Fitzgerald on the Anatomy of the American Dream
The decade after World War I was a shining, golden example of American capitalism and wealth, a time when seemingly anyone could achieve anything. However, it is also regarded as a time when rampant materialism and indulgence hijacked the story of the American dream. F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrates this process in his classic American novel The Great Gatsby. Set over one tumultuous summer on Long Island, the novel depicts the affairs and activities of the upper class as they revel in the decadence of wealth, opportunity, and the American dream. Using color and setting, Fitzgerald portrays the American dream as unrealistic and corruptive, causing the fall of true innocence and hope.
The symbolic use of color in The Great Gatsby displays the duality of character that the upper class has. Daisy, golden-haired and always dressed in white, was the epitome of perfection, hope, and the American dream to Gatsby. He wanted to be her perfect man, and everything he did, he did for her. He chooses his house strategically so that Across the courtesy bay, the white palaces of fashionable Easter Egg glitter along the water (Fitzgerald, 5). He sees Daisy as High in a white palace, the king's daughter, and the golden girl (120), but he neglects to see the rest. In the novel's beginning, only she is perfectly white, but by the end, White has been corrupted. Fitzgerald likens West Egg, the epitome of what Daisy stands for, to a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress (176), while in East Egg, at Gatsby's house, On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight..(180). Once her perfection is corrupted, she leaves Gatsby with unreachable goals and the neighbor's rumors. In Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation, as in the novel, the colors blue and grey indicate surrendered moral standards. At Nicks first experience of Gatsbys parties, the careless guests are shrouded in blue, which, along with the iconic greyness of the valley of ashes, taints the only real example of hope, Gatsby.
Fitzgerald also uses the Twin Eggs and the valley of ashes as three distinct steps on the way to the American dream, as if the closer each character gets to reaching their goals, the more dishonest and corrupt they become. In the valley of ashes, good, honest people like Wilson are mixed in with people like Myrtle. Wilson, who just wants a steady income and a wife who loves him, is fine with not adhering to any standards that someone else has set for him, and his dream is relatively simple. In between two extremes is West Egg, home of the nouveau riche. Since Gatsby still lives in West Egg, even though he has enough money to life in East Egg, it is safe to assume that he is still learning how to grapple with the bureaucratic nature of things as simple as friendship and love in the upper class. While attending one of Gatsbys parties w...