Corruption of Society in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
paper, I will prove that the novel The Great Gatsby shows the American Dream as a corrupt idea. My proof will be based upon the juxtaposition of Jay Gatsby's and Myrtle Wilson's deaths, the wealth of Jay Gatsby and his desire for Daisy, and the immoral actions of the characters in this novel. When writing The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald made a point to reflect his feeling that the American Dream could not be reached because it is an imperfect and corrupt idea. He used his characters to do so. Fitzgerald's characters are divided into three groups, each of which shows a different perspective of Fitzgerald's theme. The wealthy are portrayed in two groups: the East Eggers and the West Eggers. The East Eggers are old money and look down upon the West Eggers because they are new money. This relationship demonstrates the corruption of the American Dream through the discrimination by the East Eggers and through the crooked ways that the West Eggers have found to get rich. The poor in the novel, represented by George and Myrtle Wilson, show the longing for wealth and their dishonest chase of that dream. Because this novel is written mostly around the wealthy of New York, the flaws of the American Dream are easy to recognize.
Fitzgerald shows the idea that the American Dream is flawed through the juxtaposed deaths of Jay and Myrtle. The juxtaposition of Jay and Myrtle's deaths is realized through looking at their history. In The Great Gatsby, Jay is a man who comes from no money. In his early twenties, when he meets Daisy who is of an aristocratic family, Jay decides that he will do anything he must to make enough money to marry Daisy. When the action of this novel begins, Jay has already worked his way up to a wealthy lifestyle and is in the process of getting Daisy to fall in love with him again. Immediately in the first chapter, we see that Jay is living the American Dream when Nick describes his mansion as a colossal affair…spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” Although Jay is living the American Dream in all of his wealth, he is unhappy without the love of Daisy. At the opposite cliche, Myrtle Wilson is very poor. Myrtle lives in the Valley of Ashes and has never had money. Myrtle is very discontented in her marriage to her poor but loyal husband, George. Myrtle is having a love affair with Tom while Jay is having a love affair with Tom's wife, Daisy. Although the fact that Tom and Daisy are each cheating on the other is ironic, it is not juxtaposed in the story. What is juxtaposed, however, is the similar passing of Jay and Myrtle. Daisy kills Myrtle by running her over in Jay's car. Jay does not tell the town that Daisy killed Myrtle, even when he is the suspected murder. Daisy does nothing to take responsibility for Myrtle's death and even goes so far as to move far away to escape the rumors that she may have killed Myrtle. The actions of Jay and Daisy are very elusive. Later, Jay Gatsby is murdered by George Wilson. George goes after Gatsby because George loves Myrtle and thinks that Jay is her killer. George's love for Myrtle is a reflection of Jay's love for Daisy. Both men were willing to go to extremes in their devotion to women. Jay's death is very similar to Myrtle's in that it passes with little notice. No one comes to Jay's funeral except Nick and Jay's father. In Myrtle's chasing the American Dream in immoral ways and in Jay Gatsby's living the American Dream without happiness, their deaths are juxtaposed. Fitzgerald chose to include this juxtaposition to show the idea that the American Dream does not bring certain happiness.
Not only does Fitzgerald show the imperfections of the American Dream through Gatsby's death but through Gatsby's life also. The author's idea is that life will never be perfect. He expresses this idea by showing Gatsby living in his extravagant house, throwing amazing parties and driving beautiful cars yet still yearning for more. Gatsby wants Daisy. Nick's prologue at the end of the
book communicates this idea to the reader: He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (189). Here, Nick is talking about Gatsby's pursuit of life with Daisy. This is important because it tells us that Gatsby is not happy, even in living the American Dream. From the story of Jay Gatsby's life, we see that the American Dream is full of imperfections because life can never be perfect.
Another way the
author displays the imperfections of the American Dream is through the imperfections of American society. We see examples of this reflection of corrupt society in the affairs, murders and other illegal actions that the characters choose to take. Specifically, we see this concept in the love affairs between Tom and Myrtle and between Jay and Daisy. It is obvious that Tom is sneaking around behind Daisy's back to visit his mistress, when on page 28, Nick describes his meeting with Myrtle, So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York - or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car.” Immoral actions like Tom's prove that humans are never flawless. Moreover, after running over Myrtle, Jay and Daisy do nothing to show remorse. This lack of concern causes George Wilson to shoot Jay Gatsby. The endless list of dishonest episodes that Fitzgerald selected to include in The Great Gatsby, shows the deficiency of the American Dream ideal. The American Dream cannot ensure happiness because the world is always going to be somewhat corrupt.
We find the significance of this story through Jay and Myrtle's juxtaposed deaths, which show both Myrtle's immoral hunt for the American Dream and Gatsby's unhappiness in living it, and through the morally wrong exploits throughout the novel. Fitzgerald encompasses all of these things to show that the American Dream cannot ensure contentment. Without this theme reverberating throughout the novel, The Great Gatsby would have far less meaning.
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