Whilst at surface level, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is but a love story, upon deeper analysis it can be understood as a microcosm of the infamous American Dream – Gatsby representing the self-made “new money” of the era. Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald looks at 20’s America in regards to the ease in which money was made, the excess of materialism, and the fundamental and underlying emptiness to this new phenomena masqueraded as the American Dream.
Opportunity for all is a key aspect in the American dream that many searched for upon arrival in America. Equality for different classes, genders and ethnicities were all advertised as expected in the “land of the free”, yet sadly, this was not the case. The evidence of the flip side to Gatsby’s wild parties is seen in the “valley of ashes”, a smouldering, dusty mound of industrial land, in which key characters such as George and Myrtle make their living. This desolate space shows a reality experienced by many, not granted the expected wealth and riches upon arrival into America. Contrasting this however is the story of Gatsby himself, ambiguous tales told of his self-made past in which he creates his empire and becomes the man he is today. This idea of a man from a lower social class becoming rich was one that embodies the American dream.
There is however, and obvious class tension in the novel. Tom and Daisy represent the upper class, or old money. Gatsby and Nick (the narrator) on the other hand are the new money – ambitious, self-made men feeding off of the booming stock market. The “jazz age” as pictured here is key in being the fundamental pull factor for the “American dream” – luxury, riches, and excessive partying. The soaring American economy together with the prohibition made billionaires out of bootleggers, as portrayed by the character of Jay Gatsby. The old money are perfectly captured in the character of Tom – racist, sexist, traditional and scummy he embodied the juxtaposition of the flourishing Gatsby to the fading old money. The tension between these two classes pivot around Daisy, the wife of Tom, but the life-long love of Gatsby. Daisy represents hope, much like the hope of those arriving to America in search of the American dream. However, the built up expectations could never be satisfied to these travellers, nor to Gatsby, who in failing to recreate the love he had waited so long for brings about his demise. The realization we come to at the end of the novel is the hollow morality of the new money, and the obscene excess parading as fun. We finish the novel with a sense almost of disappointment.
This disappointment reflects the dream for those that came to America that was never fulfilled. The disappointment reflects Gatsby’s inability to rekindle his love with Daisy. Unfulfilled expectations are the backbone of the novel and are essential in our understanding of the American dream in 1920’s America.