The Great Gatsby is an effective novel in epitomising the relentless struggle of many to achieve the American dream. The economic boom and the radical change in society following the First World War may have contributed largely to the idea of the American dream. Fitzgerald portrayed in The Great Gatsby the stark contrast between the rich and the poor whilst revealing a common similarity – a hope in attaining the American dream. The novel follows the dreams of members of entirely separate social classes and encapsulates the thwarted dreams of both the prosperous and the underprivileged, through immoral and irresponsible actions.
Overall, it can be said that The Great Gatsby summarises the way in which society’s definition of the American dream morphed from that of achieving happiness to acquiring monetary effects. Daisy Buchanan can be regarded as one of the foremost ‘irresponsible dreamers’ in the novel. Her personality appears to reflect that of a child’s. She often acts fickle, immature and is constantly seeking attention. An example of this is on page 15 where Nick mentions “I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her. ” Her childish attributes may have contributed to her irresponsible nature.
After meeting Gatsby, Daisy begins to view everything in a romantic light. She whispers to Gatsby about wanting to “just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around” (page 101). Her relationship with Gatsby seems to have a tinge of fantasy, almost as if she is more interested in getting away from reality than being in a relationship with him. Daisy’s affair with Gatsby can be said to be irresponsible as she is both a wife and a mother. Also, her decision to have an affair might possibly have stemmed from the anger and jealousy she felt in knowing about Tom’s infidelity.
The death of Myrtle and the events that followed showed readers just how irresponsible Daisy’s character is. Despite that ultimately, Daisy was responsible for the death of Myrtle, she appeared unremorseful in leaving blame to Gatsby. This is evident when Fitzgerald writes “But she and Tom had gone away, early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them” (pg 171). This line immediately shows readers that Daisy may have felt little guilt at leaving Gatsby behind to deal with the aftermath of Myrtle’s death.
The “baggage” that the pair had taken with them implies that they are leaving for a prolonged amount of time and also that Tom and Daisy may have spent time planning their leave. Daisy’s refusal of accepting her part in Myrtle’s death shows elements of moral decay of the ’20’s society. On a larger scale, it can be suggested that Daisy and Tom embody the affluent old aristocracy, a society that could effectively avoid responsibility for their actions through their shield of abundant wealth and high status.
Daisy, in particular reflects the quintessential example of the American dream- she had inherited her wealth, is married to an equally wealthy man and rotates in the circles of the upper class society. On the other hand, readers can argue that at the end of the novel, Daisy made the responsible decision of staying with Tom, saving her marriage and her daughter and can therefore be forgiven for her previous actions. Myrtle’s character represents the average working class citizen of America. However, her affair with Tom grants her a few of the luxuries that other ordinary working class citizens would not be able to attain.
For example, she says “I’d like to get one of those police dogs” (page 33). This extract shows that with the advantage of Tom’s wealth, Myrtle can afford to be fickle. Her irresponsibility lies with her belief of a rise in social standing through her relationship with Tom. Her attitude to others of her own class, changes, perhaps signifying a corruption of innocence. When Tom and Myrtle host a party in their apartment, Myrtle acts in a patronising manner towards Mrs McKee, rejecting her compliments and offering Mrs McKee her clothes (page 37 and 42).
Fitzgerald may have written it to show that the American dream was not necessarily morally justified, for when Myrtle achieved aspects of the American dream – wealth – she behaved haughtily. However, readers may argue that Myrtle was not irresponsible, as she was only pursuing the chance for a better life. Myrtle may have seen her affair with Tom as a means of obtaining this “better life” and so her actions were justifiable. Her death represents the slow disintegration of the American dream.
Its abruptness could possibly symbolise the abrupt economic boom (and later the abrupt economic bust), and the end of the American dream for both Myrtle and the working class society. In Gatsby, it is clear Fitzgerald has embodied the true American dream. Gatsby’s climb from humble beginnings to owning a huge mansion, a successful business and a Rolls Royce displays to readers the ideal form of the American dream. However, it is also apparent that Gatsby acts in irresponsible ways. His chief aim appeared to be to win back Daisy.
Gatsby says on page 117 “Can’t repeat the past? (… ) of course you can! ” This belief showed readers that Gatsby was perhaps in denial that Daisy had moved on from him, and had a separate life from him. He had toiled for five years to be able to present to Daisy a worthy partner in himself, arguably an irresponsible act as it was inevitable that after five years, Daisy would have moved on. Fitzgerald also ties in the theme of time with Gatsby. Fitzgerald writes “the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head” (page 93).
This line could represent Gatsby’s strong conviction in repeating the past, whereas the clock tilting dangerously could perhaps be a dangerous indication of the tragedy to come. Another form of Gatsby’s irresponsibility is in his strong loyalty to Daisy, despite the fact that she is married to another man. Ironically, his loyalty to her proved to be his destruction as he takes the blame for Myrtle’s death and therefore was murdered by Wilson. Like Myrtle, Gatsby proves to be a victim of the American dream, and like Myrtle, his death could perhaps represent the disintegration of the American dream.
Additionally, Fitzgerald’s detailed description of the preparation of Gatsby’s parties at the beginning of Chapter 3 could perhaps have been to illustrate Gatsby’s extravagance in trying to win over Gatsby. This could perhaps be regarded as wasteful and irresponsible of Gatsby by readers. However, it can be argued that Gatsby was influenced by his love for Daisy and therefore his extravagance was justified. It is suggested in the novel that Gatsby made his wealth through engaging in criminal activities.
However, as it is not directly mentioned, it cannot entirely be regarded as another of his irresponsible actions. In general, it can be said that Gatsby’s irresponsibility stemmed from his pursuit of Daisy’s love, and so readers are often more empathetic towards him than any other character in the novel. Moreover, Gatsby’s representation of the American dream appeared to be the only one that did not centralise on monetary gain – another aspect that draws sympathy from readers on his death. To an extent, it can be agreed that the characters are irresponsible dreamers.
Readers however, may be at a disagreement over which character holds the biggest responsibilities. Daisy can be seen as one of the most irresponsible characters as she played a great role in the death of Myrtle and therefore her action had a greater consequence. The American dream also plays a part in the irresponsibility of characters as it is often their pursuit of their dreams that leads them to make immoral and irresponsible decisions. Fitzgerald’s depiction of the “roaring twenties” and the unprecedented distribution of wealth revealed an alarming aftermath of social and moral decay.
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