The Rise and Fall of Fitzgerald’s American Dream

The Roaring 20s was a decade of great social, political, and economic change that swept a new culture and generation across America.

People moved into cities, found a way around prohibition, and spent their newfound money on consumer goods like ready-to-wear clothes and cars; the American Dream was in full swing. The Jazz Age, filled with authors and artists documenting the change of the times, is captured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, which all have some hint of personal nonfiction from him thrown in. Most famously, The Great Gatsby is the novel that is shown to encompass all that the Jazz Age and the Roaring 20s was; the money, the parties, and the alcohol. It is said to be a Great American Novel of the 1920s, a novel that perfectly incases everything about the generation and what it is. But why is a short, 180-page novel the gateway into a previous generation? The Great Gatsby is the gateway into the ever-changing 1920s because people always prefer fiction over nonfiction, and the way that Fitzgerald mixes fiction with nonfictional elements is in a way that gives people a realistic insight to what really would go on back then.

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Fiction is a powerful tool that authors use to express ideas and to stimulate thought. People are more likely to be more open minded to fiction rather than nonfiction because with fiction, people do not necessarily feel like they are being impressioned with certain ideologies and thoughts; they think they are just reading a story. Authors can incorporate different symbols that can be used to represent the ideas and thoughts they are trying to express, and those symbols can tell a bigger story than what the author actually writes. People also seem to get more emotionally attached to fictional characters, leading the reader to root for the underdog, which is something that does not necessarily happen in reality. Between symbolism and incorporating thoughts, novels can also be a time capsule into the past.

If an author, like Fitzgerald, writes about the glorification of a time period while he is living through it, the novel is going to have an aura of authenticity that is incomparable to a historical retelling of the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby to portray the decline of the American Dream throughout the 1920s. People today see the 1920s, the Jazz Age, as the peak of the American Dream; the soldiers were home from World War I, the money was good, society was changing, and people thought things were going great. And things were going great at first, things were becoming more about individualism and the pursuit of happiness, compared to the ridged societal structures of the past, but then society started to become too reckless, both nationally and on personal levels. The way that Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby is in a way that is potentially telling very similar, very true stories of the extremely rich people who lived back then. The new money was clashing with the old money, the parties were extravagant, and the alcohol was flowing, but the moral decline of the American Dream was quickly happening.

People were having affairs with no remorse, new money families were gaining their money illegally, and flappers became a sign of the times. Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, and Jordan Baker all represent the societal change and downfall that occurred during the Roaring 20s. They were reckless, rich, perfect examples of the corruption of the American Dream. After fighting in WWI and coming home to America, Nick and Gatsby had a newfound recklessness in them; they became intensely disillusioned with life, with Gatsby going as far as creating a seemingly perfect life for himself and going through extreme measures to try to get his first love from a previous life back to him. Tom represented the arrogance that the old money men felt towards everyone who either did not have the amount of money they did, or towards the new money men who gained their wealth from bootlegging during prohibition.

Daisy and Jordan were the flighty, careless but classy, perfect representations of all the extravagance and carefree attitudes of the flappers of the decade. While all of the main characters are representing a different aspect of society during the 1920s, Nick Carraway is the perfect example of the collapse of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby is written from Nick’s point of view, and that gives the readers a more firsthand account of collapsing along with the American Dream. Nick is star struck by the fast paced, risque lifestyle of being in New York; being caught up in the affairs of both Daisy and Tom is something that he could never imagine happening in his old Midwestern life. On the other hand, though, Nick finds that lifestyle, the affairs and the carelessness, as something repulsive and damaging. Besides witnessing everyone’s moral decline, he also goes on a slight decline himself with having a casual relationship with Jordan and by seeing his new world change around him.

Nick is a perfect symbol for the decline of the American Dream because they both started out with looking for the pursuit of happiness and a change of pace, but quickly they both started crashing and burning when the people became careless and reckless with no remorse. In chapter nine, the last chapter of the novel, Nick goes on a lengthy internal monologue about the events of the summer. During that, he goes on to say “That’s my Middle West . . .

the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark… I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.” What Nick is saying that because they, Daisy, Gatsby, Tom, Jordan and Nick himself, are all from the more traditional, simple ways of the Middle West, it was harder for them to adapt to the extravagant lifestyle of the Jazz Age of New York without any repercussions, and that once they reached the Jazz Age, it was difficult for them to stop, leading them to become reckless and subtly unadaptable to their newfound lifestyles.

The theme of the fall of the American Dream is a major theme in The Great Gatsby because throughout the course of the novel, Fitzgerald portrays the Roaring 20s and American Dream in a fictitious way that encaptured both the glamor and the recklessness of that generation. Authors decide to use fiction to represent the changing times and different ideas because people always prefer fiction over nonfiction. People are more willing to read fiction; they want to get lost into a story that is seemingly mainly about an affair between old and new money, not read explicitly about the rise and fall of the American Dream during the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald managed to incorporate the rise and fall of the American Dream in a way that still romanticizes the Roaring 20s, but also shows the truth that went along with the reckless, changing attitudes that people admire.