“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.
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.