The Great Gatsby and Citizen Kane: Depictions of theAmerican Dream
F.Scott Fitzgerald`s TheGreat Gatsby revealthe costly life of pursuit the American dream will bringthe unpredictable consequences. Variouspieces of literature have portrayed the American dream differently.While the dream has always been hailed as the greatest motivation formajority of Americans in the previous and present generations, thefact that many people do not clearly understand what the dreamactually is, or how it is to be pursued leaves them with undesiredand unexpected consequences. F. Scott Fitzgerald in TheGreat Gatsby portraysthe American dream as a failure. In CitizenKane, Orson Wellesdepicts the American dream in more or less the same way. The pursuitof the American dream leads to failure of the main characters, and acause and effect analysis as well as a assessment of the characters`pursuit of the dream in Fitzgerald’s and Welles` works points tothe pursuit of American dream as a self-defeating agenda.
First, different people have different way tocomprehend the American dream. First, we get to learn from F.Fitzgerald`s The Great Gatsby about the American dream asportrayed by various characters. At the beginning of the novel, it isevident that the American upper-class kind of lifestyle is the onethat many people hoped to live. Such an expectation made many peopleseek a flashy life that would bring them satisfaction. Notably,Gatsby saw material wealth as the show of prosperity. According toFitzgerald, when Gatsby had a chance to take a look at Daisy’sflamboyantly decorated residence, he developed his own version of thekind of life he should live (94). It contrasted the kind of life hewas born in, one in which daily struggles are the norm. Taking aglimpse at Daisy’s house was the beginning of the main character’sjourney to pursuing the American dream. Therefore, just as theAmerican dream advocates the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction inthe United States’ Declaration of Independence, Jay Gatsby decidesto follow it. However, Gatsby opts for the controversial route ofamassing wealth to attain his predetermined objectives. Specifically,Fitzgerald indicated that the main hero decides to resort to illegalalcohol deals in a bid to make wealth the quick and easy way (85). Inhis endeavors, Meyer Wolfsheim seemed to have played a pivotal rolein aiding Gatsby to enrich himself. As a fact, the energetic Gatsbyis ready to subdue all moral barriers in his pursuit of the Americandream. Meanwhile, the main hero is proud to have joined the ranks ofthe wealthy. Gatsby is deeply convinced that he belongs to theprivileged class as a result of his fortunes. Subsequently, hisefforts of winning Daisy gain momentum. His romantic efforts do notcease after Daisy decided to marry Tom Buchanan whom she feels willgive her the kind of life she anticipates (Fitzgerald 79). Accordingto Daisy, Tom is the ideal reflection of future security for the restof her life.
Secondand interestingly, Gatsby does not give up after realizing the womanhe loves has opted to marry a wealthy man. Instead, Gatsby believedthat he can give Daisy a better life (Fitzgerald 87). Therefore, thisshows that the materialistic mentality that Gatsby had, overrated theexternal appearances. Moreover, Gatsby’s moral decay makes himdevelop an interest for crowded parties, something he despisedearlier in his life. Fitzgerald systematically describes how the maincharacter in the novel engages in casual entertainments (38-42).During these social events, Gatsby was also able to meet severalprominent figures (Kochan 101). The experience made Gatsby feel thathe was indeed on the right track in his pursuit of the AmericanDream. It is during these crowded events that the narrator, NickCarroway, notices how the occurrences were quite distasteful.According to Nick Carroway, Gatsby does not see the unpleasant sideof the causal entertainments in West Egg. Carroway narrates, “Thesame sort of people, the same profusion of champagne, the same manycolored, many-keyed commotion” (Fitzgerald 67). The statement showsthat Jay Gatsby, just like his fellow party enthusiasts did not seethe absurdity of the events he was participating. From a moralperspective, the author shows the notions of success that many peoplehold usually have foundations on the wrong assumption.
