F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has long been considered an American classic and a milestone for literary commentary on social class and “The American Dream,” namely focusing on the 1920s’ rise of a wealthy middle to upper class. Through the character of Gatsby, Fitzgerald masterfully highlights the corruption, greed, and monotonous depression that comes from a lack of fulfillment in one’s life. Underneath all of the glamour, Gatsby truly just tries to find love and a sense of purpose. The narrator, Nick Carraway, gives readers a unique perspective from which to perceive the novel’s characters, events, and underlying messages. It is Gatsby’s wealth that empowers him as the novel’s enigmatic, tragic hero. Despite how he might be perceived based on his exterior and extraneous lifestyle, Gatsby’s main focus is on winning back his love, Daisy. As a self-made man, both in terms of his persona and true disposition, his ambitions are less-than-respectable, striving to live simply for the money, wealth, and popularity he’d achieved. His unrelenting will to prosper is ultimately the cause of his demise.
At first read, the plot may seem like a transparent tale of unfulfilled love. The novel’s prominent theme, however, deals more with a pragmatic, worldly sphere than a simple romantic anecdote. With a deeper analysis, readers can delve into the symbolic relevance of America in the 1920’s, particularly the loss of what was once a prominent, widely held belief in “The American Dream.” Due to a never-before-seen boom in wealth and materialism, the country was undergoing dramatic changes. Through portrayals of greed, distrust and pessimism in his characters, mainly acting to please only themselves, Fitzgerald presents us with a story that illuminates a social degradation in morality and personal values. All of the frivolous exultation, perfectly portrayed though the weekly parties Gatsby throws, demonstrates just how corrupt the pursuit of “The American Dream” can make people.
Respectable, worthy endeavors take a backseat to lesser goals of obtaining money and experiencing momentary, meaningless amusement. A generation of World War I surviving Americans, naturally traumatized by the horrors of war, became embittered and distrusting of the moral, humanitarian efforts of the early 20th century, and seemingly as a way of numbing such monotony and gloom, they turned to lives of lavish, trivial, temporary enjoyment. A perfect illustration of this is consumerism; as the nation’s wealth grew virtually across the board, spending and consuming grew to anomalous heights. Suddenly, regardless of pedigree or social background, seemingly anyone could strike it rich given the right combination of work, luck, and knowing the right people. Both being veterans of the war, Gatsby and Nick serve to symbolize both the grandeur and pessimism of their generation. A good example of those trying to work their way up the ladder are the people who attend Gatsby’s lavish parties without a single noble or altruistic intention; they are simply serving themselves.
In American culture today, many of the same elements present in The Great Gatsby are still prevalent, if not growing even stronger. Consumerism, capitalism, fame and fortune are things that an unruly percentage of the population devote most of their time, thought, money and energy towards. I feel as though advancements in technology have only served to perpetuate these frivolous endeavors in our society. In a matter of months from now, The Great Gatsby will be released in theatres, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire. I find this to be another perfect illustration of American culture today; one or two famous celebrities starring in a movie is all it takes to draw an audience. Despite the widely held belief that movies based on books never live up to expectations, the vast majority of moviegoers will not opt to read the book before seeing the movie. Others, I’m sure, will be completely unaware that there was even a novel at all, and simply go to see good-looking celebrities on the big screen. This highlights, albeit cynically, the average American’s laziness, naivety and utter idiocy. Reading for pleasure used to be a very common pastime, however, as I’d alluded to, the technology boom in recent decades has diminished the prevalence of such activities while also increasing the ubiquity of less-than-respectable endeavors. One could argue that consumerism in America is even more of an epidemic now than it was in the era about which Fitzgerald writes his novel. As a young man who has gone through more tumultuous times than the average 40-year-old, I have come to devote all of my being into a lifestyle of love, happiness, simplicity and enjoyment in the routine, everyday things that satisfy me. I feel as though perhaps Fitzgerald strived to instill these ideas into the minds of his readers by showing just how shameless and ugly those who dwell on various meaningless things are. The novel begs many questions, the deepest– and most cliche of all– being ‘what is the meaning of life?