Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Great Gatsby: Is the American dream dead?

III. Rhetoric-Stage Inquiry [The So What]

Is there an argument in this book?  Do you agree?

There are numerous arguments in The Great Gatsby, but I would rather address an argument that is prevalent within Great Gatsby circles: “The American dream is dead” or “unattainable.”  

Maybe during the author’s time, he had a sense that America’s bubble was going to burst - like the housing market where I live in California: builders kept building; prices went higher; banks kept lending; people kept buying until they could not afford what they purchased; then they lost their houses; banks lost money; builders lost, too; and now houses sit vacant and prices are lower than ever, but no one can buy.  Surely, greed is a destructive end regardless of the goal.

But what is the American dream?  I would argue that it is not the same for everyone.  For some, it may be to build their own home, or to earn a doctorate and open a private practice, or to own a business and create a job for one’s self.  My son’s second piano teacher was from Russia, and her American dream: to open a piano studio.  My grandparents are from Italy, and their American dream: for their children and grandchildren to have more opportunity than they did.   I know someone whose dream was just to escape communism in her country and be free.  Success may be part of the American dream, but it is not the same for everyone.  To suggest that the American dream is one specific idea is foolishness.

However, since F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the American dream as wealth, power, and prestige, while not painting a very pleasant picture of high society, the reader is forced to renounce such ideas with disdain.  The author’s point is that these people are absolutely miserable, careless, shallow, selfish, and dull.  This may be true in many cases, but not all.  But, again, I do not agree that wealthy people and their place in society represent the entire American dream; therefore, the American dream is not dead.  And while it may be more complicated to attain your dreams today, thanks to taxes, regulations, and restrictions, they are still possible.

High Society in The Great Gatsby appears messy because people are messy.  People are messy because of their sinfulness, just as Myrtle Wilson, who was poor, practiced adultery.  Nick observes that Mr. Wilson was in the same position as Tom Buchanan.  And what can we say about Mr. Wilson who took judgment into his own hands and murdered Gatsby?  Is he any better?  And Nick, who was wealthy, did not subscribe to the debauchery that existed within his circles, but rather it exhausted him.  People are corrupted at all levels of society – don’t blame success and wealth for crookedness. People need boundaries and limits, but it is not freedom and liberty’s fault for the sinfulness of man’s heart. 

To get preachy, if man’s heart is right with God, he does not have continuous conflict with (in no particular order of importance): success, wealth, prestige, honor, truth, justice, friendships, relationships, or marriage.  When man’s will is his own will, apart from God, then he is open to disappointment and destruction.  But if man’s will is God’s will, he shall attain his goals, and hence he shall have a healthy “American dream.”

Bottom line: While a broken story, I love The Great Gatsby, nonetheless, because it is poignant, thought provoking, and aesthetically written.  A definite re-read.  


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