Third,the nature of Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy makes his version ofthe American dream to fail considerably. According to Fitzgerald,Daisy is a beautiful young woman who has charms that can tie any man(65). She is the embodiment of prestige, wealth, and prosperity,qualities that Gatsby seeks to achieve in life. As part of Gatsby’smisguided understanding of love, he decides to buy a luxuriousmansion near Daisy’s house, to show Daisy that he was the perfectmatch for her. He appears deeply convinced that the possession of thevaluable items signifies his belonging to the privileged society. Themain character’s worldview reflects the overly materialisticmentality of the American nation whereas the outside appearance ishighly overrated. Moreover, the criminal experience left a deep stainon Gatsby’s character. It becomes evident on several occasions thatthe main hero acquired a neatly concealed mercilessness and looked“as if he had “killed a man” whenever Gatsby faced a threat(Fitzgerald 86). Along with the corrupted moral, Gatsby seems to havedeveloped a taste for the crowded parties. The narrator provides theaccurate accounts of these social events that encompass hundreds ofprominent figures (Fitzgerald 39-41). However, during the casualentertainments, Nick Carroway comes to notice the unpleasantness ofthe situation. In his words, the West Egg society that included “thesame sort of people, the same profusion of champagne, the same manycolored, many-keyed commotion” was highly unaware about theabsurdity of its lifestyle. (Fitzgerald 67). Therefore, the novelreveals that the common ideals of prosperity are often based on thewrong assumptions. Gatsby’s misguided obsession is also evidentwhen, upon learning that Daisy had married Tom Buchanan when Gatsbywent to war, he goes to Oxford to further his studies. According toFitzgerald, Gatsby decides to disregard Daisy and Tom’s marriage,both native members of the upper class (85). However, Daisy, unlikeGatsby, is not obsessed with her initial relationship to the now-richGatsby. Instead, she wants to build the desired level of comfort andsecurity in her life (Fitzgerald 96).
Fourth,we also see that the main heroine is far more interested in buildinga comfortable life. In her opinion, the daily routine should be fullof pleasant and shallow moments such as numerous dates, cheerfulinteractions and shopping (Fitzgerald 96). Her marriage to Tom seemsto have happened due to her immense need for stability while Gatsbywas at war. In words of the narrator, it is a union of unclearmotives that could include love, money or “unquestionablepracticality” (Fitzgerald 96). Marriage to Tom brought the sense ofclosure and relief as well as the desired order into Daisy’s life.Meanwhile, Fitzgerald strongly emphasizes the overall carelessness ofDaisy and Tom as the members of the upper class. It is especiallyevident from Tom’s intention to reveal the truth about Gatsby,cause his death and escape the responsibility (Fitzgerald 114).Therefore, the marriage among the wealthy people resembles the unionof similar character rather than the loving couple. Fitzgerald pointsout that Gatsby’s love that is essentially an obsession with theidea of love, money and success. In the end, the surreal feelings forDaisy lead his dream and life to a sad ending. Gatsby’s misguidedviews about wealth, social class, and love causes his untimely death.Gatsby remains blind to Daisy’s betrayal of the love they onceshared, when she married Tom. Eventually, Tom suspects Gatsby ofmaking love with his wife, and then uses his social status to makeeveryone to believe that Gatsby killed George Wilson’s wife, MyrtleWilson, resulting in Gatsby`s death (Fitzgerald 114).
Throughthis introduction and knowledge of the characters` view of, andpursuit of the American dream, wesee that at the beginning of Fitzgerald’screative fictional piece, the majorcharacters had high expectations of what they thought was the kind offuture life they would have loved to get (Robert, Hirschl &Foster 111). However, at the climax of the novel, the pursuit of theAmerican dream turned out to be quite illusory. Eventually, theinflated expectations that these characters had, work against them.According to Kochan, this shows that in the 1920s, people had highhopes about the American dream (89). The concept of the Americandream as portrayed in Fitzgerald’s TheGreat Gatsby is amisguided one. In other words, it is a vision that becomes elusivesince many people do not understand just how to go about pursuing thedream thus, such a pursuit can lead an individual to failure and anunsatisfactory ending.
The second segment of this paperentails the cause and effect analysis of the pursuit of the Americandream. It is evident from the novel, that the pursuit of the Americandream can lead a person to failure. Jay Gatsby who changes his namefrom James Gatsby is the main character through which the authorvividly portrays how the American dream eventually leads to failure(Kochan 65). Cullendescribed the American dream as a set of national ethos, whichemphasize that any willing individual can have the chance to prosperthrough hard work whereby no barriers exist to limit anyone’ssuccess irrespective of their nationality, background, gender, andreligious affiliation (76).
First, in The GreatGatsby, the author gives a chronological account of how theAmerican dream begins, how people pursue it with the aim of attainingsuccess that comes only after hard work, and the subsequent result ofblindly pursuing it. In his fictional masterpiece, Fitzgeraldinitially places us in the early 1920s through a brief background ofWorld War I. Cullen indicated that this was a period of high tensionin all parts of the United States (98).
