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Wealth and The American Dream in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the most characteristic authors of his time, the Jazz Age or Roaring Twenties in American history. As literary critic Heinrich Straumann (1965) argues, Fitzgerald is "usually looked upon as the most typical novelist of the first post-war generation" (110). It was a time of the Horatio Alger myth embodied within the American Dream, where hard work and upright behavior made millionaires of men like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Rockefeller, and other Americans. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows his admiration of such men in the idealized self-made success of the character of Jay Gatsby, a "cool" and "collected" millionaire with a mysterious past who seems to embody the highest outcomes of the American Dream (Crawford, 2007, p. 1). Yet the immoral behavior and excess of the era also proved to show a darker side of the American Dream, one where the "haves" and "have-nots" compete for their slice of the pie and the "haves" are not so far removed from the tactics and desires of the "have-nots." This analysis will discuss how the themes of wealth, the American Dream and the time period reveal Fitzgerald's exploration of the idea of America.

The excesses and impropriety of the Jazz Age, especially among the upper-classes, is notorious in American history. Despite it being an era of prohibition, historian Hudson Gevaert argues this did nothing to stop the wealth from "partying all over the place" (Gevaert, 1996, p. 1). Excess for this group was the norm and thoughts of paying consequences for such behavior were distant and rare for this class. It is this class in West Egg where Jay Gatsby resides. The narrator Nick seems to admire Gatsby initially in a way that Fitzgerald seems to have admired self-made tycoons of the era. We see this idealization of Gatsby and the sense of entitlement on Gatsby's part when Nick describes his exit from his house as a journey to "determine what ...

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