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Dream Failures: Both Gatz and Gatsby

By Jack Gorman, V Form 

The American Dream is an imperfect concept. It is also individual. James Gatz and Jay Gatsby had different American Dreams in the novel The Great Gatsby. While James Gatz wanted to be rich, famous, and among the elite, Jay Gatsby discovered a new journey. His heart was set on Daisy. But, while Jay Gatsby was lusting after his would-be lover, Gatz fell into the shadows. What about his American Dream? Gatsby let his new persona’s dreams overpower his original dreams and in doing so makes a terrible mistake. He took a successful concept and shattered it. He took the prizes of his effort and devalues them. So who really lived their American Dream, Jay Gatz? Or James Gatsby?American Dreams follow recurring themes, such as economic prosperity and the pursuit of happiness, which all lead towards a better life. On a more tragic note, another recurring theme is failure. In “In a Far Country” by Jack London, Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert attempt to reach the Yukon to join the gold rush. It is a long and arduous journey, but they know what awaits them when they arrive. They know that when they strike it rich, they will not need to work anymore and can live out the rest of their lives in leisure. When they join an expedition, they find their dreams of wealth are not as easy to attain as originally thought. They make the attempt, but fail to travel all the way to the Yukon. Instead, they take the easy way out by stopping at an abandoned cabin to spend the rest of the winter. Slowly and eventually, they go insane until they reach their breaking point and kill each other. This is an example of two American Dreams gone awry. Given the opportunity to see their dreams to consummation, the two men could not handle the stress. They cracked, gave up, and failed bitterly.

But what if they had the will to continue? Say, perhaps, Percy and Carter had the drive of James Gatz, could they have reached the Yukon, the gold rush, and eventually have created a reality out of their dreams? James Gatz, in his younger years, was in a place he was not happy with. His dream was to be rich and famous, but in his younger years he was far from wealthy. Gatz took steps to reach his goal, such as changing his name. Gatz even crafted a daily schedule to keep him on track of his goals of attaining the stature necessary to act, and eventually be, wealthy (his first American Dream).

Rise from bed. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.00 a.m.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling. . . . .. 6.15-6.30 ”
Study electricity, etc. . . . . . . . . . . . 7.15-8.15 ”
Work. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.30-4.30 p.m.
Baseball and sports. . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.30-5.00 ”
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00 ”
Study needed inventions. . . . . . . . . . . 7.00-9.00 ”(p 173)

Gatz, now Gatsby, took the time to plan his rise to fame and fortune. His persona changed from a poor boy to a man ready to take his dreams and aspirations into his own hands. He joined the wealthy Dan Cody on his yacht for five years, during which time Gatsby learned the ways of the wealthy. He took the first step to becoming rich, learning mannerisms necessary to act rich; he only lacked the money. “Fake it till you make it.”

On his rise to fame and fortune, Gatsby served in the First World War. Before seeing service, however, he met Daisy. He fell deeply in love with her, but was sent to war. While Gatsby longs to be with her, Daisy slips into her own journey. She married Tom Buchanan, a wealthy man who has no intention of seeing his wife taken by a poor officer. This is where James Gatz’s and Jay Gatsby’s American Dreams separate. Gatz wants money, but Gatsby desires Daisy. As Gatsby’s new obsession becomes his American Dream, the dreams of Jay Gatz are actually achieved. However, these successes are of little substance to Jay Gatsby, who does everything just for the purpose of meeting Daisy again and impressing her with the wealth and ‘dream’ status he deems she needs.

The dreams of James Gatz are achieved, but they are done so under the name Jay Gatsby. The fame and the fortune are his, thanks to a successful bootlegging career. Gatsby becomes a mysterious figure among the public and a well-known and respected man among New York City’s elite. But the American Dream of James Gatz is no longer a priority. To Gatsby, the money and fame is a means to an end and lack merit without Daisy. The money he gained, in fact, is responsible for attracting Daisy’s attention and eventually becoming reacquainted with her through her cousin and his neighbor, Nick Carraway. The money and the extravagant parties he throws do reunite him with Daisy, but his American Dream is murky and opaque, even with Daisy so close at hand, as the objectives of Gatz and Gatsby intertwine.

As previously noted, American Dreams are often fraught with failure. Gatsby gains access to Daisy, but she never becomes truly his. They visit in secret, but Daisy still belongs to Tom. In a confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, Gatsby tries to get Daisy to tell Tom that she not only doesn’t currently love him, but never did. “Daisy, that’s all over now. It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth- that you never loved him- and it’s all wiped out forever” (p 133). Gatsby’s idolatry of her had become too much and he lost Daisy. Before he can make amends and try again to gain her love, Gatsby is killed, curtailing his quest for his American Dream.

While they are technically the same person, James Gatz and Jay Gatsby had two different dreams although sharing some distinct similarities. Both revolved around possessions, and both were not easily attainable. James Gatz’s dream becomes a reality. He gets the wealth he was after. But, before James can live long enough to enjoy this dream, Gatsby had already moved on to a new dream. So, did Jay Gatsby live his American Dream? Not in the way James Gatz would have if he had not met Daisy. Gatsby attains the money and fame that Gatz wanted. Gatsby sees the completion of Gatz’s dream, but does not live to see his own. Gatsby’s death marks the end of both the quests of James Gatz and Jay Gatsby. By the time his original goal saw completion, Gatsby had powered forward in the name of love. This change in persona and change of heart left Gatz’s dream insignificant in his mind, dooming both dreams, rendering both failures.

Jack Gorman, a day student from Sudbury, Massachusetts, is in the Vth form. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music and spending time with his family and two dogs. 

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