Second in chapter two, the author introduces a young and vibrantcouple, George and Myrtle Wilson who are working hard to elevate thestandards of their life this is the first depiction of the Americandream. In chapters four and five, Fitzgerald brings in Jay Gatsby’sultimate objective, to win Daisy Buchanan. In spite of the expansivenature of the materialistic possessions he has, winning Daisy wouldgive him peace of mind this results in a relationship between Daisyand Gatsby. In the subsequent chapters, the author shows how Gatsbywas able to accumulate a lot of wealth as a result of his involvementin organized crime (Fitzgerald 87). To Gatsby, this was the quickestway of obtaining the requisite wealth for wooing the woman he hadloved ever since he set his eyes on her. However, things just do notturn out the way Gatsby expected.
Thirdly,the pursuit of the American dream also leads Gatsby to failure due tohis self-abasement. Gatsby’s misguided views about wealth, socialclass, and love caused his untimely death. Concerning his views aboutlove, Gatsby is unrealistic because he seems to deceive himself.According to Fitzgerald, Gatsby disregards the inner character of thewoman he fell in love with (77). Instead, he values outside beauty.He remains blind about Daisy’s betrayal of the love they onceshared. Daisy betrayed the connection between Gatsby and her byopting to marry Tom since the former was out fighting for hiscountry. Surprisingly, Gatsby ignores Daisy’s betrayal and instead,decides to pursue her. At the prevailing circumstances, Gatsby couldhave opted to look for another young woman to marry instead oftrespassing into Daisy’s supposed marriage. Indeed, this impliesthat Gatsby was trapped in illusion hence, his perception of realitywas largely obscured by his intense obsession. The main hero’sillusory conduct manifests itself when he instigates a seeminglyperilous conflict with the wealthy and powerful Tom. Therefore, thismakes Tom to suspect Gatsby of making a move on his wife (Fitzgerald111). Tom’s suspicion becomes the beginning of Gatsby’s regretfulfate. Therefore, Tom decided to craft a way of revenge. He uses hissocial status to make everyone to believe that Gatsby killed GeorgeWilson’s wife, Myrtle Wilson (Fitzgerald 114). Gatsby’s lack ofconcern about the safety and security of his future reveals howcareless he is about his life in his pursuit of his version of theAmerican dream. In essence, this shows that the main character in thenovel obliviously jeopardizes his life in his efforts of trying towin Daisy eventually, he dies alone. Principally, Fitzgerald showsthat a blind pursuit of the Native American dream can lead a personto failure.
Fourth,we see, from the novel, that Jay Gatsby is the perfect embodiment ofthe negative consequences of pursuing the American dream blindly.Such pursuit did not bring him to a satisfactory ending. Gatsby comesfrom humble backgrounds in North Dakota. His parents are poor peasantfarmers (Fitzgerald 17). This motivates him to devise a way to uplifthis low status in life. As a result of his efforts, he becomesextraordinarily wealthy. Gatsby’s other motivation is his obsessionwith Daisy. Gatsby feels that nothing should stand in his way in hisefforts to pursue all his dreams. According to Robert,Hirschl, and Foster, in the traditional American dream, peopleonly achieve their objectives as a result of sheer hard work that isdevoid of get-rich-quick schemes (102). However, Gatsby’s versionof the American dream is one in which there is no harm in obtainingwealth through organized crime. Another outcome of the dream on acharacter is depicted in George Wilson. At the initial stages of thenovel, the author portrays George as a young energetic man who aimsat reaching the peak of his dreams. His marriage to Myrtle Wilson hasplaced him in a good position of attaining the prosperity status. According to Fitzgerald, George works exceptionally hard in his shop(36). The reason for his hard work is the increasing demands of life.As such, George works hard to make the best out of his life. Hepursues the American dream but along the way, he seemingly does notgive his wife the attention she needs. The consequence of his blindpursuit of his desire is Myrtle’s extramarital affair with TomBuchanan (Rosch 90). Duringthe affair with Tom, Myrtle discovers that she can have analternative route to attaining both wealth and status through theformer’s influential social standing. In the end, everything turnsout horribly wrong for George. His wife gets entangled in an affairwith the wealthy Tom (Fitzgerald 121). Furthermore, he loses hiswife, which compels him to develop a vengeful attitude towardsGatsby. Unknown to him, Gatsby is not the reason for his wife’suntimely death.
Itis clear therefore, based on an analysis of the text, that TheGreat Gatsby shows thatthe blind pursuit of the American dream dooms is not what it wasexpected to be, initially. It has its consequences to the pursuers,most of who happen to end up miserable, or dead. The authorreveals the corrupted ideals that helped to build the American nationand shaped its features during two centuries. At the same time, thenovel presents the connection between the participants of the lovetriangle including Gatsby, Daisy and Tom. The American dream is justdoomed to fail. It is evident from Gatsby’s the self-deceptiveworldview, unrealistic feelings for Daisy and wrong vision of theAmerican dream.
