The wild profligacy of Gatsby’s parties, the shallowness and aimlessness of the guests and the hint of Gatsby’s participation in theft and crime all identify the period and the American setting. But as a piece of social commentary “The Great Gatsby” also portrays the breakdown of the American dream, from the viewpoint that American political ideals conflict with the actual social circumstances that existed, since American democracy is based on the inspiration of equality among people, the truth is that social discrimination still existed and the divisions among the classes could not be overcome.
This made the dream of many be to become part of the higher social class that lived in East Egg. In the novel, Myrtle is one of the characters whose desires spring from social ambitions. She wanted to fit into the higher social standards and to do so she had to form an affair with Tom and imitates his way of living, but it results in her becoming as vulgar and corrupt as the people of those living standards. Her dreams and ambitions resulted in her death, as her husband found out and forced her to move out of the East back to the West.
Therefore through her attitude of which she thought was the way to fit into Tom’s social class, she only finds herself failing to reach her dreams and becoming what she yearns to be. Gatsby’s dreams on the other hand are more of a significant struggle. Unlike Myrtle’s desire, which springs from social ambitions, Gatsby’s dreams are related more to his idealism and his confidence in life’s potentials. Undoubtedly, his desire is also influenced by social considerations; Daisy, who is wealthy and beautiful, represents a way of life, which is remote from Gatsby’s and therefore more attractive because it is out of reach.
However, social consciousness is not a basic cause. It simply directs and increases Gatsby’s belief in life’s possibilities. Like Myrtle, Gatsby struggles to fit himself into another social group, but his attempt is more vital because his whole faith in life is involved in it. Failure, therefore, is more appalling for him as his whole career; his confidence in himself and in life is totally shattered when he fails to win Daisy. This is represented by his death. His physical death however becomes less significant as his life was pointless and shallow after the death and collapse of his dreams.
Initially, Gatsby’s dreams were starting to become more real: “His hand took of hers, and as she said something low in his ear he turned towards her… ” This was the first time Gatsby physically touches Daisy after her marriage. Fitzgerald shows us that the dream that Gatsby has spent time of his life trying to gain money in order to please is right in front of him and he could touch her. She seems to be the base of his wealth: “Daisy tumbled short of his dreams” Gatsby seems to be having a struggle between his dreams and reality.
His dreams help him make life worth living. This is also proven after the collapse of his dreams, when he takes the blame for killing Myrtle even though it was Daisy’s fault but he sees not purpose worth living as he has lost Daisy. Fitzgerald created the whole crisis of Gatsby’s identity to help him find himself through his ambitions and dreams. Gatsby’s original name was Jay, but changed after he realised that he has a purpose in his life and to achieve he had to change his identity.
He was planning to possibly use Daisy as a parasitic in order to gain social standards and status and become someone like Tom. However he realises his ambition could not be met as Daisy chose Tom over him. However he does not give up and keeps his hopes and dreams of getting Daisy back. Fitzgerald claims to us that dreams stop becoming dreams if they become real. When Gatsby’s dreams become tangible, they lose their meaning and value of being a dream.
When he kisses Daisy, Fitzgerald writes: At his lips’ touched se blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete” This suggests that dreams should stay dreams because as soon as they become real they lose their purpose. Nick evokes the former Dutch sailors and compares their sense of wonder with Gatsby’s hope. The novel also seems to investigate how Americans lost their spiritual purpose as material success wiped out spiritual goals. Material success implies the gaining physically of what they aimed to compared to having spiritual gaols as dreams and ambitions that stay unreal.
The lives of the Buchanans and possibly the rest of those who lived in East Egg and came from the same social standings is therefore filled with material comforts and luxuries but empty of purpose and hopes. Daisy’s grieve is especially indicative of this: ‘What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon? ‘ cried Daisy, ‘and the day after that, and the next thirty years? ‘ Fitzgerald stresses the need for hope and dreams to give meaning and purpose to man’s efforts in this novel.
Striving towards some perfection is the way by which man can feel a sense of participation, a sense of finding his own identity. Undoubtedly, Gatsby, with ‘his extraordinary gift of hope’, set against the empty existence of Tom and Daisy, seems to achieve a heroic greatness. Fitzgerald also suggests that the failure of hopes and dreams, the collapse of the American Dream itself, is inescapable, not only because reality cannot keep up with ideals, but also because the ideals are in any case usually too unbelievable and enormous to be realistic.
The heroic portraying of Gatsby, therefore, should not be taken morals or principles because we cannot ignore the fact that Gatsby is naive, seems to be inexperienced, impractical and over sentimental. It is this, which makes him challenge the unfeasible, to try and repeat or bring back the past. There is something pitiful and strange about the way he refuses to grow up. Ageing could possibly mean the lack of having ambitions and dreams. Fitzgerald refers to aging through Nick who becomes thirty during the novel. This implies that time passes by rapidly without realisation.
Gatsby intended to stay young until he forms his identity and gets Daisy back. His death could possibly represent the death of his dreams and ambitions. As soon as he realises he has lost Daisy and his dreams have collapsed, he becomes willing to take responsibility of the death of Myrtle. This could possibly be because he still loves Daisy and does not want her to get into the problem or it could possibly suggest that he does not care any more about his situation and is willing to take the blame as it was his car.
It is clear that Tom was the winner and Gatsby was the defeated, as Tom managed to keep Daisy, whilst Gatsby lost her. The main reason he lost her was because of his under-class position. When Gatsby’s becomes part of the upper class, his dreams collapse, therefore, it seems to be important to be part of the under-class to sustain a dream. It seems to be inevitable that dreams fail in this novel, as when the dreams and ambitions become tangible to the characters, they lose the meaning of being a dream. However, it seems to be vital in this novel to have a dream in order to make life worth living.