Great Gatsby - Essay

The Great Gatsby: Corruption of the American Dream By Wendy Guo The American Dream is the ideal that people are able to build a loving family and acquire enough wealth to live comfortably and happily. The basic aspects of the Dream revolve around power, freedom, and social status; however, the specifics of the Dream itself vary from person to person. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald demonstrates how the American Dream is an idealistic and mirage-like goal, and can become corrupted as exemplified by each character’s focus on acquiring wealth, power, and


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The Great Gatsby: Corruption of the American Dream

By Wendy Guo

The American Dream is the ideal that people are able to build a loving family

and acquire enough wealth to live comfortably and happily. The basic aspects of the

Dream revolve around power, freedom, and social status; however, the specifics of

the Dream itself vary from person to person. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

demonstrates how the American Dream is an idealistic and mirage-like goal, and can

become corrupted as exemplified by each character’s focus on acquiring wealth,

power, and material objects. The ruthless pursuit of wealth and status associated with

the strive for the epitome of the American Dream leads to the corruption of human

nature and moral values. Ultimately, the American Dream goes awry for Jay Gatsby,

Daisy Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson, and George Wilson. The fates major characters in

The Great Gatsby reveal the corruption and the illusionary nature of the Dream. None

of the characters achieve their American Dreams; rather, they lose part of their

humanity in the pursuit of the Dream. The superficial achievement of the American

Dream does not bring about fulfillment, joy, or peace; instead, the false

misconception creates complications for the characters in the novel. The possession of

money and power can provide a shallow material satisfaction in life, but it cannot

fulfill the deeper human needs of true love and genuine happiness. In order to fulfill

their American Dreams, the characters in the novel give up their moral values and

righteous beliefs and in turn, the Dream reveals its true deception.

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Jay Gatsby is a powerful, influential, and wealthy man who had risen to his

current state by “beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam-

digger and a salmon-fisher” (Fitzgerald 95). He adores Daisy Buchanan and does

everything in his power to try to make her love him again. Daisy represents a distinct

purity and innocence to Gatsby, the idea of which he had fallen in love with in his

youth. Gatsby is mystified by the facile aura enshrouding Daisy, however he doesn’t

directly love her - he loves the ideals that she represents. In pursuing Daisy, Gatsby is

ultimately chasing after his Dream of being a wealthy and successful man, someone

who is “worthy” of Daisy’s love.

It is nearly impossible for James Gatz, a poor country boy, to earn a large

fortune worthy of a heir. The newly professed Jay Gatsby desires Daisy and his

Dream so desperately that he craves intensely for money, no matter through which

means. Thus, Gatsby engages in illegal business in order to build his fortune and

name. Rather than righteously winning over Daisy, Gatsby is blinded by his American

Dream and illegally deals products to achieve wealth and status. "[Gatsby] and this

Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug stores here in Chicago and sold grain

alcohol over the counter" (Fitzgerald 141) to fuel his opulence, a desperate and

corrupted attempt to attract Daisy. He hosts lavish parties every night, attempting to

lure Daisy to his home. When Gatsby invites Nick and Daisy to his house, “he took

out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before [Daisy]" (Fitzgerald

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98). He elaborately displays his mansion, and even his numerous silk shirts as a

statement of the wealth he has accumulated since they last met.

Jay Gatsby’s major misconception is that he is able to earn Daisy’s pure love

through materialism and power. “Gatsby genuinely believes that if a person makes

enough money and amasses a great enough fortune, he can buy anything. He thinks

his wealth can erase the last five years of his and Daisy's life and reunite them at the

point at which he left her before he went away to war” (Singer, 2008). In the process

of impressing Daisy and chasing after his Dream, Gatsby becomes materialistic. His

ambitions and values are sacrificed for his determined obsession of living up to

Daisy's standards. Unfortunately, materialism causes Gatsby to act desperately, which

leads to his corruption:

“Money and material possessions prove to be a small portion of what constitutes the American dream: Money by itself cannot buy happiness, and therefore Daisy cannot bring happiness to Gatsby. In this sense, The Great Gatsby becomes a study of the consequences of that generation’s mindless devotion to false, or at least incomplete values” (Fahey 63).

Consequently, Gatsby's materialistic desire of winning Daisy's heart causes him to be

involved in shady businesses with Wolfshiem, thus Gatsby's materialistic values

prove to be damaging to his character, since Gatsby holds a notorious reputation and

is known as a corrupted man. Furthermore, “the money that buys [love] dissolves it,

or turns it into something else” (Sandel 94). In Gatsby’s case, he is not able to

completely win over Daisy, and ends up dying to protect her crime. “Because Gatsby

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still retains some aspects of morality and goodness, and Daisy seems to be the

epitome of both material success and corruption that wealth can bring, they cannot

have a future together” (Smiljanić 6), thus Jay Gatsby’s American Dream will never

become true.

