Wealth, material possessions, and power are the core values of The American Dream. Pursuit of a better life led countless numbers of foreign citizens to American soil desiring their chance at the limitless opportunity. Achievement of the American Dream is not always the achievement of true happiness. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby achieves the American Dream, but his idealistic faiths in money and life’s possibilities twist his dreams and life into worthless existences based on falsehoods. Jay Gatsby believes he can buy happiness.
For example, Gatsby’s house is ” A factual imitation of some Hotel De Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden” (The Great Gatsby 9). His house is nothing more than an immaculate symbol of his incalculable income. Gatsby uses the house in an attempt to win happiness and respect from his peers. Furthermore, Gatsby also tries to impress others with such trivial possessions as his clothing, as when Daisy emotionally comments”, (His) beautiful shirts It makes me sad because I have never seen such beautiful shirts before”(98).
Crying over articles of clothing is preposterous, yet it is not the shirts that overwhelm Daisy. Their symbolism of Gatsby’s unlimited wealth and faith in money is truly saddening. Also, Gatsby realizes that Daisy’s main and only concern is life is money. Gatsby pursues unethical and often illegal actions in pursuit of wealth, subconsciously thinking he can purchase the love of Daisy. He realizes his dreams, and they empower him to achieve success. With money, Gatsby believes that anything is possible.
He does all he can to buy his happiness, yet he lacks the foresight to see the futility of his efforts. Gatsby’s obsessions are not limited too simply possessing wealth, but they also extend to the manner in which it was acquired as well. First Gatsby claims having attended Oxford, and even goes so far as to flaunt Nick a picture,” A souvenir of his Oxford days” (71). Gatsby candidly avoids mentioning how long he was at Oxford and why he was there. The small dishonest taste that Gatsby has of Oxford only serves to make his desire to change the past more consuming than ever before.
Gatsby longs for a simpler time, a better time with more noble aspirations. Gatsby uses the photograph to undo his past. In addition, Gatsby furthers the tales of his grand life insisting that he lived in all the capitols of Europe like a rajah. Fitzgerald proves Gatsby’s stories to be lies beyond any reasonable doubt. Jay sounds like a fool, and his contemptuous willingness to underestimate the intelligence of his listeners proves he acts as a fool. Gatsby’s mendacious stories suck him deeper and deeper into the abyss that is self-worthlessness.
Finally, the rainbow that Jay Gatsby follows through life has the ultimate treasure at the end -true love. The desperate alteration of his past serves only one purpose, to swoon and impress the shallow Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby innocently assumes that his money and accomplishments can buy anything – even Daisy. She is for sale, but he does not have the right currency. He comes from the wrong class of society, and fails to offer Daisy the security and comfort that she so intensely craves. Attaining wealth in a noble’ manner and pleasing Daisy are twisted methods of trying to recapture the past.
Gatsby also aims to establish a certain level of prestige to make Daisy love him, and in the process he unknowingly intertwined his life into a sordid mess. With this in mind, Gatsby trades his morals for riches, as Tom points out in a passage describing Gatsby: ” a common swindler who would have to steal the ring he put on her finger” (140). Tom implies correctly that his money is not from a legitimate source. Gatsby is nothing more than a very successful criminal. This fact alienates Jay from the upper-class members of east egg.
Specifically, Gatsby’s mysterious source of wealth comes directly from his activity in the highly risky and profitable business of bootlegging. Bootlegging was considered an acceptable business, but it did not serve to increase the level of respect people had for Gatsby. The wealth Gatsby needs is acquired wealth, not the earned wealth he currently has. Gatsby also fakes notoriety by changing his gestures and speech to reflect a better upbringing. ” He smiled understandingly It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of reassurance in it” (52).
To increase his perceived integrity, Gatsby modifies his patterns of speech, mannerisms, and whole body language in order to appear more respectable. His clipped speech, the old sports’, and the formal intensity of his mannerisms are all disturbing examples of his fake outer persona. His eloquent gestures and attention to details only serve to compliment the character he plays in public -Gatsby. By pretending to be something he is not, Gatsby creates the perfect illusion of the phantom man he strives to be.
The failure of the American dream is unavoidable. Reality can not keep up with its ideals, because in many cases the ideals are usually too fantastic to be realized. Gatsby is the epitome of someone buying happiness and become something that they are not. No outside influence can make a person truly happy, as Lyndon Johnson said, “Our great cities and our mighty building will avail us not if we lack the spiritual strength to subdue mere objects to the higher purposes of humanity”.