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In one sense this hardly seems newsworthy, but it is telling that even economists think that F Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece offers the most resonant and economical shorthand for the problems of social mobility, economic inequality and class antagonism that we face today.
Nietzsche — whose Genealogy of Morals Fitzgerald greatly admired — called the transformation of class resentment into a moral system "ressentiment"; in America, it is increasingly called the failure of the American dream, a failure now mapped by the "Gatsby curve".
Fitzgerald had much to say about the failure of this dream, and the fraudulences that sustain it — but his insights are not all contained within the economical pages of his greatest novel. Indeed, when Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby in Aprilthe phrase "American dream" as we know it did not exist.
Many now assume the phrase stretches back to the nation's founding, but "the American dream" was never used to describe a shared national value system until a popular novel called Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Risewhich remarked that "the fashion and home magazines … have prepared thousands of Americans … for the possible rise of fortune that is the universal American dream and hope.
That meaning is clearly emerging — but only as "possible" rise of fortune; a dream, not a promise. And as ofat least some Americans were evidently beginning to recognise that consumerism and mass marketing were teaching them what to want, and that rises of fortune would be measured by the acquisition of status symbols.
The phrase next appeared in print in a Vanity Fair article by Walter Lippmann"Education and the White-Collar Class" which Fitzgerald probably read ; it warned that widening access to education was creating untenable economic pressure, as young people graduated with degrees only to find that insufficient white-collar jobs awaited.
Instead of limiting access to education in order to keep such jobs the exclusive domain of the upper classes a practice America had recently begun to justify by means of a controversial new idea called "intelligence tests"Lippmann argued that Americans must decide that skilled labour was a proper vocation for educated people.
There simply weren't enough white-collar jobs to go around, but "if education could be regarded not as a step ladder to a few special vocations, but as the key to the treasure house of life, we should not even have to consider the fatal proposal that higher education be confined to a small and selected class," a decision that would mark the "failure of the American dream" of universal education.
These two incipient instances of the phrase are both, in their different ways, uncannily prophetic; but as a catchphrase, the American dream did not explode into popular culture until the publication of a book called The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams, which spoke of "the American dream of a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens of every rank, which is the greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world.
That dream or hope has been present from the start. Ever since we became an independent nation, each generation has seen an uprising of ordinary Americans to save that dream from the forces that appear to be overwhelming it.
Two years later, a New York Times article noted: Not only did the wage scales and our standard of living seem to promise riches to the poor immigrant, but the extent and natural wealth of the continent awaiting exploitation offered to Americans of the older stocks such opportunities for rapid fortunes that the making of money and the enjoying of what money could buy too often became our ideal of a full and satisfying life.
The struggle of each against all for the dazzling prizes destroyed in some measure both our private ideals and our sense of social obligation.
A New Declaration of Independence were arguing that "monopoly capitalism is morally ugly as well as economically unsound," that in America "the large majority should be able — in accordance with the tenets of the 'American dream' … to count on living in an atmosphere of equality, in a world which puts relatively few barriers between man and man.
The phrase the American dream was first invented, in other words, to describe a failure, not a promise: The impending failure had been clear to Fitzgerald by the time he finished Gatsby — and the fact that in most Americans were still recklessly chasing the dream had a great deal to do with the initial commercial and critical failure of The Great Gatsby, which would not be hailed as a masterpiece until the 50s, once hindsight had revealed its prophetic truth.
On 19 Octoberjust five days before the first stock market crash and 10 days before Black Tuesday, Scott Fitzgerald published a now-forgotten story called "The Swimmers," about an American working for the ironically named Promissory Trust Bank, and his realisation that American ideals have been corrupted by money.
This corruption is emblematised by sexual infidelity: There's a remarkable moment early in "The Swimmers" — which Fitzgerald called "the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space" — when an unfaithful wife, who is French, complains about the American women she sees on the Riviera: That's why all their faces over thirty are discontented and unhappy.
More than 15 years later, the Marxist critics Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer used a similar image of the typist who believed she would be a movie star to reveal the American dream as a rigged lottery that no one wins but everyone plays.
More remarkable than the fact that Fitzgerald beat Adorno and Horkheimer and the Occupy movement to the punch, however, is that he saw all this before Wall Street came smashing down. The villain of "The Swimmers" is a rich, vulgar banker who preaches an updated version of the gilded age's "gospel of wealth": Feeling increasingly alienated, the protagonist, Marston, finds himself musing on the meanings of America, and especially its eagerness to forget history: In England property begot a strong place sense, but Americans, restless and with shallow roots, needed fins and wings.
There was even a recurrent idea in America about an education that would leave out history and the past, that should be a sort of equipment for aerial adventure, weighed down by none of the stowaways of inheritance or tradition.
Historical amnesia is certainly liberating — so liberating that America is once again diving into free fall, unmoored by any critical or intellectual insight into its own myths, or even into the histories of the debates that we think define our moment.
Marston eventually decides that there is no place for him in the crass society symbolised by his rival, but he will not relinquish his faith in the ideals that America can represent.
As Marston sails for Europe, watching America recede into his past, Fitzgerald offers a closing meditation nearly as incantatory as the famous conclusion of Gatsby: There was a lost generation in the saddle at the moment, but it seemed to him that the men coming on, the men of the war, were better; and all his old feeling that America was a bizarre accident, a sort of historical sport, had gone forever.
The best of America was the best of the world … France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea, was harder to utter — it was the graves at Shiloh and the tired, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a phrase that was empty before their bodies withered.
It was a willingness of the heart. Meeting "the voice and embodiment of the jazz age, its product and its beneficiary, a popular novelist, a movie scenarist, a dweller in the gilded palaces", the reporter found instead, to his distinct hilarity, that Fitzgerald was "forecasting doom, death and damnation to his generation".
Fitzgerald's absurd prophecy was that America would face a great "national testing" in the very near future: Wait until this wave of prosperity is over!The Great Gatsby is a novel written by American author F.
Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living Considered to be Fitzgerald's magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance In addition to exploring the trials and tribulations of achieving the great American dream during the. Why is the American Dream so important to The Great Gatsby?
We analyze the role this key theme plays in the novel, using quotes, plot, and characters. Best Analysis: The American Dream in The Great Gatsby. Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Decline of the American Dream in the s. On the surface, The Great Gatsby is a story of the thwarted love between a man and a woman. The main theme of the novel, however, encompasses a . Theme Analysis. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic twentieth-century story of Jay Gatsby's quest for Daisy Buchanan, examines and critiques Gatsby's particular vision of the 's American Dream.
Jay McInerney: why Gatsby is so great F Scott Fitzgerald's novel set amid the riotous frivolity of the jazz age defines the American psyche, . Jan 01, · This guide also offers an excellent account of the themes, symbolism, and characters of the book including the geography, the weather, and the American Dream.
But it truly stands out in its contextualizi This study guide has a complete and excellent summary and analysis of the High School staple, The Great Gatsby/5.