The Great Gatsby is a story about the corruption of the American dream. Jay Gatsby represents a man with unrealistic ambitions whose dreams are destroyed by the sheer weight and magnitude on which they illusion are founded. His inability to alter to his goals according to the reality of the situation leads to his downfall. James Gatz was born to “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”, whom “his imagination had never really accepted as his parents at all”.
He was a poor and disenchanted with his lowly status and hence, decided at a relatively young age, to leave home and seek out a life of wealth that he believed he was rightfully entitled to. After leaving home he became involved in a number of menial jobs that failed to meet his imagined expectations. The colossal vitality of his dreams “haunted him in his bed each night” as he struggled to understand why he could not reach out and simply manifest his dreams. “His heart was a constant, turbulent riot” as he fought with the illusions in his head.
He created an escape in the form of Jay Gatsby, “a platonic conception” of himself, one through which he had the means of eluding his realities, an outlet for his imagination, “a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality”. His life changed when he met Dan Cody, whose wealth, and in particular his yacht, “represented all the beauty and glamour in the world”. Gatsby rapidly identified with this new world and was prepared to do whatever was required to be part of it. It was from this moment that Gatsby’s illusions took firm hold in his mind, propelling him ever forward into the vivacity of life.
Gatsby’s greatest illusion revolved around his childhood sweetheart, Daisy. She was the first “nice” girl Gatsby had ever known and she reciprocated his feelings. His first trip to her home left Gatsby in awe. Her “beautiful house”, her “gay and radiant” activities,” her “shining motor cars”; these all “increased her value in his eyes. ” Gatsby fell in love with Daisy and what she had (and represented at a societal level) only helped to intensify his feelings for her.
What Sets James Heart In A Constant Turbulent Riot
When Gatsby was sent overseas during the war, he naively assumed that the Daisy he had left behind would be there for him upon his return. He believed that the love they shared would bond them forever and he formed an image of her that strengthened and magnified over the years of their separation. During his absence, however, Daisy had seen no reason to remain faithful to Gatsby; she had met and married Tom Buchannan and established a family in East Egg. When Gatsby returned from the war he was a hero, but had lost his love.
Rather than re-assessing the relationship and acknowledging that their love had probably been doomed from the start given their different backgrounds, he set out to win her back by acquiring the same lifestyle and trappings that she enjoys. Gatsby bought a grand mansion in West Egg and re-created himself, complete with elaborate and intricate stories of his past; lies which captivated those around him. Gatsby wanted Daisy to see what he has become, to show her that he is worthy of her and also what she is missing out on. Through a meeting arranged by Nick, Daisy’s cousin, Gatsby was able to showcase his new life.
Daisy was captivated by the immense beauty of all that Gatsby now owned and overwhelmed by his wealth and success. Daisy was impressed by Gatsby’s lifestyle and possessions and he “revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes”. However, Nick noted that at the end of the afternoon there was the “expression of bewilderment… on Gatsby’s face” and that “there must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy had tumbled short of his dreams – through no fault of her own, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion”.
Once again, Gatsby did not pause and reflect on what has happened, he did not attempt to see the situation as it was and realise that Daisy could not be part of his life. As Nick commented, “No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart. ” The other great illusion was his belief in the American Dream. He believed that someone from humble beginnings could acquire wealth and with that they would be accepted into the upper echelons of society. Moreover, he believed that happiness depended on being materially well off and part of the elite.
Gatsby started off as an unskilled worker but he was later prepared to do what it took to acquire wealth, even if this meant dishonest dealings. His association with (jew) provided him with the possibility to fund his dreams. He developed the mentality that “the end justified the means”, as his growing ambition impaired his judgement. His desire to be wealthy and able to attract and impress Daisy clouded any notion of the need for honest, hard work to achieve these objectives. Gatsby believed that once he was rich, the rest of his dream would fall into place, including being an accepted member of the upper classes.
However, the aristocratic families of East Egg held him in some sort of contempt. Even though Gatsby seemed to have as much money as they did, he lacked their sense of social nuance and easy, aristocratic grace. The members of the establishment, as typified by Tom Buchannan, mocked and despised him for being “new money”; someone was still not able to buy into the exclusive area of East Egg. The elite they took advantage of his generosity and behaved rudely towards him yet he took no offence nor challenged them about their behaviour.
Gatsby so wanted to be part of their set and was caught up in this illusion that he did not see people for what they were or question their motives. He did not see that they were people who used others and discarded them at their leisure. His failure to recognise this (and the unreal nature of his dream) ultimately cost him his life. Driven by the desire to escape his lowly beginnings and the misguided belief that Daisy Buchanan had loved him and that money (and extravagance) was what was required to recapture her, Jay Gatsby pursued the American dream.
In the process, he acquired great wealth, re-invented himself and adopted the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The dream, however, became an obsession of gigantic proportions that clouded his judgment and destroyed his grip on reality. Wealth (and the pursuit of Daisy) did not bring him love, happiness and status but instead lead him down a path where his failure to see people and situations clearly (and re-evaluate his goals), led to his death. His grand dream was ultimately an illusion.