemplates, ‘As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night’. This quote ties back to the first glimpse we had of Gatsby when he was reaching out towards Daisy’s light, a light he reached for every day. Gatsby must have felt that he was so close to winning Daisy back, all she had to do was tell Tom she never loved him and Daisy would be his. Nick notes that his dream was already behind him, it was impossible to attain. Nick still admires how Gatsby still constantly reached out for that brighter future. The closing pages reflect on the American Dream in a way that it seems appreciative but pessimistic and mournful.

Gatsby’s dream was to have Daisy and he went to great lengths to follow it, the last line of the novel ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’ is a metaphor representing the difficulty of going back to where you came from. The current is very controlling and almost impossible to row against it. ‘Borne back’ suggests that we will always remember our past and it will try and find a way back which is what Gatsby wanted but when people try to recreate an idealized past it can lead to obsession and ruin just like it did for Gatsby.


Overall, Gatsby followed his dream. His dream was to win Daisy back and live happily ever after. He followed it right to his end, he never stopped hoping Daisy would come to him. The American Dream however is unrealistic and so is Gatsby’s, and although he is very passionate about it and he was following what he thought was his dream, it was the wrong dream, a false dream that blinded him so hard he could not see that it would never have come true. A dream that ultimately destroyed him.

Nick suggests he might have realized right at the end when he had ‘an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe [Daisy’s phone call] would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream’. Perhaps in the end Gatsby did realize that his dream was wrong and would have never been attainable, but he must be admired for never giving up on it. When his dream died, he found no reason to go on he was ‘lost to the old warm world’, his murder must have felt like a welcome end.

A dream is a dream though, it gives us the ideas that these ideals are not what will necessarily happen in people’s lives. If only Gatsby could have seen how bizarre his behavior was then maybe his premature tragic death could have been prevented.


  • Brown, J. A. (2015). The Illusion of the American Dream in 'The Great Gatsby.' Journal of Literary Studies, 31(4), 57-72.
  • The Great Gatsby: An American Dream? (2021). Shmoop.
  • Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (3rd ed.). Chelsea House.
  • Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story. (2013). Directed by R. Kate Kann.
  • Prigozy, R. (Ed.). (2002). The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge University Press.
  • 'Revisiting the American Dream in 'The Great Gatsby'.' (2018). Presented at the American Literature Association Annual Conference.
  • Bloom, H. (2007). 'The Great Gatsby' and the American Dream. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (pp. 19-35). Chelsea House.
Updated: Feb 20, 2024
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The Great Gatsby' and American Dream: About Success or Failure. (2024, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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