Set in a time of decadence and debauchery, ‘The Great Gatsby’ highlights the beauty of a superficial life alongside the death of the American Dream.
The 1920s saw a post-war boom in industry, building America up to roaring heights before the devastating crash of 1929. Gatsby symbolises America in this period: he is a creation of his own mind, existing on his external appearances, and when the internal functions finally need tending to, demise is inevitable.
Nick, on the other hand, represents the struggle between the delight of the exterior mixed with an inherent need to identify how the interior works. This is why he is the only one stood by Gatsby, even after the tragedy: Gatsby’s other associations only care for his outer worth, and have no interest in celebrating his character. Whilst being sucked into Gatsby’s extravagance, Nick remains aware of his artificial surroundings, and is constantly at war with his feelings over this: his own home and work ethic show he is committed to being his own man, unlike Gatsby who is dependant on his ‘gonnegtions’.
Likewise, Daisy shows the corruption of ideals. Her heart is compromised by the need for instant security and material wealth. She cannot abide the life Gatsby promises, which means destroying the social circle she inhabits. Despite the heartbreak of Tom’s affair, she cannot bear the face of social scandal; her exterior is valued above her emotional state, again showing the dream for happiness as one pushed aside for the illusion of happiness.
In all, this is a haunting book: the American Dream is seen as just that – a dream, insubstantial and not available in conscious reality. It’s a question of morals and the dividing line between achieving happiness and achieving status – which is truly more important?