“We hold truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This text is a segment extracted from the declaration of independence describing the goal set for the American Dream and how they will strive to attain it for everyone in any setting and from every background. This aspect of everyone being equals in society is critiqued by Fitzgerald as the author of ‘The Great Gatsby’ in a negative way which is shown by the descriptions of the characters relating to the setting of which they live.
“Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water…” The first location I want to talk about is East egg which is the area where the the Buchanans live. In this place, money, status and a family name is everything and the people living here are very materialistic – as partially described in the quote above. This means that, yes, any old millionaire or migrant can move there, but to be part of the community of high society, it is not something that you can just buy yourself into, you have to have that important factor about you that sets you above everyone else. This definitely gives off the sense that the American Dream is not unleashed according to these people if the way they think of themselves is by putting them above everyone else rights wise and in terms of how they should be treated. Fitzgerald critiques this way of life and society in various ways, an example of this is having characters from that place making snarky comments; “Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry,” he said, glancing at Daisy and then back at me, as if he were alert for something more. “I’d be a God damned fool to live anywhere else.” This is said by Tom Buchanan – one of the main characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ from East Egg and from this and how it is interpreted, it’s clear that he doesn’t want anything to do with people who aren’t from where he was as he obviously believes that East Egg is the place to be regarding status and society. From these expansions, it is evident that the Dream doesn’t occur in this setting; it seems as if it has no need to be brought up because – according to the residents of East Egg – it is needless to say that there is no place for this goal if it would put these people’s status and recognition in jeopardy and I think that this is what Fitzgerald is trying to get through to the readers.
Next, there is the city of New York, a place described to be forever free of criticism and judgement, and a place that even the wildest of dreams have the opportunity to be achieved. This is where Fitzgerald gives the readers a taste of what the American dream should truly be and if life were fair and we free in it, we could do anything. “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 from the narrator’s thoughts shows us what New York represents to the people – a place to live life as equals and to its fullest extent. When it says “Even Gatsby could happen…“ it hints at us that Fitzgerald sees Gatsby as a very extravagant and eccentric character but that all of his extremeness is accepted and not so strange to find in a place like New York where results of the American dream are clear. This is proven when the quote states that anything can happen, it means that the only thing missing for all of the amazing things that could occur in a place like this are the people to think of them. Overall, Fitzgerald uses New York City to express to us what he believes could happen if everyone were open to ideas that could allow opportunity for others to benefit in happiness and a place in the world as well as themselves as it is selfishness and judgement of others that bring people back to reality – that people are not capable of allowing too many things to occur that will be an advantage to others rather than themselves.
Last is the setting of the Valley of Ashes, this place described as “A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys…” It is located between East egg and the city of New York, the expressed features above is the best way to describe/characterise this area as it represents the hope that is lost and the goal that is now out of site. To elaborate on the quote above, it talks about how everything described is made of ash which is; grey-and represents how dull everything is, dirty, and the waste product of a blazing fire which is all burnt up. All of these ideas that you can take from the single word of ashes is what Gatsby is trying to get across to the reader, he is revealing to us in an intricate way that the American Dream – real or not – isn’t as we perceive it to be. The residents of the Valley of Ashes’ hope is, as I said, all burnt up and they are now living their lives as “… men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” This quote from ‘The Great Gatsby’ portrays fully the physical side to these people after losing sight and motivation toward this goal – it makes us realise how much power the idea of the American Dream being accomplishable has on all of these characters.
From what information is gathered above, it is evident that whatever equalities, truths and liberties are expected to come out of the American Dream if it were ever achieved, are not all as they seem. Fitzgerald critiques the dream and how well it has worked through the characteristics of the settings he develops throughout his work and the people who lives there’s personality and outlook of life. In many cases, the text shows the struggle for this goal to become a reality and it also expresses to us that Fitzgerald has realised this and is portraying to us through the physical world as the main characters in this book are quite materialistic which makes sense for him to express his judgement of the goal set for the American Dream through something that isn’t just a feeling or emotion. Ultimately, the people incorporated in the Great Gatsby believe that life should be fair and good for everyone but as Nick finds out throughout this novel, life – as much as we may want – it is not possible because of the different beliefs of everyone regarding this dream.