The Corruption of The American Dream Through Materialism Freedom, equal opportunity, the chance for all to succeed by the ambition in their hearts and the strength of their backs. The American dream became a mindset in all who set foot in the country of possibility. Set in the bustling heart of America in the Roaring Twenties, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald criticizes not the American dream itself, but the corruption of the ideal. He satirizes the capitalist distortion that has morphed the goal of love and from bankruptcy in 1997personal happiness into a struggle for obtainment of material goods.
Fitzgerald suggests with the characters and their relationships in the novel that this decay was brought about by the Marx-proclaimed scourge of society that is class struggle. Karl Marx believed in the inevitability of a workers’ revolution, that someday the bourgeoisie would overthrow the proletariat tyrants. His idea for the outcome of this insurgency is somewhat similar to the American dream; a utopia where every person works to the best of their ability and receives according to need, where everyone has equal rights and opportunities.
Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s obsessed pursuit of Daisy to serve as a sardonic portrayal of the polluted and eventually failed American dream. The corruption of the American dream is shown in this novel as a product of class disparity. In the years following her families’ initial rejection of him because of social status, Gatsby deemed it necessary to build an empire of wealth before even attempting to contact Daisy. Fitzgerald uses this rejection to communicate that Gatsby was made to believe that wealth was the only way he could achieve happiness, that it would escape him forever lest he gain enough money and power.
Fitzgerald further derides the false American dream by having Gatsby earn a dishonest fortune to accomplish his goals. Not only is he not using the American ideals of hard, authentic work, he is breaking the law to get what he wants. Fitzgerald depicts the distorted American dream as almost an affliction, something that is unfortunate to catch and nearly impossible to rid yourself of once you are infected. Gatsby’s love for Daisy is a characterization of this dream, and he tells Nick after saying how surprised he was to find that he loved her that he “even hoped for a while that she’d throw me over.
His willingness to let go of this seemingly perfect woman was short-lived, however, and he soon gave in to the figurative chains that would bind his ambition to her for the rest of his life. Throughout the entire novel, the characters are constantly evaluating each other, determining their prospect worth. Gatsby forms a relationship with Nick not out of friendliness or a desire for companionship, but because Nick was of value to him. He could be used to get Gatsby exactly what he wanted: to be closer to Daisy.
It was no matter to him that Daisy was married, just as their marriage was no matter to her husband. The character’s regard for others’ relationships is nearly nonexistent, as simple inconveniences to be torn apart at their whim. For most in the novel, the goal of success involves money. For Jay Gatsby, acquiring wealth is only a stage in his quest for his true aim: Daisy. From a satirical viewpoint, however, the two goals are no different. Fitzgerald characterizes Daisy as an object of value similar to currency, with a “voice full of money. She is constantly portrayed as having a “singing compulsion” about her that stems mainly from this voice. Daisy is depicted as the cynosure of all women, beautiful and enchanting and desired above all. But she, like the defiled American dream Fitzgerald uses her to portray, lacks substance. Beyond her outward splendor and rich voice, she has no draw for men, no material to truly bind one to her. This is why Tom is so willing to seek other conquests; Daisy has no actual command of his heart.
Fitzgerald is suggesting through this that what the dream has come to is no more than a shell with an attractive exterior. That it is an illusion of happiness by way of acquirement, and when one is surrounded by their so-called successes, they will still feel empty. The cycle of obtaining and dissatisfaction simply repeats until one dies or gives up on the “dream” in search of true happiness. Gatsby’s cycle ended only when George Wilson shot him; until then he had not been capable of fully giving up on Daisy, even after the realization that she had left him in favor of her domineering husband.
Fitzgerald uses color throughout the book to communicate feelings and demonstrate important themes. The green light that Nick sees Gatsby reaching out to that is “minute and far away” shows how far Gatsby still was from his dream of reuniting with Daisy. The color green is used to represent the envy that Gatsby held for Tom, who was across that sea with Daisy while Gatsby longed for her so deeply. Gatsby hated Tom, this stranger who – as he saw it – was in possession of the thing he wanted with such passion that he stood in the summer darkness and “he was trembling” with desire.
Although four years had passed since Gatsby had even laid eyes on her, he retained his devotion for this woman who stole his every waking thought. Fitzgerald uses this to show the soiled American dream; though they may have never had great wealth or grand possessions, people’s thoughts are constantly consumed with a desire for both. The green light on the dock also shows how Daisy is characterized as something akin to money, as an object to win. This is not the only place Daisy is related to something of material value.
Gatsby says of his impression the first few days that they were together that she was preserved by her wealth and “gleaming like silver”. Fitzgerald delineates the Buchanan’s marriage as something similar to a capitalist business relationship; full of lies and disregard for others’ feelings. This callousness, however, eventually becomes the savior of their marriage. When Myrtle is killed, neither partner will stray from the selfish path they have trodden for so long to send their regards to the woman’s widower or even to pretend that they care.
This is made even more significant by the fact that Daisy was the killer and Tom, Myrtle’s lover. Fully knowledgeable of each others infidelity and with the subject of one’s affair dead, Nick witnesses the dispassionate couple reunite over a plate of fried chicken and two bottles of ale with “an unmistakable air of natural intimacy” about them. When Gatsby is killed and the couple responds by going on vacation, Nick fully realizes Tom and Daisy for what they truly are: heartless and careless people who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money”.
Thus Daisy, the American dream herself, is revealed as incurably evil and iniquitous. Fitzgerald used Gatsby’s misguided and failed pursuit of Daisy to characterize the sad, misshapen step-child the American dream has become. He wove the tragic love story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan with such power and skill that one cannot help but to be entranced, but reading the book from Marxist perspective reveals something much larger than a man in love with a cruel, beautiful woman.
It exposes the American dream for what it has become; a shell of something once worth striving for. Karl Marx had a dream of his own. He believed that based upon historical outcomes of social conflicts, communistic utopia was not only possible, but inevitable. However, he was not content to sit around and wait for society to alter itself. As he famously states in the eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”.