AP English 11
The Great Gatsby Analysis Essay
In the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald and the essay Paradox and Dream by John Steinbeck, the authors present similar ideas, but use different methods to portray them. Similarities can be drawn in the themes of the two texts, specifically in the themes of the pursuit of the American Dream and the use and misuse of wealth. Steinbeck’s Paradox and Dream portrays Americans as “a restless, a dissatisfied, a searching people.” In other words, Steinbeck argues that Americans put so much value into material things and wealth that once they labor away to obtain that wealth, they end up ultimately empty. Americans thrive on their possessions and social statuses. Both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck describe the sad truth of the American dream- the emptiness that results in a life engrossed in a material world.
Paradox and Dream exposes paradoxes in American life observed during and after the Great Depression, while The Great Gatsby examines similar paradoxes through the lens of characters and setting to further express the idea of the American dream. The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of race, class, gender, or nationality, can be successful (rich) in America if they just work hard enough. Jay Gatsby, the protagonist in Fitzgerald’s novel, is a man of the 1920’s who accumulates a great deal of money. However, despite the immaculate Gatsby mansion, a fancy car, and elite status, the character Jay Gatsby is proof that wealth is not everything. Jay continuously seeks for the hope within American dream, which is symbolized by the mysterious green light. Nick, the narrator, reveals the symbolism of the green light as he describes just how much “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us” (Fitzgerald 149). This famous image of the green light is often understood as the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves that is just out of reach. The closing pages of the novel reflect at length on the American Dream, in an attitude that is seemingly mournful, appreciative, and pessimistic. Nick notes that Gatsby’s dream was “already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night” (Fitzgerald 152). On the other hand, Steinbeck concludes his essay more optimistically by describing that “the fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.” Fitzgerald’s novel contradicts this possibility all together.
In summation, the traditional American Dream portrays people who achieve their goals through true hard work, whereas Gatsby very quickly acquires a large amount of money through crime. Gatsby does attempt the hard work approach, through his years of service to Dan Cody, but this plan ultimately fails since Cody’s ex-wife ends up obtaining the entire inheritance. Because of this, Gatsby turns to crime and schemes, and only then does he manage to achieve his desired wealth. Therefore, while Gatsby’s story resembles a traditional rags-to-riches tale, the fact that he gained his money immorally complicates the idea that he is a perfect representation of the American Dream. Furthermore, his success obviously doesn’t last as he still pines after Daisy, his one true love, and loses everything in his attempt to get her back. After Jay’s tragic death, Nick portrays Gatsby’s inevitable understanding that “when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (Fitzgerald 134). In other words, Gatsby’s huge dreams, all wholeheartedly wedded to Daisy, are as flimsy and flight as Daisy herself.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Penguin Books, 1950.
Steinbeck, John. America and Americans. Viking's, 1966.