Picture your local gym, the floor littered with old overused machines waiting for their next user. There are sweaty people on treadmills and spin bikes, but none of them go anywhere.
They are stationary, just like the machine. In the moment, their world is in motion, but at the end of the day, nothing moves an inch. They have gone a certain “distance” but remain where they began. Putting in more effort will not increase your distance but it will satisfy their ambitions in the moment.
This is what leads to their downfall to attaining something that is out of their reach; by staying on the treadmill they are stuck in their desires of becoming stronger. This relates to Gatsby’s unwillingness to face the facts that he cannot “repeat the past” by becoming rich and trying to attain the lifestyle he had so dreamed of in his youth (59). In order to stay fit, Gatsby must continue to gain wealth and continuously put forth effort to hover at the fringes of his goals.
Through his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald utilizes imagery and symbolism to expose the American dream as an intangible bliss, always reached for but never fully obtained. With this, Fitzgerald demonstrates the deterioration of American values, and how the definition of the American dream has changed. Gatsby’s desire to achieve the American dream is not only influenced by his childhood but through his material wants. However, these do not directly mean that he will achieve the American dream. The first appearance of Gatsby shows him reaching toward something in the distance, something in sight, but out of reach. The reader sees him as he “stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way… Involuntarily Nick glanced seaward towards Daisy’s home– and distinguished nothing except a single green light” (12). Fitzgerald combined the two keywords: “stretched” and “green” to emphasize that Gatsby was going beyond what one could have normally done, reaching for something he desires, which is, in this case, is the green light.
However, the color of this light symbolizes not only money and wealth, but Gatsby’s own desire to achieve the American dream through his endeavors. This green light represents a materialistic view of the American dream and how people are morphing the definition of the American dream into something that relates solely with money. However, symbolically Gatsby will never be able to reach the green light because it does not exist and no matter how close he gets near it, he will always feel as though he is too far. Yet, he still tries, stretching to move closer and closer to his goal. Contrary to the idea of hope that is conveyed several times through the color green is the valley of ashes. Wilson is described as having an “ashen dust veiled… dark suit” and lives “where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens” demonstrating how as those piles grow, they then bury hope to those seeking the American dream (13,12). The valley of ashes is a representation of the byproduct of a nation that is obsessed with money. Those who are not able to achieve their economical desires are then trapped in this valley that is filled with industrial ashes that once helped bring others to the top of the world.
Wilson demonstrates someone who got stuck here because he was unable to accomplish his goal and achieve the American dream. Luckily for Gatsby, he is not stuck here, but that does not mean that he is able to achieve the American dream.He’s had this goal since he was young and he was not able to achieve it due to his parent’s low income. But because he was so determined he “changed his name at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career” for the sole reason of disassociating from the family name in an attempt to start over towards his path to the American dream (98). In order to achieve certain things, one must be motivated.
Gatsby was motivated. Motivated in the way that he wanted to achieve something that his parents could not. He finds the idea of success motivating with changing his name he sees it as starting over. However, this shows a deterioration of American values due to Gatsby solely looking for wealth and thinking that changing his name changes his opportunities.Gatsby believes that material happiness is the same as achieving the American dream. He finds wealth to be the key aspect in regards to this dream. When thinking about Daisy, a woman he “loves,” he finds “‘her voice to be full of money…’ High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl” (65). If Daisy’s voice guarantees money along with the American dream being undoubtedly linked with wealth then Daisy herself, as well as the green light on her dock must stand for the American dream.
In fact, Fitzgerald goes as far as describing Daisy as “high in a white palace the king’s daughter the golden girl” explicitly describing Daisy as a prize. However, Daisy is only human, fickle, flawed and most importantly, unable to epitomize the fantasy that Gatsby projects on to her. Therefore, meaning that the American dream that Gatsby desired is nothing but that, a fantasy. Here, Fitzgerald strips away Daisy’s appeal leaving only her money to be admired by Gatsby. Gatsby’s dream is no longer about love, but about the money that he thinks he can have if he were to “love” Daisy.
The American dream is a concept so flimsy and unreal that whether or not he tries to achieve it, he will never get close enough to get what he desires. Gatsby explains that “‘Daisy only married Tom because he was poor and she was tired of waiting for him'” (72). Therefore, when Gatsby felt as though Daisy was his, he felt like he achieved part of his American dream. He wanted to recreate a vanished part of him that existed in the past, yet he is unable to do so because Daisy was never really his and never will be. Even when he goes into his kiss her, “his heart beat faster and faster” but that is because he knew that he was getting even closer and closer to the money that she has (59). Explicitly, this ties Daisy to Gatsby’s American dream- money and a better life.
However, when Gatsby’s attempt to win over Daisy fails he also is failing his own goal of achieving the American dream. He sees Daisy as the only path that will directly take him to his goal and he must take her from Tom in order for that to happen. Ultimately, Fitzgerald uses this imagery as a way to demonstrate that the American dream is intangible and even though Gatsby continues to try to achieve it, he will never be able to fully obtain it. Gatsby is killed and with that, his American dream is killed along with him. While Gatsby parallels a rags-to-riches story, he was able to gain his wealth immorally, making it as though he doesn’t truly achieve parts of the American dream when he thought he had done so.
When initially looking for Gatsby, Nick found him floating in his pool and “there was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other (89). The American dream “flows” out of Gatsby, receding from existence. The hopes and dreams that inspired Gatsby were shattered as he floats there in the pool, still barely alive. George Wilson, the man who killed Gatsby, as well as the man that represents a common man who is merely trying to achieve his own version of the American dream, commits suicide.
Both the death of a rich man and a poor man demonstrates the death of the American dream and how neither of them were able to achieve their goals. Their dreams are now gone, floating in the pool next to them or surrounding them in the grass, never to be harvested by another. Later, Fitzgerald describes the vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, that had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams… Nick thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock” (99). Fitzgerald ends The Great Gatsby by hammering home the motif that runs rampant throughout the novel; the idea that people constantly seek out their unattainable dreams. Additionally, this passage once again mentions the color green now as Nick truly sees that Gatsby always desired to achieve the American dream. Fitzgerald uses imagery here to bring the reader back into the past to see how initially the island represented Daisy when Gatsby first saw her.
The vanishing trees represent Gatsby’s vanishing ability to achieve the American dream. Yet even in the end, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther” (99).
Fitzgerald switches from talking about Gatsby to talking about us as people part of a society. Gatsby is not the only one who will run faster and stretch their arm farther in an attempt to achieve the American dream. These final lines not only capture the hope that Gatsby believed in but also the hope that Americans have. However, he also demonstrates that these desires and hopes are obtainable through the American dream. Ultimately, everyone wants to feel financially secure, and they all want to feel like they can achieve the American dream even if they no they can not.
They will continue to push themselves, just as if they were on a treadmill, but in the end, they have not progressed an inch. As human, we push ourselves, and we create goals every single day and do what we can to achieve those. Yet, there are somethings that are unachievable and that is just a fact. The American Dream is nothing but a dream; it is an unobtainable thought brought upon by society to make some feel like they can make this dream become a reality.