The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald nearly 100 years ago, has multiple topics, most of which are still relevant today.
One of the most prominent Great Gatsby themes is the American dream (ironically, not a single instance is ‘American dream’ mentioned in the novel).
The American dream is the guiding inspiration that anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve success in America through hard work and determination.
Gatsby embodies this ideal. He was born into poverty, but he worked hard to become wealthy and successful. However, Gatsby’s wealth does not bring him happiness, and he ultimately loses grip of his dream because he is unable to recapture the past.
Another major theme in the novel is love and obsession. Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, a woman he loved and lost five years earlier. He throws lavish parties in the hope of attracting her attention. They meet again and rekindle old feelings, but she fails to return his love.
Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy is destructive, leading him to make reckless decisions that ultimately cost him his life.
Another theme is that no matter how hard one works, you cannot repeat the past. Gatsby’s dream is to recreate his life with Daisy, but this is nothing more than a pipe dream.
The Great Gatsby is a complex and multi-layered novel that explores several key themes. The novel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pursuing the American dream, the destructive power of wealth, and the importance of love, which the author weaves into the novel through the eyes and words of Nick Carraway.
If you are short on time and want a quick overview of the novel be sure to read my other article on the summary of The Great Gatsby Book.
What Is the Main Theme of the Great Gatsby
While there are several Great Gatsby themes, perhaps the idea that stands above the others would be the American dream.
The American dream is a set of ideals and freedom saying that anyone who is willing to work hard can become successful and perhaps even wealthy.
The American dream is not a static concept. It has changed over time to reflect the changing values and priorities of Americans. In the early 20th century, for example, the American dream was often associated with owning a home and a car.
Today, the American dream may be more likely to be associated with having a good job, a college education, little or no debt, and a healthy family.
Having said that, the basic idea behind the American dream hasn’t changed.
In what is considered to be “the old world”, a man could rise no higher than his father. If your father were a carpenter, there was no way that his children could be president or king. In America, this isn’t the case. Each person can rise to whatever heights they are willing to work for.
- Related Topic: What is the Plot of The Great Gatsby Book
In The Great Gatsby, this theme is shown via Jay Gatsby. Born a poor farm boy, he had ambitions and dreams. Through hard work (although at least some of it was illegal), he became famous in the greater New York area, and wealthy beyond anyone’s dreams.
However, as Fitzgerald’s novel exposes, social class still separates the masses. Although Gatsby is quite wealthy, his is “new money”. Those from the upper classes (or old money) look down on new money as not being worthy of their time.
Gatsby may have achieved the American dream (see quotes on the American Dream from the Novel ) , but he won’t ever be accepted by those of the upper social classes.
Another prominent theme is that the past cannot be repeated, no matter how hard we may try.
No one but Gatsby can deny that the past is gone. It cannot be brought back. Gatsby may be able to recreate the superficial aspects of the past, but he cannot recreate the feelings and emotions that were present at the time.
Second, people change. Gatsby is not the same person he was five years ago. He is now wealthy and successful, but he is also more cynical and jaded.
Daisy is also different. She is now married to Tom Buchanan, and she has a child. She’s aware that husbands cheat on their wives, and wives are powerless in most instances to stop them. She is not the same carefree, idealistic young woman that Gatsby fell in love with.
Third, the world has changed. The Roaring Twenties was a time of great economic prosperity and social change. The world is a very different place now. Gatsby’s dream of recapturing the past is simply not possible.
Gatsby’s dream of repeating the past is a cautionary tale about the dangers of nostalgia. It is impossible to go back in time and change the past. We must learn to accept that the past is gone, live in the present, and move on toward the future.
In the end, Gatsby’s dream of repeating the past is partially responsible for his downfall. Gatsby’s death is a tragic reminder that while the past cannot be changed, people do.
Love and Marriage in The Great Gatsby
Jay Gatsby’s life revolves around his ambitious dream symbolized by the green light- he is perpetually drawn to it.
First, the novel suggests that love is often unattainable. Gatsby’s love for Daisy is a perfect example of this. He has loved her since he first saw her, but now she is married to another man.
Gatsby spends years trying to win her back. He becomes rich and owns a mansion in West Egg just across Daisy’s dock in East Egg, but in the end, he is unsuccessful.
Second, the novel suggests that love can be destructive. Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy leads him to make a number of bad decisions, including illegal activities and violence. In the end, his love for Daisy leads to his downfall.
Third, the novel suggests that love can be fleeting. Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship is passionate at first, but it quickly fades. In the end, they are both left feeling empty and unfulfilled.
This is a complicated and complex theme in the novel. While many characters claim that they love one another, almost no one is faithful or loyal to their spouse.
Myrtle Wilson is unfaithful to her husband of 13 years, George Wilson. She looks down on him now and hates living with him in the Valley of Ashes. She believes that she’s destined for “greater” love in the form of her lover, Tom Buchanan.
