Outwardly, The Great Gatsby may appear to merely be a novel about the failed relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. However, the major theme of the novel has much less to do with love than with the culture of the 1920s as a whole. In this article, the various cultural elements reflected in The Great Gatsby which led to the downfall of the 1920s American Dream will be discussed, as well as their implications for the characters in the novel.
During the 1920s, the perception of the American Dream was that an individual can achieve success in life regardless of family history or social status if they only work hard enough. In the book titled “Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity”, the author Roland Marchand describes a figure that he feels represents the quintessential 1920s man who is living the American Dream. He writes, “Not only did he flourish in the fast-paced, modern urban milieu of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and pleasure-seeking crowds, but he proclaimed himself an expert on the latest crazes in fashion, contemporary lingo, and popular pastimes.” (Marchand) The Great Gatsby is not mentioned once in this book, however it is impossible to deny the resemblance between Marchand’s definition of a twenties man living the American Dream and Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby, who has risen from a poor childhood to being a millionaire with servants, a huge house, and dozens of friends. Gatsby epitomizes the idea of self-made success; he is successful financially and socially and he essentially created an entirely new persona for himself from his underprivileged past. All of the wealth and status which Gatsby acquired, that while on the surface made his life appear to be the precise definition of the American Dream were actually elements which led to it’s demise.