As Florence King once said, “People are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they’re all asleep at the switch. This quote symbolizes the simple fact that the American Dream is impossible for someone to ever attain because people are to busy dreaming about what others have, that they fail to recognize what they themselves already have attained. The American author F. Scott Fitzgerald has had an unprecedented impact on America. His novels contain recurring themes that establish the facets of modern American society with which he avidly disagrees.
His characters Jay Gatsby and Armory Blaine both portray men in American society who have through various ways acquired wealth, but their wealth has not brought them happiness, which is what they had truly longed for. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, The Great Gatsby, and This Side of Paradise, both male characters Jay Gatsby and Armory Blaine respectively represent the idea that when society is driven by only material success, then the American dream is forever destroyed. A Princeton Graduate, F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896.
Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin three times removed Francis Scott Key. He graduated from high school in 1912 and enrolled at Princeton University in 1913, as a member of the Princeton Class of 1917, Fitzgerald always neglected his studies and instead focused on writing. He wrote the scripts and lyrics for the Princeton Triangle Club musicals and was a contributor to the Princeton Tiger humor magazine and the Nassau Literary Magazine. Soon thereafter, Fitzgerald realized that he had a unique talent, and decided to pursue a career as a writer (Biography).
Fitzgerald published his first novel This Side of Paradise in 1919, which was set mainly at Princeton and described by Fitzgerald as “a quest novel,” This Side of Paradise traces the career aspirations and love disappointments of Amory Blaine. The publication of This Side of Paradise in 1920, made the twenty-four-year-old Fitzgerald famous almost overnight, and a week later he married Zelda Sayre in New York. They embarked on an extravagant life as young celebrities. Right around this time, he coined the term the “jazz age” which described the upbeat 1920’s society that was centered around money and material success.
Fitzgerald endeavored to earn a solid literary reputation, but his playboy image impeded the proper assessment of his work (Bruccoli 5). He wrote The Great Gatsby during the summer of 1925 in Valescure, it marked a striking advance in Fitzgerald’s technique, utilizing a complex structure and a controlled narrative point of view. Fitzgerald’s achievements received critical praise, but sales of The Great Gatsby were disappointing, though the stage and movie rights brought additional income to Fitzgerald.
Unfortunately, due to Fitzgerald’s lack of riches at the time of his death, he believed that he was a failure. The obituaries were condescending, and he seemed destined for literary obscurity, but by 1960 he had achieved a secure place among America’s enduring writers. The Great Gatsby was a work that seriously examined the theme of aspiration in an American setting, which defined the classic American novel. Perhaps Fitzgerald’s most famous work, The Great Gatsby, represents the idea that no matter how wealthy someone becomes, wealth does not create happiness.
In the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows a clear contempt of the American Dream, an ideal that the characters that he has created either chases or achieves. Through his writing technique, Fitzgerald makes the characters of the novel seem obsessed with material possessions, superficial and selfish needs. The main characters in The Great Gatsby all have very different personalities. Despite this however, all of the characters are affected by money. Some characters, like Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, have money, and are very expressive with it.
Examples of this are Gatsby’s expensive Rolls Royce and Tom’s Polo Horses that he flew in from Chicago. The narrator, Nick mentions that everybody had seen Gatsby’s car (Gatsby 63), pointing to the fact that Gatsby flaunted the vehicle and by association his wealth, and Tom flying in polo horses from another city would obviously be outrageously expensive. At several points throughout the novel, Gatsby proclaimed that he was “A Son of God” (Gatsby 125); so Gatsby constantly held himself at a higher prestige than the rest of his peers.
Other characters, such as Myrtle, have a lust for money. Essentially being of the middle class, Myrtle’s attraction to Tom is not one based on love and affection. Rather, Tom represents something that Myrtle has never had, endless wealth and with this, Myrtle correlates happiness (Bumm 23). The lust for and obtrusive use of money by the characters is an obvious central theme throughout the novel, but as the text draws to a close Fitzgerald emphasizes that money cannot govern human emotions (Expose of America).
Gatsby’s money fails to entice Daisy away from her husband, and the death of Myrtle is an event that cannot be erased by any amount of money. More then anything, the ending of the novel reinforces to the reader that money is a superficial desire and that, inevitably, it cannot be responsible for bringing happiness or the fulfillment of a dream. The decay of the American Dream is most vividly presented through the immoral character of Jay Gatsby as the protagonist from The Great Gatsby. The ambitious Gatsby, on the surface, can be seen as the epitome of the self-made man, from rags to riches.
Even the narrator’s first description of Gatsby could be seen as misleading. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him; some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away” (Fitzgerald 3). During the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Gatsby is a “force of corruption: a criminal, a bootlegger, and an adulterer” (Will 126).
Instead of going to school and working hard to reach success, Gatsby dropped out of College and chose criminal activity, bootlegging, in order to move his way closer to the realization of his dream. In a sense, Gatsby is so consumed with his dream that he would do anything in order to gain success such as criminal activities. God or religion is completely absent in this society, and this shows that the easy and quick road of immorality to reach a dream is doomed, at least in Gatsby’s case. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses repeated examples of color imagery to raise questions about views of the American Dream.
Color imagery is employed throughout the novel, appearing in the Valley of Ashes, Gatsby’s parties, and in the light on Daisy’s dock (Millett 4). Fitzgerald uses this imagery to raise questions about the excessively lavish and wasteful view that the characters of the novel have in fulfilling the American Dream. Late in the novel, when Nick attends his first party at Gatsby’s house, the vivid colors detail the drunken, festive mood of the guests at the party. As Nick approaches the party, “the lights grow brighter… and the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music”(Gatsby 44).