Daisy also cheats on her husband Tom. Chances are that she feels justified since he has cheated on her, but as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.
And Tom Buchanan appears to cheat on his wife Daisy every chance he gets.
Overall, The Great Gatsby presents a cynical view of love. The novel suggests that love is often unattainable, destructive, and fleeting. However, the novel also suggests that love is a powerful force that can drive people to great lengths.
Here are some additional examples of how the theme of love is portrayed in The Great Gatsby:
- Nick Carraway’s relationship with Jordan Baker is also ultimately unsatisfying. Jordan is a skilled golfer and a charming companion, but she is also emotionally unavailable. Nick eventually realizes that he cannot truly love her.
- Myrtle Wilson’s love for Tom Buchanan is doomed from the start. Tom is a cruel and an unfaithful husband, and Myrtle is a poor and uneducated woman. Their relationship is based on lust and desperation, and her pursuit of Tom Buchanan ultimately leads to her death.
The Great Gatsby is a complex novel that explores the theme of love in a number of ways. The novel suggests that love is a powerful force, but it is also a force that can be destructive. The novel ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of ambiguity about the nature of love.
Justice and Power
Two other themes appear frequently in The Great Gatsby: Justice and Power.
The novel suggests that justice is often not served to those who deserve it, especially not the poor or newly rich.
Gatsby is killed by George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, who believes that Gatsby was responsible for Myrtle’s death.
However, Daisy Buchanan ( learn more on Daisy’s Character Traits ), who is actually responsible for Myrtle’s death, is never held accountable.
The novel suggests that power can be used to corrupt justice. Tom Buchanan is a wealthy and powerful man, and he uses his power so his wife gets away with murder. As Nick puts it:
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, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
The novel suggests that justice is often not served to the poor and the powerless. Myrtle Wilson is a poor and working-class woman, and she is not given the same level of justice as Gatsby, who is a wealthy man. Myrtle’s death is quickly forgotten, while Gatsby’s death is a national scandal.
Overall, The Great Gatsby presents a cynical view of justice and power. The novel suggests that justice is often not served to those who deserve it, and power can be used to corrupt justice. The novel ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of ambiguity about the possibility of justice in the world.
Immorality and Lack of Respect for Values
The Jazz Age or Roaring Twenties followed the first world war. It was a time of great economic prosperity and social change in the United States but also marked by social problems, including alcoholism, drug addiction, and prostitution.
Jay Gatsby is a self-made man who achieves great wealth, but he does so via illegal means, including bootleg liquor and drugs. He and Daisy have an affair, disrespecting Daisy’s marriage vows.
Myrtle Wilson is a poor working-class woman who is married to George Wilson. She is Tom’s mistress and has no problem cheating on her husband. Her only interest is improving her status and possibly obtaining a rich husband. Money is the only thing that truly matters to Myrtle.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples of the ugly immorality of the Roaring Twenties in The Great Gatsby is the character of Tom Buchanan. Tom is a wealthy and powerful man who uses his position to get away with his part in the death of Myrtle and Gatsby. He is also a cruel and unfaithful husband.
White Supremacy and Racism
Tom is also a bigot, hypocrite, and racist. He’s concerned that other “inferior” races could take over the world. He has had multiple affairs in his 5-year marriage to Daisy, but he becomes extremely upset when he discovers that his wife is having an affair.
Tom represents the worst of the Roaring Twenties, a time when wealth and power could be used to get away with anything.
Final Summary on Major Themes in The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby explores a number of major themes, including:
- The American dream: The American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve success in the United States. Gatsby (formerly James Gatz) is a self-made man who changes his life story and achieves great wealth, but he is ultimately thwarted and cannot find the fulfillment that he desires. The novel suggests that the American dream is unattainable for most people.
- The nature of love and marriage: Gatsby’s love for Daisy is a powerful force, but it is also destructive.
- The corruption of wealth and power: Tom Buchanan is a wealthy and powerful man, and he uses his power to get away with crime. The novel suggests that power can be used to corrupt justice, and that the wealthy and powerful are often above the law.
- The impossibility of recapturing the past: Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy, and he tries to recreate the past by recreating their relationship. However, the past is gone, and Gatsby is unable to recapture it. The novel suggests that the past is a place that cannot be returned to, and that we should focus on the present and the future.
- The emptiness and immorality of the Roaring Twenties: The novel is set during the Roaring Twenties, a time of great economic prosperity and social change. However, the novel suggests that the Roaring Twenties were also a time of emptiness, rampant materialism, immorality, and superficiality.
Gatsby’s dream of recreating the past and his attainment of the American Dream are the first two themes that come to mind and are considered to be the main themes in this entire novel.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.