The unattainable American Dream: The great gatsby

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”


The American dream, a term coined by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 bestseller “Epic of America”, is the belief that anyone can achieve success if they work hard enough, regardless of their class or status. The dream of a land where life is better for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. However, as the years have passed the American dream has become more and more materialistic. Nowadays, people have impulsive and reckless habits, and they are never satisfied. No matter how much they have, they just keep aiming for more. This critique of the American dream was provided in F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, “The Great Gatsby”.

Set in the Roaring Twenties, a few years after the first World War, the book begins with the narrator, Nick Carraway, a Yale alumnus and a war veteran, arriving in New York City, and renting a bungalow in the West Egg. This bungalow was next to the luxurious estate of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious multimillionaire and war veteran. The 20s were an interesting time for America. The young were rebellious, jazz was gaining popularity and the economy was prospering. The way society was living was reckless, and Fitzgerald foreshadowed that disaster was bound to happen. Sure enough, in 1929 the infamous Wall Street Crash put a stop to the economic prosperity of America.

Getting back to the novel, Nick observed that Gatsby had stretched out his arm in the direction of a mysterious green light coming from the end of a dock, reaching for something far off. This conveys the idea that no matter how much people possess, they always want more. Gatsby was the personification of the unattainable American Dream. He came from nothing and built his way up into the high society, earning his wealth through crime. Yet, he was never satisfied with what he had and failed to realise how hollow and empty his dream had become. When his ex-lover Daisy, who had gotten married to Tom Buchanan when Gatsby was deployed overseas, told him that she loved him, Gatsby wasn’t satisfied. He still wanted her to say that she never loved her husband. He always desired more and projected his version of the perfect American dream onto Daisy. When Daisy couldn’t bear the weight of his never-ending desires, she chose to stay with Tom, and his inability to win her love shattered his dream. This moment also set the stage for the novel’s tragic ending.

In the book, Gatsby was known for throwing glamorous parties at his lavish mansion which everyone attended, regardless of whether they were invited or not. Each week he had thousands of guests over, but he never formed a bond with anyone of them. His only companion throughout the book was Nick, although it is argued that he was only friends with him to get to Daisy, Nick’s cousin. 

After his death, only a handful of people attended his funeral, including Nick. All his former acquaintances had disappeared, and Daisy and Tom had moved away. Fitzgerald conveyed that the American dream had made people selfish, and criticised the lifestyle of the Americans. Disappointed by the low attendance at the funeral, Nick decides to move away from New York. He also realises that both Tom and Daisy were destructive and selfish people. Thus, Fitzgerald perfectly illustrates the fact that the dream is unattainable, and that one should focus on non-material things which bring more joy than this impossible dream.

The Great Gatsby is regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time.