Symbols are frequently used in novels to help readers understand the story comprehensively. In Francis Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, symbols are widely used by the author for Jay Gatsby’s and George Wilson’s character development. The novel is set on Long Island’s North Shore and New York City during the summer of 1922, when the American economy soared during the ‘roaring’ 1920s, allowing many Americans to enjoy a high level of prosperity. However, at the same time, a prohibition law on the sale and manufacture of alcohol made millionaires out of bootleggers and led to an increase in organised crime. Nick Carraway arrives in 1922 New York in search of the ‘American Dream’. Nick, a would-be writer, moves in next-door to millionaire Jay Gatsby and across the bay from his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom. However, after meeting Gatsby, he is dragged into the world of bootlegging. In the novel, symbols such as the places where characters live and wealth are all interesting ideas and try to convey Fitzgerald’s clear theme to the reader of the seeking and downfall of the American Dream.
An important symbol that I found interesting is where Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, and George Wilson, owner of a run-down auto shop, lived, and how it symbolises their dream. The people who lived in East Egg were people who had attained the dream, wealth and power, whereas the people living in West Egg were still striving to gain their dream. Gatsby is wealthy enough to live in East Egg, however, he actually lived in an estate in West Egg. This is because Gatsby’s dream was not to be wealthy or powerful, but to be together with Daisy, a woman that he loved. “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” This is why he lived in West Egg; he was still striving to achieve his dream. However, George Wilson lived in an area between New York and West Egg that was called the “valley of ashes,” a “desolate area of land,” running his own garage. To me, this is symbolic in the novel because he was living in neither East nor West Egg, but in a place where people with lost dreams lived. The author portrays the valley he lives in to represent his lost dreams; he had not attained his dreams nor would ever do so. George Wilson and Jay Gatsby were two men living in two very different places, and these symbols helped represent the ‘American Dream’. These symbols show that money has no moral values, the huge gap between rich and poor and that in a society like the one of the early years of the twentieth century, many people became rich only by breaking the law. It shows that in our world, and especially in the 1920s USA, money becomes the only thing people think about and upgrading their social status is their primary aim, destroying any moral intentions they might have had. The downfall of the ‘American Dream’ also represents the reality of life showing that dreams remain dreams and the notion that nothing is as perfect as in our imagination.
Another important symbol that I found interesting is wealth, not just social and financial, but moral as well. In the book, Fitzgerald showed examples of all social classes, from the incredibly rich and wealthy to the poor who lived in the suburbs. Myrtle and Gatsby are both characters who primarily portray the search of the American Dream. For example, Myrtle lets Tom, her rich lover, push her around because her only dream is the false dream of richness and being with him gives her a feeling of power and nobility. She would rather be treated poorly and be the servant of a rich lover instead of being cared for lovingly by a poor husband. Her goal was to marry Tom so that she would get anything that she wanted and not have to worry about money. The author shows me that people would give up dignity in order to have material things, showing that we are a materialistic society, throwing money around on superfluous things. Another character who symbolises the American Dream, but is already living it, is Jay Gatsby. The difference between him and Myrtle is that he is extraordinarily rich. He succeeded in making a fortune on the prohibited sale of alcohol, tricking people and doing other illegal deeds, the opposite of what the American Dream is supposed to be (You’d better spell out somewhere exactly what the AD was originally meant to be). Gatsby is also an influential figure in the city and due to the ‘deeds’ that he does, he secures immunity from the police. However, the difference between Tom and Gatsby is where the money comes from and the moral wealth that goes alongside earning the money. Although Gatsby is very rich and important, his money is “new and dirty,” while Tom’s money is “old money” that is inherited by his family, but is honest. Tom will always be morally and socially superior compared to Gatsby and Daisy chooses to remain with Tom because of this superiority. This shows that the important thing is not having infinite sums of money, but attaining it honestly. At first, Gatsby is portrayed as be an arrogant and materialistic man with no values or sense of honour. However, at the end of the book, the author portrays him as a good, well mannered man who did the wrong things to win back the love of his life, Daisy, Tom’s wife. He starts the criminal business for this, convinced that the money would lure her back. The author shows me that for Gatsby, money is not the answer to winning back someone, and that honesty and morality are the key to true happiness. Tom and Daisy are immensely rich and have all they could possibly imagine. However they are not satisfied with their lives and are in constant search of happiness. Tom tries to put some excitement into his life while Daisy tries not to think too much about her life. Gatsby has all the money he always dreamt of but has not found his dream and happiness since can’t have the woman he wants. After reading the book I understand that the American dream is unobtainable and is therefore just a dream or fantasy. Dreams give life a purpose and a reason to work hard and, even if everything might turn out well, life will never be as beautiful as we had dreamt it. This is why I believe that we should be all content with his life when we obtain happiness and when we are sure that we have given it our best shot.
