While there are numerous themes throughout the text of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the most prominent is that of the American Dream. The American Dream is the idea that any person, no matter what he or she is, or from where he or she has come, can become successful in life by his or her hard work; it is the idea that a self-sufficient person, an entrepreneur, can be a success. In this novel, however, it is the quest for this dream’ (along with the pursuit of a romantic dream) that causes the ultimate downfall of Jay Gatsby.
Throughout the book, Gatsby avoids the reality of his simple, difficult childhood in efforts to avoid the embarrassment of having lived in poverty during his youth. At the age of seventeen, Jay Gatsby changed his name from James Gatz, marking the beginning of his version of the American Dream. “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people and his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all the truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself when he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would” (104). And although masked for most of the story, Gatsby’s childhood provides a key source of determination in his endeavor of achieving the American Dream.
During Gatsby’s early adulthood, he joined the army (where he first met Daisy). He initially loved her because of her extraordinary house and because many other men had already loved her. One evening in October, Gatsby fell in love with Daisy Fay, and in turn she fell in love with Gatsby. “Daisy was the first nice’ girl that he had ever known” (155). Their love was uneasy at first but this uneasiness was lifted when he and Daisy fell in love, and he found that “she thought he knew a lot because he knew different things from her” (157). While their month of love was physically ended when Gatsby went abroad, their emotional love was not and Daisy, in her artificial world, could not understand why Gatsby could not come home; she wanted her love to be with her, she needed some assurance that she was doing the right thing. It was not long however, before Daisy fell in love with a wealthy, former All-American college football player named Tom Buchanan. Gatsby’s heart was broken, yet his love for Daisy was strong and he was determined, in order to achieve one element of his American Dream, to get her back.
Once he returned from abroad, it did not take long for Gatsby to attempt this. He knew that Daisy was a shallow woman, easily overwhelmed by material items, and thus the best way for him to gain her affection was to flaunt his wealth (which he did by throwing lavish parties). With Nick’s help, Gatsby and Daisy were reunited and Gatsby, given another chance to show off his wealth and win her back. He used this meeting to show Daisy what he had become. She was amazed by the extravagance of his house and when he threw his imported shirts around the room, she began to cry because she realized that she had missed out on much of his life. It was at this moment, when the dream that he had strived for was right in front of him, that he realized that Daisy was not as perfect as he remembered her. This was clearly evident to Nick who thought “there must have been moments when Daisy fell short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything” (101). At this point, it becomes apparent that Gatsby’s dream can no longer be fully achieved; yet it is being achieved because he is finally back with Daisy, even though she is still with Tom.
From this point on, Gatsby’s American Dream begins to unravel. Tom, suspecting Daisy of cheating on him with Gatsby, makes some investigation of his affairs and begins to undermine Gatsby’s idealistic concept of himself by making him realize that he is not what he has made himself out to be. He makes Gatsby see that he does not appear to people in the way that he thinks of himself. He exploits “what Gatsby’s drug stores’ were that he and this Wolfshiem had bought up a lot of side-street drug stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter” (141) and describes Gatsby as a bootlegger, cheap swindler, and a crook. “I turned back to Gatsby – and was startled at his expression. He looked as if he had killed a man'” (142); Gatsby’s self-identity was shattered. After this argument, Daisy, refusing to speak to Tom, leaves the hotel with Gatsby who allows her to drive on the way back because she thinks it will help calm her, but she ends up hitting and killing Myrtle Wilson, the lady Tom is having an affair with. Gatsby however, will not let Daisy take the blame for the accident because of his love for her and proceeds to stand guard’ in her shrubs all night in case Tom is still angry from the afternoon when he arrives home. Even so, his romantic dream, along with hopes of completely realizing his American Dream, is crushed when Daisy chooses Tom, the man whom she truly wants to be with, over himself in a time of crisis. It does not take long however, for George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, to trace the yellow car which killed his wife back to Jay Gatsby; and wanting revenge for his wife’s death, he goes to Gatsby’s estate, where he kills Gatsby and then himself. With that, all of Gatsby’s valor and rapid rise to the top was brought to a catastrophic end because Daisy did not love him as much as he loved her.
Although Gatsby’s romantic dream was dead, his American Dream remained alive and beaming. He still had everything going for him; he had his youth, money, and personality. He was morally superior to his fellow East Eggers and Nick acknowledged this when he told Gatsby that he was “worth the whole damn bunch put together” (162). To have it all taken away for something he had not done was the greatest misfortune of the entire novel and his death became even more disheartening at his funeral when, despite Nick’s efforts to make it respectable, only he, Gatsby’s father and servants, and one of Gatsby’s acquaintances attended. None of his friends’, nor did the love of his life’ come. Nick truly cared about Jay Gatsby as no one else did; he exemplified what a true friend is and did what only a friend would do for another. Daisy, however, did not seem to feel even a shred of sadness, or guilt, over Gatsby’s death which is apparent in her not attending his funeral and instead going away on a vacation with Tom. In the end, it was Gatsby’s strong desire for wealth and Daisy, his version of the American Dream, which proved to be the greatest reason for his grave downfall at the hands of a ruthless society.