The Great Gatsby

In the 19th century, pioneers traveled west and immigrants entered America spurred on by tales of the American Dream. The American Dream is the cultural idea that if people work hard in America and act honestly, they can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and earn wealth and prestige, the purpose of the American Dream. Achieving the American Dream means gaining great material wealth. In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it is no longer possible to achieve the American Dream by being honest and working hard; the only way is through the corruption and manipulation of these ideals, which leads to riches that are corrupt.

Through the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, the author illustrates that it is no longer possible to work hard and act honestly and still achieve the American Dream. Overlooking the valley of ashes are the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, a faded oculist’s billboard, which oversee the entire world and “look out of no face” (27). The eyes of Eckleburg represent the eyes of an omniscient, omnipresent God. Michaelis and Wilson, residents of the hopeless and desolate valley of ashes recognize the ubiquitous presence of the eyes of Eckleburg. Michaelis “saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg [âÂ?¦] Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½God sees everything,’ repeated Wilson” (167). The T.J. Eckleburg billboard was placed there by an oculist to advertise his practice, who then “sank down himself into eternal blindness” (28). The quote implies that the eyes of Eckleburg, or of God, are blind. The American Dream originates from the Puritan Work Ethic, which dictates that one must work hard in order to serve God, and that hard work is a necessary element to produce wealth: materially and spiritually. The American Dream originates from God, yet God is blind. The eyes of Eckleburg symbolize a frustrated God who has abandoned his people and turned away. When the symbolic eyes of God can no longer see, people no longer feel they need to have work ethic or moral integrity in order to achieve the Dream. Furthermore, in the absence of God, immorality rises and working hard and being honest to achieve the American Dream is no longer a possibility.

There is another way to achieve the American Dream – one that does not involve working hard or being honest. New York symbolizes this new way of achieving the Dream. It also symbolizes corruption and opulence and gives its inhabitants a potential for the achieving of their ideals. It is where Gatsby meets Meyer Wolfshiem, the Jew who “fixed the World’s Series back in 1919” (78). By rigging the ball game, Wolfshiem does not act honestly or work hard, yet still obtains lots of money. From Wolfshiem, Gatsby learns bootlegging, a highly lucrative but illegal business: “Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter,'” says Tom (141). Gatsby may have been originally inspired by the principles of the American Dream and tried to follow them, but the original ideals are no longer a path to achieve the Dream. He needs to find another way and learns it from Wolfshiem. Dishonesty and cheating are easier means to achieve the promise of material wealth dictated by the American Dream.

The corrupt means through which people obtain their wealth corrupts their morals as well; thus, they misuse and abuse the power they have over their new possessions, especially cars. Cars in the 1920s are the new emblem of consumer power and material success. Gatsby’s “gorgeous” car is “a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns” (68). The car is certainly a symbol of wealth; the dozen suns that reflect on the wind-shields and the bright nickel symbolize luster, glory, and gold. The car is of a “monstrous length”, has “triumphant” boxes, and a “labyrinth” on windshields – these adjectives are all aimed to describe the sheer presence of the colossal machine. They are icons of the rewards one reaps by achieving the American Dream, yet are warped into menacing constructions of death and destruction. Tom “ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night, and ripped a front wheel off his car”; the chambermaid Tom was having an affair with breaks her arm (82). Wilson’s wife, too, is killed by an automobile: “they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath” (145). Cars are the main means of tragedy, destruction, and death in the novel. The ideal of the American Dream is that the wealth gained from it is amassed honestly and through hard work. However, the way the wealth is achieved is twisted and corrupted, and so the wealth that is acquired is also corrupted. The corruption of cars represents all the distortion. Wilson is destroyed by cars as well. He makes an honest living unlike Tom or Gatsby repairing and selling cars, and his life is destroyed by an automobile. This is rather ironic – Wilson also deals in wrecks, destroyed automobiles. He works on repairing the ruined destruction machines so they can go annihilate more things. Wealth and cars destroy Wilson, as well as the American Dream which he represents. The cars in the novel represent how people can attain the American Dream through corruption of their morals and means to achieve the Dream.

Being honest and working hard is no longer a viable path to achieve the American Dream. By twisting these ideals, however, Gatsby can still gain riches. The American Dream represents hope, but characters and symbols in The Great Gatsby represent the destruction of its sacred ideals and create a new, detrimental image for the Dream. Fitzgerald says that work ethic and morality no longer can correlate to success – the original Dream that drove hordes of people into America with such high hopes is no more.

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