Daisy Buchanan is a shallow character who is determined to preserve her high

class status and to live comfortably by being wed to a wealthy and prominent figure in

society. Daisy lives by her own motto that “the best thing a girl can be in this world,

[is] a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald 17). She implies that she would rather live

lavishly by using her beauty rather than out of hard work and knowledge. Gatsby

loves her for her innocent and sweet character; however, he only sees her superficial

beauty and does not realize that she is truly cunning, merciless, and above all, self-


Daisy is extremely corrupted and materialistic in the sense that she only cares

about money and the things that money can buy her. "[Daisy] only married [Tom]

because [Gatsby] was poor" (Fitzgerald 137). Daisy regards money to be more

valuable than true love, which is why she left the poor Gatsby and married Tom for

his money. However, she pays the price of betraying her own heart as well as her

loyalty to Gatsby's unconditional love, by choosing to marry Tom Buchanan out of

convenience. The materialistic values that Daisy holds, therefore, ultimately corrupt

her. Her corruption is further proven when Gatsby later describes Daisy's car accident:

"Well, first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and lost her

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nerve and turned back...Daisy stepped on it." (Fitzgerald 151). Daisy's cruel action

shows her corruption, since she continues to drive without any consideration of the

pedestrian, Myrtle. As is revealed, her desperate pursuit of her American Dream,

which is represented by wealth, results in her lack of a sense of humanity. She

disregards the welfare of other human beings, because she cares only for her

possessions and status. Furthermore, Daisy's materialism causes her to act selfishly

through her careless lifestyle. Nick states, "Daisy...smashed up things and creatures

and then retreated back into [her] money or [her] vast carelessness..." (Fitzgerald

188). She uses her wealth and position to escape from the consequences of her


Daisy is careless with people’s lives; she lets Gatsby take the blame for her

unintentional manslaughter of Myrtle Wilson. Her careless actions eventually result in

Gatsby’s death, of which she shows no concern, since she does not even show up at

his funeral. She commits adultery, but she had no real intentions of leaving her

husband. After she learns of Gatsby’s shady background, she quickly runs back into

the arms of her equally self-absorbed, corrupt husband. Moreover, her action

demonstrates the dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain, since she uses her

money as she pleases in her advantage as an upper class lady. Thus, materialism

corrupts her, causing her to disregard the feelings of others. Furthermore, her

attachment to money and her ideal of the American Dream causes her to be corrupted,

since materialism causes her to show no compassion for human beings altogether.

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Living in the poorest area of town, Myrtle Wilson's dream is to escape from

her low-standard lifestyle and to become recognized as higher class. She is willing to

leave George, her true and faithful husband, for the opportunity of a more luxurious

lifestyle. Myrtle believes “that the only crazy [she] was was when [she] married him.

[She] knew right away [that she had] made a mistake" (Fitzgerald 35), because

George is neither extravagant nor cunning. Contrary to the hardworking George,

Myrtle is portrayed as a thoughtless and boisterous woman of little education and

class. She is overly pretentious and pretends to be “[despaired] at the shiftlessness of

the lower orders” (Fitzgerald 30), although she belongs to the “lower orders” herself.

Myrtle Wilson intertwines every major character together in The Great

Gatsby, perhaps with the least-liked and most pitied role. She is not satisfied with her

steady marriage with George, who works hard to keep both of them alive. Attempting

to jump to the peak of social hierarchy, Myrtle cheats on her husband with Tom

Buchanan, an upper-class man. Her corruption springs from the hope of starting a new

life with Tom, who is able to provide the material possessions and status that she has

always wanted. Myrtle uses Tom's wealth in order to live the life of an aristocrat. She

attempts to be an upper class woman, but miserably fails due to her lack of elegance,

education, and image. Yet as long as she has Tom and his money, her aristocratic

façade is safe.

However, the class difference between Myrtle and Tom is simply too great to

yield the possibility of marriage, which is Myrtle’s American Dream. Tom physically

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abuses Myrtle, knowing that she will not react and would rather suffer in order to

protect the slim possibility of her Dream. Myrtle's behavior reflects her decision

making abilities and how she is vulnerable to manipulation. Although Tom is brutal

and violent, his wealth keeps her content. Additionally, Myrtle is blinded from the

“distress [which] accompanies a concentration on extrinsic goals reflecting the

contingent approval of others” (Kasser and Ryan 2). She is so focused on trying to

live well that she chooses to throws away her decently satisfying marriage for an

affair that is never meant to be, nor will it get her anywhere better in life. Myrtle’s

insecurities and easily manipulative nature ultimately results in her tragic death.

In the process of chasing their individual Dreams, Jay Gatsby, Daisy

Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson, and Tom Wilson in The Great Gatsby become corrupted

and are left with no sense of purpose or morality. None of these characters stay true to

their morals and values and their Dreams become corrupted; therefore, they corrupt

themselves. In the end, every character dies either physically or mentally. Money and

status takes over everything in their lives, to the point that nothing else matters.

However, they fail to realize that their affluence and social status will not help them

achieve their Dream by any means:

“Chase after money and securityand your heart will never unclench.Care about people’s approvaland you will be their prisoner.Do your work, then step back.The only path to serenity” (Lao-tzu).

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By getting caught up in the “foul dust" of materialism and greed, corruption

undermines these characters’ sense of humanity. Thus, the Dream is revealed to be a

illusionary falsehood that can never be achieved.

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Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York:

Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Print.

Boyer, Allen. “The Great Gatsby, the Black Sox, High Finance, and American

Law.” JSTOR. Web.

Callahan, John F. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Evolving American Dream: The

“Pursuit of Happiness” in Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon.” JSTOR.


Cullen, Jim. “The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a

Nation.” Oxford University Press. 2013. Web.

Fahey, William. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream. New York:

Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s and

Sons, 1925. Print.

Kasser, Tim and Ryan, Richard M. “Further Examining the American Dream:

Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals.”

University of Rochester, 1994. Web.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. New

York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. Print.

Smiljanić, Siniša. “The American Dream In The Great Gatsby.” University of Rijeka, 2011. Web.

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