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The Great Gatsby and the American Way

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights.  In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

People have often said that Fitzgerald—from his work in The Great Gatsby—is attempting to show the American dream, with all of its grandeur and all of its faults, through the life of Nick and Gatsby.  After all the extravagant parties, Nick explains how“an extra gardener toiled all day…repairing the ravages of the night before.”  Nick also points out that “five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.”  The American dream, from Fitzgerald’s perspective, is one where grand parties must be cleaned up after by lowly janitors and large amounts of fruit are devoured in short periods of time with only the trash leftover.

The modern American dream is explained further when all of the “oranges and lemons” are made into juice from a machine that could “extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour.”  No longer, in this modern world of the American dream, do people need to do things by hand.  Instead, these people offer solutions that make the world more efficient so that people can have more resources at their disposal.  At the heart of it is more, more, and more.  For instance, it is not enough for Gatsby to have “thin five piece affair.”  Gatsby needed “a whole pit of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums.”  The grandness of it all seems a pivotal part of Gatsby’s American dream.

Finally, it seems that Fitzgerald’s commentary makes the American dream out to be an impersonal and detached force.  Nick, as the narrator provides us perspective when he says “Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality.  Tipped out a cheerful word.”  He refers to the fact that, as alcohol becomes more and more available to the crowds, the more “prodigality” begins spilling out into the cultural consciousness of the crowd.  This scriptural reference to Christianity may be Fitzgerald’s way of showing how far from reality many of these weekend partiers had come to.  He describes some of the crowd as “wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide on through the seachange of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing life.”  The detachment from reality again becomes apparent as the girls see their whole lives as a kind of game to impress others in a “seachange” of voices.

gatsby.jpg

Fitzgerald’s words resound loudly in a nation that now has taken this version of the American dream to an all time high.  Many have created the need for bigger parties and extravagant lifestyles.  As I have written elsewhere, it is the extent of waste and unneeded spending that has sent America into a downward spiral financially.  We have also created machines that do things more and more efficiently.  While efficiency is not bad per se, we have often left efficiency get in the way of humanity.  The push to be able to do things faster has often made us such time  conscious people that we don’t know what do when some task is not in front of us.  Finally, many have bought into the idea that social interactions are nothing more than a game or a conquest.  All of these things have sent many Americans into a dreamworld mentality that totally ignores the social and political ills of our times.  We are turning around pointing the fingers at others, while all the time the log in our own eyes shows how far our prodigality has spilled.

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3 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby and the American Way

  1. Danny,
    Good post on the Great Gatsby. However, I interpreted Fitzgerald a little differently. I think Fitzgerald was portyaying the American dream in a sense, except he does not really seem to condone it. Gatsby only partakes in all this excess and extravagance in order to draw in Daisy. Despite constantly being surrounded by people at parties, Gatsby’s life lacks love and companionship, he is always lonely and more isolated. (Think about his funeral, no one showed up). I think Fitzgerald does this to portray what is wrong with the American dream more or less. By being driven by success and the desire to acheive the American dream, people become selfish and thus isolate themselves. People should not be as concerned with material goods, Fitzgerald to me is saying that all the wealth in the world does not come close to the happiness you get from experiencing love and friendship. Gastby had seemingly everything, but he was still quite unhappy and unfulfilled without love.

    That was how I saw it, maybe I read too far into it?

  2. No. I totally agree with you.

    I was suggesting, probably too subtly, through my writing that Gatsby is a somewhat mysterious figure for much of the book and that his wealth and all of it seems so interesting. My essay is also only dealing tangentially with the book. My larger point is to analyze the American dream and to ask whether or not people like Gatsby have become the norm in America.

    I understand that Fitzgerald’s main point was to show parts of the American dream for what it is, as you so wisely put it: empty.

    Gatsby is one of the most interesting characters I have seen in the books I had to read in high school. Partly I am talking about them here to remind myself of the content of the classics before I begin teach history at the high school level in order to be an interdisciplinary teacher. I want to bring other subjects into my class as they are applicable.

  3. Danny,
    I agree, Gatsby is a classic…and a brilliant work as a character. I think what is so intriguing about him is the fact that he remains so much of a mystery throughout the novel, but at the same time the readers feel very connected to him…they like him (at least I did). But I definitely get where you are coming from, great blog post though, I really enjoyed it. Especially because I am a history and english nerd at heart. =)

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