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gatdream Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – Casting Doubt Upon the American Dream

Casting Doubt Upon the American Dream in The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby’ is set in the Jazz Age of America, the 1920s which have come to be seen as a bubble of extravagance and affluence which burst with the Wall Street Crash in 1929. Fitzgerald wrote the book in 1925, and in it he explores the fundamental hollowness which characterized the Age as he saw it, and casts doubt upon the very core of American national identity – the American Dream.

The American Dream is a concept elegantly simple and yet peculiarly hard to define. At the root of it is the sense that America was created entirely separate from the Old World; the settlers had escaped from the feudal, fractious and somewhat ossified nations of Europe and been presented with a chance to start anew – “a fresh green breast of the new world.” From this blank slate, those first idealistic settlers had created a society where “all men are created equal” and everyone had the chance to do the best for themselves as they could. Let us examine the passage from the Declaration of Independence from which that quote is taken:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

A fine and daring ideal in the 18th century, and at the heart of what America hoped that it stood for. ‘The Great Gatsby’ examines how this dream existed in the early 20th century and whether or not it had been accomplished. The American Dream permeated all of society, and so every one of the characters in the book is in some senses a reflection of the the world envisaged by Jefferson and Washington, and even before them by those first people fleeing to a new life in the New World.

When we examine the characters in the book we can immediately see that they are not all born equal. Daisy and Tom, and to some extent Nick, are born into a rich, ‘old money’ environment which is symbolised in the novel by the established wealth of East Egg – a place of glittering “white palaces”. Gatsby and the Wilsons are not ‘old money’, and despite Gatsby’s wealth we get the impression throughout the book that through all his parties and social events he is trying to join that old clique, but never succeeding in elevating himself to the “distinguished secret society” of Tom and Daisy.

The Holy Bible as a Sustained Allusion

The Bible as a Sustained Allusion

The Bible is a sustained allusion throughout the course of East of Eden, paralleling with the eternal story of Cain and Abel. According to the Bible, Cain is the “tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2). Caleb Trask, a farmer at heart, made a vast amount of money by selling beans. Upon presenting Adam with his present of fifteen thousand dollars, Adam not only discarded the gift, but caused Cal pain by comparing him to his godly brother, Aron, who graduated high school and started college at an early age. Adam wished that Cal could have given him something to be proud of-something momentous. Adam’s reaction induced Cal with excessive wrath out of rejection. In the Bible, the Lord “had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?'” (Genesis 4:4-7).

“Your son is marked with guilt out of himself . . . don’t crush him with rejection, Adam. Give him your blessing. Help him, Adam! Free him! Bless him!” (777). The dry lips of the sickly, dying man parted and failed, then tried again to form the name of his son. His lungs filled, then he “expelled the air and his lips combed the rushing sigh. His whispered word seemed to hang in the air . . . then his eyes closed and he slept” (778).

Set in the growing Salinas Valley in northern California during the time span stretching from the Civil War to World War I, East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, is the powerful tale of an idealistic man desperately trying to raise his motherless twin boys solely with the hel…

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…My punishment is greater than I can bear! I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me” (Genesis 4:13-14). As Lee and Cal stood before Adam on his deathbed, Lee pleaded to Adam, “Your son is marked with guilt out of himself-out of himself-almost more than he can bear . . . give him your blessing. Don’t leave him alone with his guilt. Give him your blessing!” (777). Adam’s breath came quick with his effort and then, slowly, his right hand lifted-lifted an inch and then fell back. In response to Cain’s cries, the Lord assured Cain that he would not be harmed. “And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:15-16).

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