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Leandro Cunha

ENGL110 First-year composition

The Great Gatsby Essay

From the welfare of people to the comfort of ego

James Truslow Adams was an American historian and writer born in 1878. His
father was American and his mother Venezuelan. Adams is possibly the first to popularize
the term American Dream in his 1931 book The Epic of America. He defines it as that
dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man (...) 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" (p.214-215).
This view is a combination of an egalitarian and a modern approach of the
American dream. Egalitarian because everyone should have equal rights and opportunities,
regardless of social status. Modern because the life in the 20th century is also about having
access to technology and its devices. So, the American dream now englobes both
individualism and materialism, and new ways of interpreting these aspects are developed.
We can notice a difference in the American dreams perspective if we analyze
Fitzgeralds and Algers novels context, for example. After the Second Industrial Revolution,
with capitalism and the advance of technology, peoples dreams started to change. In
someways they became corrupted according to the initial principles of the American
Dream, which are afirmed in the Declaration of Independence as all men are created equal,
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness (par.1). The selfishness takes place of the individualism;
the crave for being rich takes place of the pursuit of happiness; the desire of ascending in
society and achieving high social status takes place of the sense of respect among all people.
These three changes can be observed in The Great Gatsby. To achieve a certain
status, Gatsby made use of an ilegal business bootlegging alcohol and so he put his ego in
front of the respect for the law the biggest factor of social order. The law plays a big role in
every society, whether by the formal Judiciary system or by conventions created to respect
social or natural patterns. The importance of respecting the values of justice and honesty is
clear in the American society as we can see in the afirmations of the Declaration of
Independence and in the legacy of the Puritans. The law is the convention humans found to
develop civilization and it is the best way we ever figured to organize our societies, in other
words, to live in harmony with others. Virtually ninety percent of what we do from the time
we get up at morning until we go to sleep at night is influenced by or regulated by a law
(Peterson and Dean). It is somewhat acceptable to violate law as far as we do not prejudice
others, and we have to use our judgment above all. Since the moment Gatsby made use of
dishonesty to bootlegging alcohol, he did not only violate law but also brought a harmful
product into society. If law is the representation of peoples values, and Gatsby violated it
pointedly, then Gatsby desrespected people.
These values were generally held since the colonization of America until the
settlement of capitalism and its consequences. Capitalism brought a huge technological
progress to the world, and as the United States was one of its main developers, it is a place
where we can observe the quick growth generated by this system. The U.S. became the most
powerful country in the globe, technologically, economically, and socially. The Second
Industrial Revolution was definitely a turning point to American society. It changed the
concepts of transportation steam-powered trains and ships; development of aviation , mass
production of consumer goods food preservation devices and techniques , and the
invention of the eletromagnetic telephone. It changed the speed of life, comunication, and
peoples attitudes. Thus, it was possible to observe the negative consequences too, specially
in a global city as New York, where every change has a big social impact.
Besides Gatsbys dishonesty, we can notice other facts exemplifying subliminally
the break of these moral values in Fitzgeralds book. Though it is notable that Gatsby has a
fantastic quality of hope and the idealistic dream of loving Daisy, he uses the opportunity of
making a fortune to satisfy his desire. His desire of Daisys love makes him build a fortune,
but as Nick himself evaluates, it is not about happiness. It is about the need for a dream,
fighting for something. It is about his ego.
The constant presence of unloyal relationships in the novel also exemplifies the
moral decay of the American society however, it is interesting to notice that Gatsby, a
criminal, is one of the few who show real loyalty and fidelity, never renouncing his love for
Daisy, even though it is only a reflection of his heart demands, which means that Daisy did
not really deserve that loyalty, considering her attitudes. The immorality is exemplified when
the Buchanans, who represent the high society, allow Gatsby to take the blame of Myrtles
death, which was caused by Daisy, so she would not get punished, suffer the bad
consequences, and lose her status in society. Their will to keep their welfare and high status
conflicts with the perspective of honesty and justice that many people fought for in the
history of the U.S.
Comparing The Great Gatsby to Horatio Algers novel Ragged Dick, it is possible to
establish the contrast between Dicks and Gatsbys versions of the American dream. These
two novels were written fifty-seven years apart, and the difference in the historical context
can be perceived even in the details of the stories. Obviously, we cannot take the characters
qualities or points of view as the reflection of a whole nation, but it is wise to observe that
Dicks dream reveals a much more ingenuous shape of the American dream. While Gatsby
puts a lot of effort into making money to show off and try to conquer a rich womans love by
raising his social status, Dick only dreams of having a respectable life, of being able to afford
his basic needs. This dream is much more coherent with the egalitarian matter in the
Declaration of Independence, truly representing the values of equality, honesty, and the
pursuit of happiness.
Both stories run in the capitalist context of New York, but still they state different
positions. Would New York change so controversially through half a century? Would
capitalism and modernism change the society that much in such a time period? Or can we
consider it is just a matter of how the authors place their experiences or messages through the
novels? We do have to take into account the authors intentions when considering the social
analysis from the context of the books. However, as we analyzed, we could notice that
historical facts really influenced the American society within this time period.
Nowadays the U.S. is the place where mass production of consumer goods has
achieved its peak. The society is based on commerce and financial transactions. The power of
purchase is the current American dream. Most people have more than they need, and they
keep dreaming about having something else. Eddie Vedder says a lot of the American society
of today when he complains in his song called Society and you think you have to want more
than you need; until you have it all, you wont be free... Society, youre a crazy breed, hope
youre not lonely without me.
Times have changed. The dreams of the past are not the dreams of today.
Unfortunately, the corruption of certain values is a part of social growth. We were never
truely free of selfishness and injustice. So, the American dream followed modernism and
changed with the times. Maybe the 1920s was the peak of its change, or at least the first
moment where people could clearly notice such change. We just know it is impossible to say
how it is going to end, but The Great Gatsby definitely shows a new direction in how the
American dream is portrayed.

Works cited

Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. New York: Blue Ribbon, 1931. Print.
Alger, Horatio, Jr. Ragged Dick, Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-blacks. New
York: Signet Classics, 2005. Print.
Declaration of Independence, 1776.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner, 2004. Print.
The Law. Dir. Candace Peterson and William D. Dean. Prod. William D. Dean. By Chick
McCuen. Films Media Group, 2006. Digital File.
Vedder, Eddie. Society. Into the Wild. J Records, 2007. CD.