The title of this post is one of the titles F. Scott Fitzgerald considered and almost settled on for The Great Gatsby. This would have led people to take a more political lens on the novel, which is what we'll try to do for this final chapter, which ends with a powerful meditation on the promise and perils of the American Dream.
What does that phrase, "The American Dream," really mean? Watch these videos first:
The New York Times' report on the enduring idea of the American Dream
Interviews with average Americans about the meaning of the phrase
John Green's summary of the history and future of the concept
John Green applying these observations to The Great Gatsby
The question raised by the novel is: Was the American Dream ever possible, and is it still? Or has it died?
Here are two videos to get you thinking about that.
This video uses the American Philosopher Richard Rorty's ideas to argue it is still alive
This video uses the German Philosopher Karl Marx's ideas to argue it is dying
Fitzgerald, for his part, definitely felt the American dream was at the least, threatened. Sometimes he leans toward Rorty's Gatsby-like hopefulness; other times (especially later in his life) he leans toward Marx's pessimism about the idea that progress can continue forever. When you consider what happens to the lower class vs. upper class at the novel's end, you can see that pessimism in action. But what about the final passage?
"Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
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 — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning —--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Your goal is to write a paragraph summarizing your take on the American Dream and these last paragraphs of the novel. Does Fitzgerald suggest Gatsby IS America? And that America's Dream is as dead as he is? Or is he saying something else? And whatever you think he's saying, DO YOU AGREE? WHY OR WHY NOT??
Mr. Justin Biggs