Literary Yard

Search for meaning

The Great Gatsby is a clear representation of the American dream in the 1920s

By: Sashie

The American dream is based on a concept that anyone can obtain success, regardless of their upbringing or socio-economic status. Gatsby’s life is the epitome of the American dream. He chooses to live his life dangerously in order to obtain what he desires, Daisy. Risk-taking is one of the primary attributes of the American dream. Gatsby views money as an instrument of success, something he cannot get enough of to live up to the expectations of others such as the socialites he invites to his parties, Nick Carraway who is Daisy’s cousin and Tom Buchanan, her egotistical and philandering husband.

The 1920s is defined as the “Jazz age,” or the “roaring 20s,” because it was a time of jazz bands, bootleggers and dancers. The age is defined in Gatsby’s career as he makes his money through bootlegging and fake stocks. The images of the working class are displayed accurately as Nick and Tom ride the train from Long Island to the city into the Valley of Ashes. Therefore, the reader is aware of the class structure and social hierarchy throughout the novel. However, Gatsby is a character we all aspire to be because of his wealth, extravagance, mystery and humble nature, which is why most readers empathise with him.

The life Gatsby attempts to emulate is a mask of his pain and his desire to obtain love. It is second nature for humans to want more. However, the divide between contentment and greed is quite clear. As Gatsby’s story begins to unravel, the characters who he so desperately attempts to impress realise that he is not born into money like them, but has instead accumulated his wealthy illegally through the likes of the dubious Wolfsheim, a man who earns his way through racketeering and gambling. Bootlegging alcohol was illegal during this time which is why Tom is quick to frown upon this. As a result, this draws the disparity between old and new money, the distinction between wealth in*East and West Egg. Money is a vital component that ties the characters together because they all revolve around it. However, we can question whether living lavishly equates to happiness because Gatsby appears to be a sad man despite his accumulated wealth.

All Gatsby’s acquired wealth has left him with one last thing he needs to accomplish, the returned affection from Daisy. Initially, she does not know he exists, living across from her, on the West Egg side. As a result, Gatsby’s failed attempts to capture her attention and reclaim her heart cause him to reach toward the horizon, glaring at the green light from a distance. The green light is the most famous symbol associated with the Great Gatsby. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther” (Fitzgerald, 1925).  Gatsby’s perception of the future and his desire to try harder are factors of determination, a strong component of the American dream. A person not born into wealth without a title will try harder to gain assets and showcase them recklessly. This is true with Gatsby as money is a growing concern for him because he had so little of it to begin with. Essentially, the need to gather and display is a primal instinct because the more we attain, the wealthier we appear to others.

Then, there is the question of title, the name of a person that carries weight. Gatsby’s real name is James Gatz, a name he discarded at the age of seventeen. Gatsby changed his name after meeting a wealthy mining prospector named Dan Cody. The name change signifies Gatsby’s loss of identity and his deep rejection of his family and upbringing. As a result, he alienated himself from his former life. The name Jay Gatsby is a symbol of his newfound success and identity as a wealthy man.

The Great Gatsby is an ideal example of the American dream in the 1920s. Jay Gatsby, a self-made businessman proves that anyone can become successful despite the odds stacked against them. While he had no title, he worked hard to obtain his wealth. Even though the way in which he acquired his money is controversial, he managed to live the dream life, a life everyone aspires to have particularly during the time. Gatsby’s wealth is not in quiet taste because he comes from new money similar to other wealthy people of West Egg. Conversely, Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s wealth is considered tasteful, a symbol of their pedigree upbringing, which is in stark contrast to the American dream.



Fitzgerald, F. 1925. The Great Gatsby. Charles Scribner’s Sons

Barone, A. (2022, August 1). What is the American Dream? Examples and How to Measure It. Investopedia.


Leave a Reply

Related Posts