The American Dream Lost and Found

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The term American Dream has had many shades of meaning throughout American history. Today, it generally refers to the idea that one's prosperity depends upon one's own abilities and hard work, not on a rigid class structure. For some, it is the opportunity to achieve more prosperity than they could in their countries of origin; for others, it is the opportunity for their children to grow up with an education and career opportunities; for others, it is the opportunity to be an individual without the constraints imposed by class, caste, race, or ethnicity. In general, the American Dream can be defined as having the opportunity and freedom that allows all citizens to achieve their goals in life through hard work and determination alone.

While the term "American Dream" today is often associated with immigrants, native-born Americans can also be described as "pursuing the American Dream" or "living the American Dream".

America has become a multiracial country through both forced and voluntary immigration. Many immigrants came to the United States with hopes and aspirations that have become known as the American Dream. In the U.S. Constitution, it says that Americans are entitled to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". This is something that was denied to some of them in their home countries. Once in America, the American Dream was not as easily attainable as they had thought.

The Great Gatsby is a novel by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published on April 10, 1925, the story is set in Long Island and New York City during the summer of 1922.

The novel chronicles an era that Fitzgerald himself called the "Jazz Age." Following the shock and chaos of World War I, American society enjoyed unprecedented levels of prosperity during the 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers and led to an increase in organized crime. Although Fitzgerald, like Nick Carraway in his novel, idolized the riches and glamour of the age, he was uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that went with it.

The Great Gatsby was not popular upon initial printing and although it was adapted into both a Broadway play and a Hollywood film within a year of publication, it was largely forgotten during the Great Depression and World War II. After it was republished in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is now often regarded as the Great American Novel.

On the surface, The Great Gatsby is a story of the thwarted love between a man and a woman. The main theme of the novel, however, encompasses a much larger, less romantic scope. Though all of its action takes place over a mere few months during the summer of 1922 and is set in a circumscribed geographical area in the vicinity of Long Island, New York, The Great Gatsby is a highly symbolic meditation on 1920s America as a whole, in particular the disintegration of the American dream in an era of unprecedented prosperity and material excess.

Fitzgerald portrays the 1920s as an era of decayed social and moral values, evidenced in its overarching cynicism, greed, and empty pursuit of pleasure. Decay is a word that constantly comes up in The Great Gatsby, which is appropriate in a novel which centers around the death of the American Dream. Decay is most evident in the so-called "valley of ashes." With great virtuosity, Fitzgerald describes a barren wasteland which probably has little to do with the New York landscape and instead serves to comment on the downfall of American society. It seems that the American dream has been perverted, reversed. Gatsby lives in West Egg and Daisy in East Egg; therefore, Gatsby looks East with yearning, rather than West, the traditional direction of American frontier ambitions. Fitzgerald portrays the chauvinistic and racist Tom in a very negative light, clearly scoffing at his apocalyptic vision of the races intermarrying. Fitzgerald's implication seems to be that society has already decayed enough and requires no new twist. The reckless jubilance that led to decadent parties and wild jazz music--epitomized in The Great Gatsby by the opulent parties that Gatsby throws every Saturday night--resulted ultimately in the corruption of the American dream, as the unrestrained desire for money and pleasure surpassed more noble goals. When World War I ended in 1918, the generation of young Americans who had fought the war became intensely disillusioned, as the brutal carnage that they had just faced made the Victorian social morality of early-twentieth-century America seem like stuffy, empty hypocrisy.

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