The third segment focuses on the outcomes of F. Scott Fitzgerald`sThe Great Gatsby and Welles` Citizen Kane. The GreatGatsby reveals the costly life of the pursuit of the Americandream and how it can bring unintended consequences. It is evident, inFitzgerald`s illustration, that people will do anything, includingindulgence in murder, illegal activities such as sale of drugs,betrayal, and other extreme actions to achieve their intendedoutcomes.
First, while the rich use their wealth and influence to manipulateand control the rest of the society, the poor take deliberateactions, risky or unlawful as they may be, to achieve wealth(Fitzgerald 85). Gatsby, in this context, stands out as a classicexample of an individual who pushes himself to the limit, to achievea great life which to him will please his lover, Daisy. He opts toindulge in the selling of alcohol. The pursuit of the American dreamis also seen to destroy marriages. George Wilson, for instance,becomes so committed to achieving his desires that he overlooks hiswife`s demands, resulting in her desire and decision to engage in anillicit affair with Tom Buchanan. As money and wealth seem todominate over morals in the context of the American dream, it becomesa normal situation for one to go about convincing a married woman toleave her husband just because of a previous relationship thatexisted. As the pursuit of the American dream continues, charactersfind newer ways of undermining one another. Gatsby is driven by rageand jealousy when he sees how well Daisy`s house was built andmaintained. He decides to buy a prestigious apartment near Daisyregardless of the fact that he is not as wealthy as Daisy`s husband,Tom. Gatsby`s actions are motivated by the hope that Daisy wouldnotice his affluence and become attracted to him. Tom decides thathis wife, Daisy, is his and no one is taking her away, yet he alsowants to be with George`s wife, Myrtle. The consequence is the deathof Myrtle (Fitzgerald 114).
Second, different people have different ways of understanding theAmerican dream. To most of the characters in the novel, however, theAmerican dream is all about the pursuit of easy and quick money andwealth, not happiness. To some, such as Gatsby, the American dreamimplies having or possessing a lot of wealth, regardless of how it isacquired. Eventually, he succeeds in his plan and becomes wealthy.His other American dream is the pursuit of true love. His true lovewas Daisy who, unfortunately, was married to Tom. To Gatsby, hispublic image, particularly to the love of his life, Daisy matters somuch. He wants to have everything that will make Daisy see him as aperfect, successful man and thus be attracted to him. Unfortunately,he dies as a result of this very vision. Gatsby is not alone in thepursuit of easy money. Meyer Wofshiem too is a representation ofpursuit of, not just easy money, but organized crime (Fitzgerald85-86). Others just want to be with someone who is wealthy, not poor.Myrtle, for instance, is motivated by the desire for easy and quickmoney. She leaves her husband, George Wilson and starts an illicitrelationship with Tom, a rich and handsome man. She notes that sheleft George after realizing that he was poor, that "he hadborrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never told meabout it, and the man came after it one day when he wasout…"(Fitzgerald 37). Clearly, she had previously thought thatGeorge was wealthy, only to realize later that he was not. Hermotivation, as well as that of Daisy, is neither true love norhappiness but the pursuit of wealth. F. Scott Fitzgerald testifiesthat in achieving the American dream, the desire dominates actthrough the characters. Whether he achieves the key elements of thedream, based on an individual`s definition of the dream largely theattainment of happiness, is up to him or her. It is also evident,from Gatsby`s perspective that once one has identified what theAmerican dream is to him, he must pursue it using all availableresources. The pursuit of the American dream is also seen to destroymarriages as desire is seen overpowering morality. George Wilson, forinstance, becomes so committed to achieving his desires that heoverlooks his wife`s demands, resulting in her decision to engage inan illicit affair. Eventually, evil triumphs against humanity, andthe pursuit of the dream in the fictional novel is turned to pursuitof other human beings, with the intention of harming them. As thepursuit of the American dream continues, characters find newer waysof undermining one another. Jealousy sets in as everyone moves tofulfill the dream. For instance, Gatsby is driven by rage andjealousy when he sees how well Daisy`s house was built andmaintained, he decides to buy a prestigious apartment near Daisy,with the hope that Daisy would notice his affluence and becomeattracted to him. Apparently, his determination and will toaccumulate as much wealth as he can seems to be the possiblestandards upon which to him, the American dream is measured. Men tendto perceive, from the perspective of the American dream, the outerbeauty of a woman as a more important element than the inner beautyhence her behavior, intelligence, and emotional status are overlookedfor the sake of the outer beauty.
