The Great Gatsby and Its Resonance Today, Literary Essay Sample

Published: 2022-03-11
The Great Gatsby and Its Resonance Today, Literary Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  The Great Gatsby
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1401 words
12 min read

No doubt, The Great Gatsby is a book immensely popular in the modern day America. However, this fact would have surprised both its author and his contemporaries, many of whom considered it to be merely a mediocre writing of an author with a big potential. It seems the secret to this novel's irresistible appeal lies within its quintessential Americanism and extraordinary modernity. The Great Gatsby connects the 1920s and the present day by portraying the American society in times of big changes, social mobility, increasing diversity, simultaneously united and divided by the American Dream.

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In the book, the great chaos out of which the new America was born is portrayed through an intriguing story of an uncommon individual which yet embodies so many features of the common Americans. Long Island, the setting of the story, is divided into East Egg and West Egg. East Egg is the seat of the "old money" symbolizing the familiar constants such as hierarchy, patriarchy, color prejudice, bigotry, and marital hypocrisy. West Egg is the headquarters of "new money", daredevils and prophets of social mobility, cultural and ethnic diversity, but also overindulgence, organized crime, cynicism, and disillusionment. The novel explores the interaction and collision, difference and similarity of the two worlds. The raucous and loud parties full of unabashed kitsch and glitz help the newcomers assert themselves in the new circumstances. But no matter how hard they try to seem self-sufficient, they are still irresistibly drawn to the East Egg's financial stability and self-complacency. Gatsby's green light across the harbor is a symbol not only of his love for Daisy but also of his American Dream, his hope for the future where he could feel entitled to live his dreams, just like the East Egg inhabitants. East Egg is also attracted by West Egg. This ambivalent attraction is reflected in Daisy's relationship with Jay: she is mesmerized by his charismatic personality and incredible riches, and yet she is not willing to cross the social gap between them. Daisy is an integral component of the American dream which does not seem to work for her. Her marriage is dysfunctional but she lacks courage to build something new. Her self-complacency and fear of instability prevent her from living the American Dream to the fullest. In the brave new America that Daisy is living in, everything is possible, but the price must be paid.

The "take-it-or-leave-it" world portrayed in the novel cannot but feel very familiar to the reader in the XXI century. In the new diverse and socially mobile environment, anyone can become successful. The modern civilization is ruled by money, not politicians. Is it a bad thing? There is no ready answer. Ironically enough, Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby's criminal mentor, possesses morality of a much higher quality than many of the other characters. In the resent-day America, the "new money" are building their own American Dream on the foundations of superior values of equality, freedom, initiative, sustainability and mindfulness. Travelling by public transport, wearing simple clothes, supporting green technologies and charity activities have become more important signs of success than luxury cars, mansions, and supermodel girlfriends. All elements of the American dream are being rethought and yet it is as vital as ever, though molded into a new shape.

Perhaps, the tragedy of the American dream lies not within its illusory character, but within its inherent ambiguity and duality. This idea is so immensely popular that everyone seems to have their own definition of it. There is a common, trivial understanding of an American dream as an ideal of well-being to which everyone should strive. It includes the famous cliche elements: a house, a car, two children, a dog. But there is also a social myth that has become an ideological foundation of the American society. In 1955 William Faulkner described this elevated social aspiration in his famous essay "On privacy": "We will establish a new land where man can assume that every individual man - not the mass of men but individual men - has inalienable right to individual dignity and freedom within a fabric of individual courage and honorable work and mutual responsibility" (Faulkner 33). These two interpretations - the trivial one and the elevated one - are not only both valid and active, they interact with each other, creating potent social tension. When the noble motive pinpointed by Faulkner descends into the common urge for well-being and prosperity, disillusionment is inevitable.

Jay Gatsby embodies both sides of the American Dream. On the one hand, he has the sober mind of a smuggler accustomed to the unsafe, but profitable game, who, even on the happy day, when Daisy crosses his threshold, is giving out the telephone instructions to the branches of his "firm". There is practicality in him and lack of scruples, without which there would be no mansion or millions. On the other hand, Gatsby is that very young man who radiates the heightened sensitivity to the promises of life. This extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness was what makes him look like a young boy admiring a shop-window of a candy store. This side of his personality embodies all the naivete of the people in the 1920s who were indeed extremely gullible in their perceptions of what life was to be like (quite similar to the modern-day generation of Americans who model their lives upon magazine standards, TV cliches, and Facebook profiles). Gatsby manages to reconcile the two poles of the American dream by keeping them relatively isolated. For him, wealth is just another step on the way to his "green light" of love and acceptance. But Daisy with her insatiable greed and extreme social mimicry uproots his ideals manifesting the failure of the American Dream. A mouse can survive in a pool for a day, but if you take it out, let it dry, feed it and then throw back into the pool again, it will be drowned. If you give somebody hope and then take it away, life will be darker and more miserable than before. This is probably what Gatsby feels and what the American society is experiencing at the moment. The American Dream seemed so real and yet it turned out to be an empty myth. But, maybe, it is not essential if the American Dream is destined to fail. Maybe, the dreamlike quality of the American Dream is what really matters. Fitzgerald's novel and the whole experience of his generation give our contemporaries a very important lesson: we should let the American Dream remain a dream, an ideal, the worth of which is in continuous striving to reach it. We should long for the green light without trying too hard to translate it into things we can measure - a luxurious house, an expensive car, an exotic holiday, etc. No doubt, the financial drive made many Americans rich and powerful. But an elevated aspiration is what helped the Americans become a nation united by the ideals of individual freedom and dignity.

Fitzgerald is an author we can learn from because he lived the American dream and its deconstruction in the 1920s, when this ideal was seriously shaken. Perhaps for the first time, the dream itself began to be recognized as a tragic illusion. From his earliest childhood, Fitzgerald witnessed the huge divide between the prosperous relatives of his mother and his loser of a father and he learned to admire, envy and hate the rich. His marriage was also a living embodiment of this conflict. Zelda, the romantic ideal he was striving for, turned out to be a shell of a person. Accustomed to idleness and an expensive, beautiful life, Zelda was forcing Fitzgerald to waste his talent in vain. And yet, in his continuous struggle for and with the American Dream Fitzgerald managed to create literary works of outstanding stylistic beauty and thought-provoking potential. The inner conflict he was going through only sharpened his creative sensitivity and helped him dive deeper beneath the surface of ordinary things. Probably, this is what we can learn from Fitzgerald and his novel: the smooth and the perfect are often boring and sterile, the turbulent and the controversial are often invigorating and productive. Only by challenging the American Dream, doubting it, testing it will the modern Americans see its real value in the new world they are building.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. "On privacy. The American dream." Harper's Magazine, July 1955, pp. 33-38.

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