After reading the novel, I find that Fitzgerald has presented me with the strong message that money will not fulfil your dreams. The concept of money being able to buy happiness is another prevalent modernist theme found in the novel, The Great Gatsby. Money is unable to create a sense of fulfilment in any of the characters in the novel. Gatsby moves from North Dakota to Long Island’s West Egg and builds a corrupt empire in order to fulfil his dream of impressing Daisy and reclaiming his long lost love. He throws flamboyant parties in the hope that Daisy will come and be at one of them. In his mind, the only way Daisy will love him is if he is rich. He is right for a short while, as Daisy initially chooses Gatsby over Tom. However, that materialism is short lived and she eventually chooses Tom over Gatsby – demonstrating that in the end, money couldn’t buy Gatsby happiness. The idea that money can’t buy happiness is shown in modern society. Recently a study was conducted in the UK, in which the difference in the levels of happiness between similar sized and populated towns were tested. London is the wealthiest area of the UK, however, is the least happiest place out of all towns in the UK. While in North Ireland, the third poorest areas, 24 out of 26 districts surpassed the national average for wellbeing and happiness. This could further explain why so many high profile and famous people seem so desperately unhappy.Individuals from Cleopatra to Marilyn Monroe to Kurt Cobain and even Cleopatra, all of which were exceptionally wealthy, were unable to find happiness, with the result that they took their own lives. This novel serves as a reminder that money cannot buy happiness and that the secret to a happier life is not to get rich quick, but to enjoy every moment that passes by.
This same theme of the seeking and downfall of the American Dream is explored in the book Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck. During the American Depression, the two main characters find work on Curley’s farm and think that they can fulfil a dream if only they work hard enough. The two protagonists, George and Lennie dream about owning their own piece of land, to have animals, and live so no one will have control over them. Of Mice and Men shows that the American Dream was an illusion and a trap for workers in any period and questions if that dream has ever really existed. All the other workers who live on the farm also dream of life, liberty, happiness and independence but nobody gains it. This is shown by a quote in the text from a fellow worker Candy, when he overhears Lennie’s dream to own his own farm, “Nobody ever gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.”
In the captivating novel, The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the main character Jay Gatsby demonstrates an important message, that I believe relates to today’s modern society. The author has presented to me a strong message that money cannot buy happiness or gain your dreams for you. Gatsby is in pursuit of the American Dream, in the Roaring Twenties. Gatsby’s plan to rekindle a lost love with a woman named Daisy Buchanan is a good representation of the death of the American Dream, where money was supposed to buy you happiness. Gatsby’s way of making money is not honest and although he has a substantial amount of money, it cannot win back Daisy due to its dishonest origins. Through Gatsby’s ventures in winning back Daisy, we are given a clear message that dishonest money and lots of it cannot bring happiness and gain the American Dream, which will never be achieved because our own life will never be as glamorous as we had dreamt. I would recommend this novel to other Year 12 students who enjoy an insight into American history, the moral values(or lack of) in moneymaking and who ponder the question of whether we can ever really fully achieve what is in our dreams.