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The American dream is a social ideal based on the concept that anyone, no matter what race or social class they belong to, can improve his or her standard of life and become rich thanks to his or her work and entrepreneurial skills. This ideal has attracted a number of people to America, which has been considered the land of opportunities where dreams come true.
One of the American novelists that wrote about the American dream is Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was one of the exponents of the Lost Generation. They were a group of young American writers most of whom had taken part in World War I. They are disillusioned with their own ideals of heroism and with the materialism and provincialism of American. This group wrote in the early 1920’s, in a period of prosperity. In fact in America during these years the economy was booming and a lot of people acquired immense riches.

F.S. Fitzgerald’s life and work

F.S. FitzgeraldFrances Scott Fitzgerald was born in September 24, 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is seen today as one of the true great American novelists. Although he lived a life filled with alcoholism, despair and lost-love. He managed to create the ultimate love story and to express the ideal of the American dream in his novel, “The Great Gatsby”. He wrote in the 1920’s (the Jazz Age) and he saw American life as both “vulgar and promising” as he showed in his work. In this book he is properly critical of this dream of “success”, aware of its illusory nature and its disregard for the complexities of real life. 

The Great Gatsby’s plot

The novel is set in New York and the narrator is Nick Carraway. He has come up to New York from the Mid-West (like Gatsby and Fitzgerald himself). It is Nick who interprets Gatsby to the reader.

Gatsby is an enigmatic figure, a mysterious “self-made man”, who appears to have achieved the American dream of immense wealth, and is the owner of a palatial mansion where he holds fabulously extravagant parties, open to everyone, given week after week all through the summer. At the heart of this glamorous world, Nick discovers, is emptiness: the emptiness of Gatsby’s unhappy love for Daisy Buchanan, whom he had met when he was too poor to marry her. Daisy is now unhappily married to Tom Buchanan, a brutal and domineering representative of the older wealthy families, who has a squalid love affair with the wife of a garage owner, Myrtle. Gatsby has now made the fortune ho so desperately wanted. All through the book people speculate about the source of his wealth and his true identity. Only at the end do we learn that he made his money as a “bootlegger” (a seller of illegal liquor during the Prohibition period). All he can do with his wealth is buy house in the neighbourhood where Daisy lives and give party after party, hoping one day she will appear at one of them and fall in love with him again. Although he is successful in this, his naïve illusions are too fragile a basis for any lasting relationship, and Daisy herself is shallow and indecisive. One day the garage owner discovers his wife’s love affair. To escape his violent reaction, she runs out of the house, and is run down by Gatsby’s yellow car, driven by Daisy. To protect Daisy, Gatsby pretends he was driving the car at the moment of the accident, and is eventually killed by the jealous husband, while Daisy, without revealing the truth, returns to her frivolous and vacuous existence. Nick Carraway turns away in disgust from lives founded on amoral passions, self-assertion and emotional indulgence.
All the same, he sees Gatsby’s illusion as a symbol of the life of America in the 20’s. Nick’s closing words, in fact, are:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future the year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out arms further… And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The illusion in “The Great Gatsby”

In the novel, The Great Gatsby, many of the characters live in an illusory world, though few can see reality. All of the rich people in this book have some sort of illusion surrounding their persons, but Gatsby has the greatest of all illusions surrounding him.
He is presented as living the charmed life, with plenty of friends, no problems, and an honest man. In the end his whole illusion unravels and we find that he has plenty of problems, is very dishonest, and has no true friends. He longs for companionship with Daisy, and still can never have that.
In fact Tom discredits his name in front of Daisy when he finds that Gatsby has interested in Daisy.
He wants to keep his past a secret, and set everyone up to see that he is living a great life, everyone adores him, and has no problems. In addition, Jay Gatsby's real name is James Gatz. This is all well and fine until his illusion crumbles and in turn brings the demise of Daisy and Toms relationship, and his death. Because Gatsby set up this fallacy, Myrtle was killed, Wilson was killed, Gatsby was killed, and Myrtle's and Toms relationship was killed. The reality of the Gatsby’s situation is that he is a crooked business man, a no good person, a cheat. Gatsby made his money in underhanded schemes, illegal activities, and the hurting of many people. This was all done for one reason, the love of his life, Daisy, who could not accept him because he was not rich enough.
An illusion is also occurring in the marriage of Tom and Daisy. Both of them are having affairs and they continue to live together as if they are happily married. They probably did this because they wanted to still be sociable with other rich members of high society; they did not want to become out casts.
In both cases, Gatsby, Tom and Daisy are happy until their illusion comes crashing down on them, revealing the horrors of reality.
Even after all the parties Gatsby has thrown, nobody comes to his funeral. The members of high society have realized the illusion that he has created around himself.
Another character, Nick Carraway, is one of the few people in The Great Gatsby that lives in reality.

"They're a rotten crowd. You're worth the whole damn bunch put together,"
is an example of how Nick realizes the corruption that money brings. In the novel, Nick portrays the most honest person because he does not lie or cheat. Nick's house is modest, unlike Gatsby's or Daisy's huge mansions. Nick realizes that money is not everything.

Percorso interdisciplinare di marianna zilli anno scolastico 2004-2005 liceo scientifico "G.Oberdan" Trieste


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