When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, did he intend to fill it with quotes and metaphors for the American Dream?
Whether it was intentional or not, the fact remains that everyone sees some meaning behind his words.
What is the American Dream, anyway? Is it owning a home or equal opportunity for all Americans?
Let’s look at the American Dream and see which quotes exemplify Fitzgerald’s meaning.
What Is the American Dream?
The great American Dream may mean different things to different people. Some believe that owning your home and land is what best exemplifies this term, others believe that it’s the pursuit of happiness.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald appears to define it as the equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race, religion, sex, or class.
In some countries, children can go no further than their parents did. If your father was a tailor, you would also be a tailor and you would never imagine that you might become a doctor, for example.
In America, this isn’t the case. Each person can go as far as their talents and desires can take them.
Jay Gatsby perfectly demonstrated this—he symbolized a resourceful and restless young nation striving for self-improvement and success.
Starting life as the son of a dirt-poor farmer from the northern edge of Middle West, Gatsby “invented” a new life for himself and worked hard to become rich.
While his money did come from illegal means, it was still his claim to the American Dream, as he worked and earned more wealth and prestige than his father ever imagined possible.
Quotes Referring to the American Dream in The Great Gatsby
From the very first chapter, we get a glimpse of Gatsby pursuing his dream—
“He stretched out his arms toward the dark water… distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way… When I looked once more for Gatsby, he had vanished…”
The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock could represent the American Dream—the pursuit of green backs, success, and love from the past.
As Gatsby drives Nick in his car so they can lunch in New York, Nick says—
“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,’ I thought, ‘anything at all…’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.”
This quote suggests that the American Dream, success, and money aren’t actually available to everyone—only those who have connections, especially wealthy families.
Since Fitzgerald experienced this in his personal life, it’s not surprising that he portrays these beliefs in his novel.
Early in the book, while Nick claims that he reserves his judgment, he is quite judgmental of his old college chum Tom, saying—
“Why they came East I don’t know… I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”
Tom is the villain in this novel. Even with all his wealth, Tom still tries to recreate or hold on to his past, rather than move forward and achieve something new.
What Are Some Examples of American Dream Quotes in The Great Gatsby?
While at first glance the Great Gatsby appears to be about love, infidelity, and revenge, it holds a deeper meaning.
This novel is actually saying that while extravagance and tremendous wealth may appear to make people happy, money can neither buy love nor recreate the past.
Perhaps Fitzgerald thought that the American Dream was a scam or a dog-and-pony show. If you look closely, however, you’ll see that the different characters in the book have their own ideas about the American Dream and how to achieve it.
Nick the narrator, for example, seems to believe that the American Dream is about having enough wealth so that you can extend your good fortune to others, as Gatsby does by throwing his elaborate parties. Nick observes—
“I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans.
I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were, at least, agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.”
Jay Gatsby himself believed that money could buy him the American Dream, which would be to live with the love of his life in wealth and luxury. Regardless of what Daisy said or did, nothing could deter Gatsby from seeking that dream.
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion…
No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”
Daisy Buchanan is perhaps the personification of the American Dream. Her voice is “full of money”, and her charming manner suggests that all bright and beautiful things are possible. Ironically, however, it is also Daisy who shows the world that the American Dream is a farce—
“…They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together…”
Fitzgerald had harsh words for the indolently wealthy like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, but he did seem to believe in true love, and that, like Gatsby, it might save a man.
What Is Fitzgerald Saying about the American Dream in The Great Gatsby?
It was Fitzgerald’s own life that gave him such as cynical view of the wealthy.
He seemed to believe that the American Dream was nothing more than a cruel hoax. No matter how hard one worked, no matter how good a person’s heart was, a person would find that true happiness and success would forever elude them.
It seems at times that Fitzgerald identified with Gatsby to a degree.
While the author lived a middle-class life in his younger days, he courted a rich socialite before heading off to WWI. He later married a rich woman who married him only after his success with another novel.
The pair were famous for a while after Fitzgerald published a second novel, and he tried to keep up their social standing by writing for magazines. While the couple was invited to many parties due to his name and social status, Fitzgerald got a close-up look at how the wealthy shunned those who were poor.
His wife had to be hospitalized due to schizophrenia, and his third novel, The Great Gatsby, was not well received at the time.
Today, The Great Gatsby is considered one of the greatest American novels ever written but not so during Fitzgerald’s lifetime.
Fitzgerald was a man who, like his character Gatsby, was surrounded by wealthy and famous people, but he neither achieved real happiness nor was fully appreciated in his own time.
This is how the author portrays the American Dream. He is cynical about wealth, noting that it only gives people something to hide behind and won’t make a person happy in the end.
How Did the American Dream Fail in The Great Gatsby?
The original American dream in this novel belongs to Gatsby. He believed that if he could attain enough money, he would gain back the love of his life, Daisy.
His failure to achieve his dream is due to two factors.
First, Gatsby believed that he could turn back the hands of time and recreate the time when he and Daisy met, which was 5 years earlier.
As Nick told Gatsby in Chapter 6—
“You can’t repeat the past,” Gatsby replies, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.”
Second, Gatsby threw morals and laws out the window in his pursuit of money and Daisy. He does attain tremendous wealth but only through illegal means. He throws out his morals and disregards the law in his narrow-minded pursuit of Daisy.
Even if Gatsby had somehow earned the cash he required legally, Nick was correct in telling him that the past cannot be repeated.
The belief that anyone in America can become rich and successful if they just work hard enough isn’t true, according to Fitzgerald.
This becomes very apparent in the last chapter of the novel. When Gatsby is shot and killed in his swimming pool, no one except his father, servants, Owl Eyes, and Nick attends his funeral.
For all his hard work and acquired wealth, Gatsby had no real human connections, no friends, and he certainly did not have the love of Daisy, who fails to even send flowers.
Fitzgerald seems to believe that hard work may bring you money, but it won’t bring you friends or love, and who can be happy without these?
Is There a Quote about the American Dream in The Great Gatsby?
While the book does not specifically say the words “American Dream”, there are some quotes that make it clear that this is what Fitzgerald was referring to—
All of these are obviously referring to the pursuit of the American Dream and the loss of this dream in the eyes of the author.
Gatsby’s love for Daisy may have driven him to achieve incredible wealth, but in his pursuit, he loses his morals and the past that he hopes to recover.
While Gatsby did achieve success and money, it was Daisy’s love that he wanted most of all, and this was the one thing all his money could not buy him.
Fitzgerald seemed to believe in true love. However, he realized that money can’t buy love or happiness, something he discovered to be true in his own life.