The 1920s was a time of excess and growth. Economically, it was a time for great financial gain. Largely because of improvements in technology, productivity increased while overall production costs decreased, and the economy grew. Not only was this time filled with prosperity, but corruption as well. People finally acquired leisure time, and it was filled with gluttony and lust. Many authors during this time believed that society was living in excess and without curbing its appetite somewhat, ruin was just around the corner.
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Although most people associate good times and carefree abandon with the reverie of the 1920s, some also suggest a hidden, much darker side. In his novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, conveyed his belief that wealth and materialism corrupted the American Dream by depicting the immorality through characterization. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows his disapproval of the times by portraying characters attempting to achieve their American Dream by any means possible. Myrtle Wilson, a low class inhabitant of the valley of ashes, puts her morals to the side when pursuing the wealthy life.
Not even marriage stops Myrtle from having an affair with Tom Buchanan– a rich man who enables her to finally buy the life she thinks she deserves. Not only does Myrtle cheat on her own husband, but she has an affair with someone who caught her eye with “a dress suit and patent leather shoes and [she] couldn’t keep [her] eyes off him” (Fitzgerald 40). It is not a love for Tom that attracted Myrtle, but his money and power that she lusts after. Jay Gatsby– a man actually in love with Daisy Buchanan and not simply the money she represents– aspires to achieve his dream of wealth in order to win the love of Daisy.
Because Gatsby does not have the fortune of “old” money– money existing within a family for years that represents the ultimate success– he must somehow make money for himself in order to win the love of Daisy Buchanan. Although Gatsby claims he just does some business on the side, after Gatsby’s death a caller intending to talk to Gatsby declares to Nick, “Young Parke’s in trouble They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter. They got a circular from New York giving ’em the numbers just five minutes before” (Fitzgerald 174).
This call signifies that Gatsby is not only involved in bootlegging, but also in securities fraud, a serious federal offense. Gatsby’s participation in illegal activities in order to achieve his dream of love shows how corrupt the American Dream became. These illegal acts required to obtain the American Dream lower the American Dream onto an immoral path leading to even more corruption. This path of obtaining the American Dream shows further corruption when Jay Gatsby, who finally acquires the fortune necessary to win the affection of Daisy, partakes in an affair with Daisy.
When trying to make his dream of acquiring Daisy come true, Gatsby’s immoral actions continue even though he is fully aware of Daisy’s husband. This disgusting display of infidelity is further acknowledged when Daisy, upon Tom leaving the room, “pulled [Gatsby’s] face down kissing him on the mouth” (Fitzgerald 122). This mutual display of affection in front of friends and family symbolizes the immoral actions people will take during this time just to satisfy their dream. The continual demonstrations of corruption within the American Dream throughout The Great Gatsby portray Fitzgerald’s belief of a fraudulent era.
Jay Gatsby spent years of his life attempting to acquire wealth equal to Dan Cody’s wealth in order to secure the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. While he does finally acquire riches, it does not make him happy because in the end, the wealth does not win over Daisy. Even at his own parties, he sits there waiting for Daisy while “no one swoon[s] backward on Gatsby and no French bob touche[s] Gatsby’s shoulder and no singing quartet [form] with Gatsby’s head for one link” (Fitzgerald 55).
Even with all of Gatsby’s wealth and possessions, he cannot obtain forever the one thing that drives his determination and holds the key to his happiness– Daisy. Fitzgerald was successful in showing his audience that despite all his money and materialistic goods, Gatsby was still a failure. The only people in The Great Gatsby that have the blessing of “old money” happen to be Daisy and Tom Buchanan. Even though they live together in a mansion and have the ability to spend money carelessly, they are not satisfied with their life together.
Tom Buchanan openly has an affair with Myrtle Wilson, and even Daisy Buchanan has an affair with Jay Gatsby, declaring frankly “You know I love you” (Fitzgerald 123) when speaking to Gatsby. Even with all the possible money in the world, the Buchanan’s are not content with their lives together and immorally search for pleasure in all the wrong places. Both the deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle and the discontent within Tom and Daisy signify that wealth cannot buy a person everything, including happiness. Fitzgerald questions the validity of the fiscally inclined American Dream within The Great Gatsby.
During the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald conveyed his disdain for the corruption within the American dream by depicting the immoral actions of society in his literature with a disapproving tone. Even though the country was economically prosperous, people increasingly lost much needed morals on their journey of the American Dream. Affairs and other sins took place with little guilt. People got caught up in the corruption around them in order to try to get their piece of the growing wealth. Without making some changes, society could have been on its way to self-devastation.