The life in the roaring twenties was the life of parties and social gatherings, full of entertainment, laughter, and simplicity of heart without a care in the world. Like Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote, “Dream are true while they last” in The Higher Pantheism, and Tennyson’s such thought was evident in the novel The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s piece can be related to Tennyson’s view in that the people of the twenties were living in their dreams -the American dream of success and happiness – wanting to believe that that was their true life, their true identity. The hopeful-sybarites desired it badly enough to avoid facing reality, therefore their failure in achieving their ultimate goal of material success was unavoidable. Through the many unsuccessful attempts at achieving the American dream for the characters of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald conveys his message that the failure of American dream is inevitable not only because reality cannot equate itself with the false ideals of the American dream, but also because people believe in it too much without even realizing their intentions.
The American democracy is supposed to be based on equality among the people, but the truth is that social discrimination prevails nonetheless, in which divisions in classes of society cannot be overcome. This is depicted clearly in the lives of the people in the 1920s; while the rich and the powerful attends lavish bacchanals, those who are less fortunate tries in hopes of achieving such statuses in society one day. Miguel de Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote de la Mancha that “there are only two families in the world: the haves and he have-nots”, which is true according to The Great Gatsby’s interpretations on the societies portrayed in the novel. Fitzgerald sees to the failure of such American dream in The Great Gatsby, through characters like Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby.
Myrtle Wilson, a wife of a lower-class mechanic, strives to gain a higher status with Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s wealthy, unfaithful husband from a prominent family, by having an affair with him. Tom introduces Myrtle as “[his] girl” to Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story and also Daisy Buchanan’s second cousin, and invites him into the apartment where Tom and Myrtle led double lives in. Myrtle’s strong attachment towards the American dream forced her to become a different person; scorning her own class and becoming corrupt like the rich. Fitzgerald describes her as a character whose personality changes along with her milieu, just like the time she “changed her costume and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room”. Nick notices the change in her personality immediately after she changed he clothes: “the intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage (where they first met) was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air”.
Some time after they began their relationship and the affair became a hidden but well-known fact to some people; she became more confident in her status as Tom’s girl and sure of her acceptance into the high-society. As time passed, her dislike towards her own class grew. Her scorn for her own class is evident in the story, like the time Mrs. McKee, a neighbor, complimented on her dress and she “rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain”. She knew the dress looked good, yet remarked on it as if it was something she “just slip[s] on when [she doesn’t] care what [she looks] like”. Her dream was to escape from her social status as a middle-low class citizen, a status she acquired by marrying her husband, and be accepted as a member of the high-class. Her American dream does not come true; she had forgotten about the reality because she was too engrossed in her dream and later was killed in a car accident- ironically hit by Tom’s wife, Daisy.
Fitzgerald also stressed that not only the poor or the less fortunate fail in achieving the American dream but the American dream is bound to fail for all those living in too high of a hope, including the rich and powerful, Jay Gatsby being the chief example. Fitzgerald conveys through The Great Gatsby that the dreams and hopes give meaning and purpose to man’s efforts- to live, to achieve, and to win. He agreed with Benedict de Spinoza that “desire is the very essence of man” and that “as long as [you] have a want, [you] have a reason for living. Satisfaction is death.” (George Bernard Shaw, Overruled). Jay Gatsby, a man with all the money he wants, is empty aside from his enormous wealth, for he is empty in heart. His dream is to have the material success he lacked before, a reason Daisy left him for Tom, and try to bring her back to him. She is the reason he was able to accumulate his wealth- the one desire that kept him going. He tries to sway Daisy with his wealth and his undying devotion and love, acquiring her attention at first with all the expensive weekend parties held on his property. This is how Jay Gatsby is first introduced formally to Nick, the narrator and to the readers- as the host of wild parties held every weekend with “corps of caterers, a whole pit full of oboes and trombones, and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums” as the orchestra instead of a “thin five piece affair”, obviously trying to show off his intimidating wealth. He courts Daisy and is sure that she loves him after a while, but Fitzgerald does not give in easily; Daisy admits to loving him yet she still will not come to him. His failure in achieving his American dream is more shocking to him because his whole faith in life, his strength to go on, involved in Daisy, his dream. When he fails to have Daisy, everything suddenly doesn’t matter for Gatsby- his career, confidence in himself and his life. When Nick is getting ready to leave for a while, Gatsby can’t help but ask “I suppose Daisy’ll call too,” in desperate gesture at the last minute, although he is aware that there is nothing left between him and Daisy. The way he looked at Nick “anxiously as if he hoped I’d corroborate this” after he asked the question, shows his desperation, his awareness of the destroyed hope concerning the American dream- and the emptiness that follows it. His death is almost insignificant for he was already dead spiritually. He dreamed too fast, not allowing the reality to catch up and make his dream come true, too involved in his belief in the dreamy world.
People of the twenties lived partying, without worrying over life, enjoying every moment they could. They were living in dream, hungry for success, wealth and high-social status. Their American dreams failed, like Fitzgerald emphasized in his novel The Great Gatsby, because they were too engrossed in their dream world, not allowing enough time for reality to catch up with them. Fitzgerald saw this in the lives around him, including his own opinions and views on the American dream into the novel. His thoughts were that American dream is bound to fail if the people became too attached to their American dream and fail to see their mistake in living in complete abandon as many did in the roaring twenties. The American democracy, supposedly based on equality among people, became a mockery for the social/class discriminations remained no matter how they tried to overcome the division between them. There still were many people, however, people like Jay Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson, who tried to better their status in society and make their American dream come true without any success. They were examples of Fitzgerald s in his effort to convey his message that the American dream is just a dream for most of us because the people themselves are too ignorant, too demanding and too dependent on their hopeful dreamy lives, the false gayety of the surroundings clouding their ability to see the reality in their true lives.