Third, Citizen Kane uses figurative language, just asis the case in The Great Gatsby, to display the inconceivableend of the American dream. Charles Foster Kane is a happy child, fullof life and is excited. His parents are poor and he has no playmatesyet he is content and happy, never feeling the loneliness (Welles,Citizen Kane). When Kane unexpectedly receivesfinancial affluence and material luxury by Thatcher, most thecharacters in The Great Gatsby could consider it as theattainment of the American dream. This is comparable to Gatsby whosesource of wealth was also, not as a result of individual hard workand determination but rather, crime. The commencement of the Americandream for both Kane and Gatsby occurs at moments when they receivethe money which they actually did not work for. However, unlike suchcharacters a Gatsby and Myrtle who will be content and settle toenjoy the attainment of their dream, Kane is unhappy. He finds thathis newest acquisition does not make him happy, and that he wouldrather have his emotional security than financial security.Remembering how peaceful his childhood was contrary to his rich butunhappy present, he asks Susan Alexander, "I run a couple ofnewspapers. What do you do?" (Welles, Citizen Kane).
Fourth, it is observable that Kane and Gatsby are motivated byentirely different factors. The fact that Kane uses his newlyacquired wealth to either buy love or to make the other peoplemiserable, just as he is, represents the end of the American dreamwhich while previously idolized as the future that every Americanchild needs to look up to and attain in their life, becomes somethingto avoid. Ordinarily, a human being would prefer to have happinessinstead of a lot of wealth that does not give him peace or happiness.Kane`s isolation from other people and the resultant death at Xanaduimplies the end of the American dream (Welles, Citizen Kane).This is comparable to The Great Gatsby, where wealth becomes asource of the downfall of Gatsby. Kane has completely lost his peaceand is in constant attempt to revert back to his previous happy statebut the fact that he has decided to use the same wealthy he acquiredto frustrate other people makes it hard for him to relax. Clearly,instead of financial security being the source of one`s happiness, itbecomes the source of his misery if such wealth is not acquiredthrough hard work. Through the film Citizen Kane, Wellessuggests that the concept of `The American dream` no longer holds thesame value and meaning that it did long ago. The present world isfull of people who want quick money, as is exhibited in The GreatGatsby but such easy and quick wealth only leads to unhappiness,misery, and early death. As everyone in the current world ultimatelypursues happiness, the American dream, associated with financialprosperity in the minds of many people, no longer exists. TheGreat Gatsby and Citizen Kane both explore the theme ofthe American dream, and how attempts by main characters results inanguish, pain, disappointment, and eventually death. Also, the use ofsymbolism and characterization in both pieces of literature is soclear as to support the idea of the American dream being an illusionto many people. It is also evident from both pieces of work that thepursuit of each character`s dream becomes the cause of theirdownfall. In the Gatsby, Fitzgerald focuses on the limitlesspossibilities that exist for everyone, with the illustration of NickCarraways who views Gatsby as `a good man` but later retracts thosecomments after seeing that Gatsby was working towards his owndownfall by insisting on relating with Daisy. Fitzgerald clearlybrings out the idea that the American dream cannot be attained. It isa self-defeating concept as illustrated by, among others, George,Gatsby, and Kane in Citizen Kane. It is seen that Kane andGatsby spend lots of money in an attempt to please their lovers. Inan attempt to woo Daisy, Gatsby starts associating himself with largegroups of revelers, hosting them, and pampering them, all in aneffort to attract the attention and love of Daisy. Kane also spendshuge amounts of money buying his second wife a place which she hates,just as Gatsby spends lots of money to attract Daisy`s attention.However, while both Kane and Gatsby did not work hard in accumulatingtheir wealth, the difference between the two characters isnoteworthy. Kane inherits vast fortune which allows him to achievethe American dream without necessarily going through the strugglesthat everyone else undergoes.
In summary, F. Scott Fitzgerald`s The Great Gatsby revealsthe costly life of pursuit the American dream will bring theunpredictable consequences, ranging from diversion of focus andextreme unhappiness, to lose of morality. The Great Gatsbydepicts how the American dream can fail hence, bringing anunsatisfactory ending. Fitzgerald makes known the misconceptions thatpeople have about the vision despite the dream having been enshrinedin America’s Declaration of Independence. Conclusively, the causeand effect hence the essence of the American dream have beenelaborated by Fitzgerald from the perspective of various characters.It is also noticeable that Jay Gatsby and Kane in Citizen Kanehave a lot in common. They also have a lot that separates them. JayGatsby and Charles Foster Kane pursue various ways of achieving theAmerican dream but they fail miserably. At the same time, cleardifferences can be established with regard to how Kane and Gatsbypursue and fulfill the American dream. They are affected differently.
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