Wealth, Love, and the American Dream
It has been said that F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby is about the pursuit of the American dream. It has also been said that the novel is about love, ambition, and obsession. Perhaps both are true. Combined, these themes may be understood in their most basic forms among the relationships within the novel. After all, each characters reason for belonging to a relationship speaks very strongly of what really makes him tick; each characters manifestation of his own desires is found within his lover. Throughout the novel, what universally unites each character beyond anything else is the love of a dream or position and involvement in relationships for the success of that dream.
Jay Gatsby has loved Daisy Buchanan since their romance of his youth. Beautiful, rich, and refined, Daisy serves as a symbol of Gatsbys wealth- she represents what 17-year-old James Gatz invented himself to be. The product of years of unfulfilled waited and longing by Gatsby, she becomes a sort of trophy dream. “Her voice is full of money”, Gatsby says (Fitzgerald 127). This delightful figure of speech shows precisely what Gatsby desires. The poor boy from the mid-west hoped to be a great man; Daisy has become the manifestation of this desire. Thus, he believes that by impressing her and being accepted by her he can fully posses that dream. After all, Gatsby believes that with his fabulous wealth he can buy anything he wants, especially Daisy. Longing for the love of his youth, he shapes his whole life around this objective of becoming worthy of her. “He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths so that he could come over some afternoon to a strangers garden” (Fitzgerald 83). Daisy had become the be-all and end-all of his mad ambition, and yet, his approach is passive and wasteful. Instead of actively seeking Daisy, he throws lavish parties, hoping she will stumble in. He finally resorts to a poorly planned meeting, using Nick as an accomplice and stumbling through a reunion that he had planned for all the years she had been away.
Unfortunately for Gatsby, Daisy has married in his absence the hulking, brutish Tom Buchanan, the sort of man one would have expected her to marry all along. Tom represents old money, American aristocracy, and a level of decadence that Gatsby, despite his lavish parties, cannot simulate. Nick notes that “It was hard to realize that a man of his own generation” is quite as wealthy as Tom really is (Fitzgerald 10). After all, Daisy married for money instead of love. Its made clear that she loves Gatsby far more than she loves Tom, but grew tired of waiting before she finally decided to marry Tom. By the night before her wedding, it was too late for her to change her mind. “She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on her bed and pulled out the string of pearls. Take em downstairs and give em back to whoever they belong to. Tell em all Daisys change her mine. Say Daisys change her mine!” (Fitzgerald 81). Her pathetic, drunken attempt to break a commitment by returning a gift is too little too late; Daisys desire to remain rich through union to Tom could not counter-act her love for Gatsby.
Tom Buchanan isnt satisfied in his beautiful Daisy, the object of another mans dream. Tom describes him as being victim of a permanent anti-climax, the result of the echo of a forgotten football game long ago. Perhaps this is why he has decided to take on a mistress. His lover, Myrtle Wilson, is also in a state of discontent. She doesnt think much of her husband, George. “I married him because I thought he was a gentleman, she said finally. I thought he knew something about breeding but he wasnt fit to lick my shoe” (Fitzgerald 39). George Wilson may not be a very interesting guy; an auto mechanic doesnt offer much excitement. However, this does not make him disgraceful or poorly bred. After all, this criticism tells more about Myrtles character than it tells about Georges. It is not unfair to say that Myrtle is involved in her relationship with Tom for the sake of climbing the social ladder. On similar lines, their overstuffed apartment symbolizes their desire to stuff value without real structure or meaning. “Their apartment was on the top floor- a small living room, a small dining room, a small bedroom and a bath. The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles” (Fitzgerald 33). This ostentatious display of overstuffed, and florid possession shows a desire within Myrtle to make public her new station in life. Unfortunately, there is not much structure within the apartment or the relationship itself. Neither can support the goals and ambitions brought into the relationship. Just as their apartment seems cramped due to more furniture than the building allows, their relationship is crowded and messy without any real feeling or structure.
What is common in these relationships is the desire for the attainment of ones dream through the use of ones lover. Gatsby loves Daisy because she represents wealth and success, Daisy loves Tom because he holds the promise of a continued place as a member of American aristocracy, and Myrtle loves Tom because she believes that her relationship with him will grant her a place in high society. Although these relationships may exhibit pure ambition they do not exhibit pure love. Perhaps the novel is making a statement about the nature of ambition itself. When intertwined and mistaken with love, ambition causes hurt, disillusionment, and tragedy. And thus, perhaps Fitzgerald is saying that when the American dream is one based on money and mistaken for love, tragedy occurs.
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