The American Dream in the Great Gatsby

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

The American Dream refers to the hopes people have for their lives as Americans. In this lesson, you will learn about the way the American Dream plays out in the lives of people in F. Scott Fitzgerald's book The Great Gatsby.

The American Dream

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'the American Dream is an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity.' In other words, people in American expect to have a chance at financial success regardless of individual differences.

We can see the American Dream in action in The Great Gatsby. The book is set during the 1920s, a time of growing prosperity in America, and paints a picture of extravagant wealth, unrestricted spending, and lots of leisure time. There is a strong contrast between those who apparently have their dreams handed to them on a silver platter and those who have to work very hard to even come close to achieving their dreams.

Living the Dream

Jay Gatsby's life, at least on the surface, provides an extreme example of the American Dream. He lives in a mansion- a replica of a grand town hall in Normandy, France. His house sits on a well-manicured 40-plus-acre yard that adjoins a private beach on Long Island. One of his cars is a Rolls Royce.

Gatsby lives alone, but he shares his abundance with his community through weekly parties. These parties are not casual get-togethers; clearly a lot of money changes hands to make these extravagant events happen. Gatsby furnishes a full bar and an impressive spread of food for all guests.

The parties attract large crowds, including the wealthy and those who hope to become wealthy. Guests can swim in Gatsby's marble swimming pool, listen to live orchestra music, or enjoy the food and drink. All of these options are available into the wee hours of the night.

These days, people save up for decades to throw a party like one of Gatsby's, perhaps in celebration of a wedding or religious milestone. Jay Gatsby orchestrated these costly parties with only one goal in mind: to attract the woman he loves.

While Gatsby is indeed wealthy, this was not always the case. He was not born into a wealthy family, so he had to work for his money. He never earns respect like those who were wealthy from birth. Those who have always known a privileged lifestyle do not easily accept the nouveau riche, those who have had to work for their money. Some people even suspect people like Gatsby of earning money illegally.

Tom Buchanan shows the reader a different but equally extravagant display of the American Dream. Like Gatsby, he and his family live in an extravagant home, a Georgian Colonial mansion that overlooks the bay. They employ servants to maintain the home, affording plenty of time for Tom to pursue leisure activities.

Tom's leisure activity of choice is polo, a sport that can be quite costly. This is not a problem for Tom because he has his own polo ponies and plenty of free time to develop his riding skills.

Unlike Gatsby, Tom was born into the American Dream. Without having to work, Tom and his family live the life others only dream of.

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