Nick is overcome by the headlights of cars and the immense amount of light against the twilight sky. Nick was overwhelmed by the speculative that was Gatsby’s life, and he was under the impression that due to Gastby’s extreme success that he was happy, but in reality Gatsby was miserable insecure and unhappy. As a direct result of the American dream being corrupted, the motivation and ambition were gone and the dream was left with the pursuit of an empty goal. Fitzgerald uses Jay Gatsby’s dreams to show how money, status, and ideals influenced the downfall of the American dream.
Daisy symbolizes all that Gatsby strives for; her voice is full of money, as Gatsby describes her voice as: “full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song in it” (Gatsby 127). The American dream was what everyone in the 1920’s was striving for, but many often fell short of it. F. Scot Fitzgerald helps to reassess the American dream by showing Jay Gatsby’s failure at obtaining it. In the 1920’s most people dreamed of having money, a spouse, children, a big house, and a car. They thought that this meant that they had a successful life.
This is what they consider to be the American dream. Money was the main component to achieving the American dream, because success was determined by money ( The Great Gatsby: The Corruption of the American Dream through Materialism 3). Also, the more money and success that one has the higher the social status that they obtain. Everyone in the 1920’s thought that achieving the higher status and having money would make them happy, but they were often still looking for something better and never actually found the happiness they were looking for.
Unfortunately for Gatsby and many others, the American dream is only a dream, and it is unattainable when people go after the wrong dream. Fitzgerald attempted to make Amory Blaine, the hero of This Side of Paradise, a mixture of what Fitzgerald longed to be and what he actually was. Amory Blaine’s mother, Beatrice, was a wealthy, charming, sophisticated woman, with whom young Amory traveled the country until it was time for him to join the fictitious St. Regis prep School in New England. Fitzgerald’s own mother, Mollie Fitzgerald, was nowhere near the description fitting Beatrice Blaine. She looked rather like a peasant, her son used to say. Others thought her more witchlike in appearance” (Identity Essay, 3). So, it goes without saying that Amory’s mother was almost exactly the kind of mother Fitzgerald would have chosen for himself; apart from this glamorization of Amory, This Side of Paradise remains Fitzgerald’s most autobiographical book (Britannica 1). It is a quest novel, since the reader follows Amory in his journey towards self-realization and it gives the reader a glimpse in the confusion and turbulence of the Twenties.
Throughout This Side of Paradise Amory Blaine searches for his identity by “mirroring” people that he admires. However, these “Mirrors” actually block him from finding his true self. Amory’s idea of searching for his identity entails merely simulating the personalities of those he admires. This trend becomes obvious in the pattern of Amory’s love interests. Amory claims that he is attracted to Eleanor because of “The mirror of himself that he found in the gorgeous clarity of her mind” (Paradise 202). This demonstrates the fact that Amory does not consciously realize his actions when he emulates other peoples’ personalities.
He does so because he knows of no other way to create an identity for himself (Fahey 2). The title This Side of Paradise represents Amory’s continuous struggle to reach his personal paradise: learning his true identity. Up until Monsignor Darcy’s death, Amory was trapped on “this side of paradise”. He knows what he wishes to obtain – individuality – but he cannot reach it because it exists on the other side; he can see his goal, but like trying to touch one’s image in a mirror, he cannot capture it until he breaks the glass.
In order to break the glass Amory has to endure the trauma of losing his sense of security, then he is forced to be his own person. The successful culmination of Amory’s struggle to find himself becomes clear when he says, as the last lines of the novel, “I know myself, but that is all” (Paradise 255). Fitzgerald uses Armory Blaine in order to show how all members of the 1920’s society copies one another and they find themselves trapped because they have not found the qualities that make them unique; and they will not be unique until they realize what these qualities are.
Another important philosophical issue that Fitzgerald often incorporates in his earlier works when dealing with the corruption of the American dream is the complex idea of money. Fitzgerald uses Armory’s character to show this complexity during his courting of Rosalind and, at the time they both fall in love, Amory realizes that Rosalind has learned the concept of “supply and demand” (Online Literature). She knows the importance of money and that, marrying into money, even when not in love with that individual, is what girls always do; hus reminding men “Poor boys don’t marry rich girls. ” But Amory cannot fully understand this; out of determination, he is blinded by his unrealistic and romantic view about life, and, no matter how hard he tries to convince Rosalind of the latter, he ultimately will lose her because he does not have the financial means to “keep” her (Paradise 127). Fitzgerald uses this idea of money to be the center point of the American Dream, but he differs from his fellow society members because he sees money as an evil while they see it as the only way to measure ones success.
F. Scott Fitzgerald has always used the idea of the American Dream in his works, but especially in his early works, he showed that greed and corruption to accomplish the American Dream could only lead to the absolute destruction of it. Fitzgerald does an excellent job portraying this both through Jay Gatsby and Armory Blaine in the Novels The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise respectively.
Fitzgerald was a realist, he understood that the American Dream was no more than a myth; he infamously claims that the American Dream, Gatsby’s dream of Daisy at the end of the dock, is unattainable (Brittanica 3). He says it’s impossible because the current of time is backward, and it takes us into the past instead of the future. This may be unproven, but it’s a weighty opinion, and worth considering, but Fitzgerald has a point, a dream tends to be unattainable. People are constantly reaching for the moon, because even if they miss, they still land among the stars.
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