The Great Gatsby: Corruption of the American Dream Historian James Truslow Adams says that “the American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.
It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. ” Adams distinguishes between the pure American Dream and the corrupted American Dream. The pure American Dream is defined to be about equal opportunity for all people and a richer and fuller life of happiness and satisfaction with what they have.
The corrupted American Dream opposes the pure American Dream by being based on luxury and popularity. In the novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the American Dream to expose its corruption. Fitzgerald intelligently uses the motif of affectation to develop the theme of the corrupted American Dream. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses affectation to enhance the theme of the corrupted American Dream. The character James Gatsby, formerly known as Jay Gatz, is a great example of the corrupted American Dream due to his affected behaviour and luxuries.
Gatsby tends to show off how much money he has through the things he owns and showing society what he is capable of with that money. He throws lavish parties for people he does not know and lives in a mansion that “was a colossal affair by any standard with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden” (Fitzgerald, 5). Gatsby’s house is an affectation of his ‘new money. He tries to impress others by making his house look very old (money), cultured, and authentic, but Nick Carraway is able to carefully observe that it really is not what it seems – by an only thin beard of raw ivy – making it evidently new. It is just a factual imitation, meaning, it is just a very good copy of a real authentic, European, cultured home; it is fake. Gatsby does this intentionally to impress everyone, especially his true love, Daisy.
It is also evident when Gatsby tries to impress Daisy with his expensive dress shirts upon her first visit to his house. Daisy becomes filled with emotion once “he took out a pile of shirts and began throwing then one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel…while we admired he brought out more and the soft rich heap mounted higher – shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple – green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue” (Fitzgerald, 93).
Gatsby feels as though it takes his riches and luxuries to prove to Daisy that he is worthy of her love again as he was in the past. He therefore pulls out all this best and expensive shirts to show them off to Daisy. Gatsby makes it evident to Nick as well that he has a lot of money, revealing to him of how he “lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe – Paris, Venice, Rome – collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only” (Fitzgerald, 66).
Gatsby shares his rich and inspiring past with Nick as if though he wants to prove a point of exactly how rich he is; he lists all the fancy places he travels to and his ‘romantic’ hobbies throughout traveling. As a result, the character James Gatsby is a great example of the corrupted American Dream due to his affected behaviour and luxuries. His character is based on showing off how rich he is, reaching a high social status, and impressing other people with the things he owns. Another great example of the corrupted American Dream is Myrtle Wilson, due to her affected behaviour around a higher class.
Though Myrtle is married to George Wilson, who is a blue collar factory worker living in the Valley of Ashes, her affair with Tom Buchanan allows her to spend some time as a higher class individual in his presence. Myrtle’s attitude towards others changes in the presence of other higher class individuals as well. During the small party held at Tom’s apartment, Myrtle “rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain. ‘It’s just a crazy old thing, I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I look like’” (Fitzgerald, 31).
Myrtle lies to Mrs. McKee after she compliments Myrtle on her expensive cream-colored chiffon dress, that she intentionally put on to impress her company, knowing that it is not something she would usually be able to afford. Myrtle also raises her eyebrows in disdain as though she is too ‘supreme’ to accept Mrs. McKee’s compliment. Mrs. Wilson also shares a story of how she “had a woman up here last week to look at my feet, and when she gave me the bill you’d of thought she had my appendicitis out” (Fitzgerald, 31).
Though she tries to be alliterate, pretending to be higher class, she confuses the disease, appendicitis, with the organ, appendix, which is the actual term she wants to use. Her affected behaviour becomes obvious from this mistake. As a result, Myrtle Wilson is a great example of the corrupted American Dream due to her affected behaviour around a higher class. She changes her attitude, personality and clothes to impress the people around her and tries to adapt to a higher social stature. In summary, Fitzgerald intelligently uses the motif of affectation to develop the theme of the corrupted American Dream.
He uses the character James Gatsby’s affected behaviour to enhance the theme by his falsely authentic house, beautiful clothes and other expenses he boasts about. Myrtle Wilson also has an affected behaviour in the presence of higher class individuals and changes her character to impress them. Both of these characters seem to be under the impression that being rich and being in a high social status is the ‘American Dream’. Both these characters follow the corrupted American Dream. Works Cited Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1980.