F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, ends by describing a “something commensurate to his (humanity’s) capacity for wonder.” (Fitzgerald, 189) Taking place in the 20th Century, there was a trend in American culture and as a result literature to explore the human need and capacity to dream for something more, something greater than current circumstance. That “something commensurate” appears necessary for a man’s happiness while at the same time is capable of leading to his downfall and misery. The United States at the time that The Great Gatsby takes place was drowning in unprecedented wealth. (BBC). Many pursued that out of greed. Gatsby did it out of love. But he never gained the woman that his heart longed for, because money is an illusion and as the saying goes cannot buy happiness, nor can it win someone’s heart since love transcends all things, lesser goods cannot be used to attain it.
Love is actually the greatest gift that our creator ever gave us. In fact, true love isn’t caring what the other individuals think about the two who love one another, but it is when one feels sickly and depressed when he or she is not with him or her. Nowadays, many people believe that true love does not exist. The reason why many individuals believe so is essentially because of the rising number of infidelity in marriages and divorce cases in our contemporary society believed to be greatly contributed by “fake love” or love of material objects and money among couples. Many studies that have been conducted indicate that couples in which either one or the two partners place high priority on spending or getting money are much less probable to have stable and satisfying marriages. This also applies to material objects. The big question that remains is how much material objects and money play a role in relationships.
It is true that money can dazzle us. One of the overarching themes of the novel is Fitzgerald’s portrayal of wealth at the time. Gatsby has accumulated a fortune, and both “new money” and “old money” come to his lavish parties. The reason for Gatsby’s popularity has nothing to do with who he is, many people do not even know him and have only heard stories about him. What everyone does know is that he is rich, and for many, this is enough for them to come to his estate every weekend.
When exploring this ideal dream found in American literature, it is important to be acquainted with the philosophical movements taking place at the same time the literature was being written. It is not to say that either had a direct effect on the other, but would be better stated that both reflect the sentiments of the time. The 20th century saw a strong movement into various schools of idealistic thought and also a movement led by William James into pragmatic intelligence. Herbert Wallace Schneider described the philosophical movement of the early 20th century as, “The passage from orthodoxy to idealism.” He saw this as an almost unavoidable transition (Smith, 375)
These sentiments reflected a social revolution of the times. Prodigious characters such as Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller were on hand to test the limits of human ability into realms of financial success previously not contemplated by the country’s everyman (American History). They served as living testaments that anything desired was attainable. Henry
Ford can be quoted having said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.”
One of the best examples of the harmful consequence of an idealistic dream and its related consequences can be found in Author Miller’s Drama Death of a Salesman. In it the character Willy Lowman’s life ends prematurely because of his pursuance of what he considered to be the American dream. (O’Hara, 33). Willy’s dream simply stated is to be successful both financially and socially. It is more than just being a personal success, and also to be a “leader of men” and a success in the eyes of those around him. What makes Willy’s case so interesting was the drastic extent that he allowed his dream to destroy his happiness while alive and the way it lead to his death.
The American dream is touched upon early on when the speaker, Nick Carraway tells of his move from the country to the city in order to make his way in the world. He has moved from the Midwest to New York City to become a bonds man because, “Everyone I knew was in the bond business so I supposed it could support one more single man” (Fitzgerald, 7). Nick’s American dream is simple, he, like it seems everyone else at the time, is pursuing wealth.
Gatsby however, is not pursuing wealth. When you really get down to it, he seems to be faking even his enjoyment of his own wealth. He sees it, instead as a tool to obtain Daisy. He knows she comes from wealth and he comes from poverty, so in his mind enriching his self is the only way to get the woman that he loves. What is ironic, is that while he is working to obtain wealth he is in the process losing the one he loves, Daisy. She is getting married, having a child, and starting a family, and by the time he is ready to try to win her heart, he realizes that he cannot go back in time, and that things in the present cannot be like the were in the past. His using wealth to win the heart of a woman, has in the process lost her to him. It is not that true love does not exist, but just that many people misinterpret love as something to be received rather than something to give.
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Blau, Joseph L. Men and Movements in American Philsophy. Columbia University: Preentice-Hall, 1952: 302-312.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1991
Smith, E. John. The Spirit of American Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963: 187-200
O’Hara, JD. “No catcher in the rye.” The Modern American Novel: Essays in Criticism. Westbrook, Max. New York: Random House, 1966: 211-220.