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The American Nightmare - a Great Gatsby Synthesis

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2 June 2017

The American Nightmare

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, as defined by this nation so artfully within the Declaration of Independence, is the source of man’s ambition in America. However, this ideal is challenged by Scott F. Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, expanded on by John A. Pidgeon’s article about the novel, and put into present context through an editorial by Sarah Churchwell. Through these texts, the reader observes Fitzgerald’s argument that the American dream is often an unattainable and untouchable illusion in the 1920’s, and how even today, the dream of economic prosperity remains bleak for the common man and woman.

The Great Gatsby is a novel that exemplifies Fitzgerald’s beliefs: that someone who dares to dream outside the harsh restrictions of reality is faced only with failure. Gatsby is a man who has reached the “American Dream” in all economic measurements, yet finds out that he himself has not reached his own “Dream”. John A. Pidgeon writes that within The Great Gatsby lies “the tension between faith and reality … and Jay Gatsby personifies this conflict.” (Pidgeon, “The Great Gatsby”). Gatsby represents the faithful dreamer, someone who sacrifices their whole lives waiting for a dream to come true. On the flip side, Gatsby portrays the harsh reality those same dreamers must face in order to move on, yet for him, the moment comes too late and he must die as a result. Gatsby’s death is a hyperbolic symbol of the end of dreamers who never live in reality. To that fatal conclusion, Fitzgerald writes through the eyes of Nick Carraway that “Gatsby turned out alright in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out [Nick’s] interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men." (Fitzgerald, 2). Here, Nick suggests that it was not Gatsby’s hopeless dreams nor his desire to live in the past that led to his downfall, but rather the fault of the “foul dust that floated in the wake of his dreams”. The dust is a metaphor for the elite class, the established rich, and Nick explains that it was not Gatsby’s fault that he never achieved the same respect level the establishment commanded. Regardless of Gatsby’s wealth and stereotypical prosperity, he never was able to reach his own dream. Likewise, Nick states later that “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Fitzgerald, 180). Here, Fitzgerald makes a clear connection between Gatsby’s and the American Dream. Humans constantly prove our inability to move beyond the past, to seek what is done and gone, hoping to somehow transcend time itself. The metaphor of boats against the current signifies the currents of time constantly pushing, and that no matter how hard one tries to push in the opposite direction, the current will continue. However, people will always “run faster, stretch out our arms farther”, and continue being optimistic as they expend their energy on a goal that moves further and further away. Fitzgerald believes in the nature of the dreamer of old to persevere in lieu of these odds - that there is a Jay Gatsby in each and every one of us.

Much like the despair of the 1920’s dreamer,

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