Posts Tagged ‘The Great Gastby’


Ever since America’s inception as a nation, our artists have always sought to tell their own “Great American Story.” Of course, there are innumerable examples of tales which fulfill this trope of the American Dream. However, the first two that come to my mind are Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film Rocky and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Both of these works of fiction seek to tell one American man’s personal quest to overcome all obstacles and achieve his ultimate goal.

For Jay Gatsby, the goal was clear; he sought to recapture the love of a woman named Daisy whom he considered the love of his life. For Rocky, the goal is presumably to defeat Apollo Creed in a championship boxing match at the Spectrum and defy the odds. However, in the end both of these men fall just short of their ultimate goals. When Gatsby is able to finally rekindle his love affair, he is brutally murdered in his swimming pool. Somewhat similarly, Rocky loses in the title fight against Creed.

But just what do these tales tell us about the American Dream? Is this dream something entirely unattainable or is there more to the dream than just winning? To me, it is far too facile to dismiss Gatsby and Balboa as “losers,” even though their conquests were never truly realized (within the confines of the original Rocky film, and ignoring the sequels). Both of these men did everything it took to defy the odds and show the world that they, as Americans, mean something. Rocky fought a bloody battle until the bitter end, and Gatsby went the distance to hold onto that girl of his dreams for as long as he could. So, perhaps the American Dream is intangible and damn-near unattainable, but, as the rhetoric goes, it is our duty as Americans to show the world that we will not go down without a fight. Contextualizing Gatsby and Rocky as works of art which came just years after major wars (WWI and Vietnam respectively) which shook America’s view of our leaders and placed emphasis on individual freedom, both these men are individuals who did not back down when everything was stacked against them and possessed great individual willpower. Losers or not, Rocky Balboa and Jay Gatsby are true, persistent Americans.

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The Great Gatsby heralds a time when a clash can be seen between the American tradition of aristocracy and old money and the post-war, often hedonistic emergence of new money. The main character Jay Gatsby, emerges from an impoverished childhood into a life of wealth, parties and celebrity status. Gatsby’s motivation for acquiring such a staggering amount of wealth and hype around himself is to win back the affection of Daisy Buchanan, a goal he has dedicated his entire adult life to.  While this may sound like a traditional portrayal of the ‘American Dream’, Gatsby’s image is tainted by the fact that he acquires his wealth through criminal activity such as bootlegging.  This associates the ‘hero’ of the story with the notion of the ‘American Gangster’.  This image of the ‘American Dream’ and the subsequent failure of Gatsby to achieve his goals shows a darker side of American society at this time. While achieving the ‘American Dream’ is not often associated with illegal activity and despair, this was often a reality, especially in light of gangster culture. The fact that Gatsby is able to brush shoulders with all types of businessmen in society also shows how  corruption and honesty are able to coexist in this setting. This reflects the potential of  he ‘American Dream’ to be achieved by any means during this period and undermines the morality of having wealth weather it be through ‘new’ or ‘old’ money.


Gatsby’s character is contrasted with the character of Daisy Buchannan’s husband Tom who, while the audience sympathizes with the honest intentions of Gatsby, is the one who seems triumphant at the end of the movie. The characters could not be more opposite with Tom representing ‘old money’ and the established aristocracy of society and Jay representing ‘new money’. While Gatsby wins over the surrounding society through his extravagant parties and image of status and celebrity, Tom is suspicious of Jay from the beginning and never truly recognizes Gatsby as being anywhere near his level of class in society.  This could represent the disillusionment of the ‘American Dream’ and the idea of climbing up the ladder of society as ultimately being unachievable quite like Gatsby’s goal of winning over Daisy, which in the end, also proves to be unachievable. 

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The Great Gatsby by Francis Ford Coppola released in 1974 features Robert Redford as the main character Jay Gastby, a wealthy man who has made his fortune hand in hand with his friend Meyer Wolfshiem. Throughout the film, we are never told what Gasby do for a living but we certainly understand that what he does involves illegal activity ( probably bootlegging, gambling or loansharking). Wolfshiem and Gatsby therefore fit the Icon of the American ganster.


Gangsters after World War I are described by Stephan Brauer in The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review as ‘individuals looking to move into the mainstream and into the seats of power’ from the margins of culture. Moreover, after the 1920s, appeared an ideology linking business and crime. We can relate those conceptions of the criminal to the eponymous character in The Great Gatsby.

Gatsby is the archetype of the self made man, “newly rich”, owning a huge mansion with a pool, filled with expensive furniture, in which he throws parties every now and then. From the beginning of the film, his wealthiness is exposed as the first shots show his property with its golden interior. Some of his items are even branded JG for Jay Gatsby. He has therefore almost achieved the American Dream from scratch (the only missing part being Daisy).

Nevertheless, all this wealthiness does not come from heritage and we can find signs of his past lower rank in the society when he wears a pink suit to the dinner at the Buchanans for instance, which does not leave up to the upper class taste.

The scene in the restaurant is particularly revealing of the illegal and violent character of Gatsby’s activities thanks to Wolfshiem who speaks too much and shows his cufflinks made with human molars to Nick. Later in the film, Gastby will acknowledge his violent side during a dicussion with Nick : ‘ Nick: they say you killed a man – Gatsby: Just one ?”.

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The Great Gatsby is a story set on Long Island, New York, during the fast living 1920s which saw many people chase their american dream. Jay Gatsby was one of these people and on the surface this film can be described as a love story between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. However there are more sinister themes and ideas running through the film on the issues of class, ethnicity, gender and ultimately the american dream.

The theme of class is obvious from the beginning of the film in the contrasting location of Gatsby’s mansion to Tom Buchanan’s. West egg where Gatsby lives is the area where the self made rich people live and East egg where Tom Buchanan resides is where rich aristocracy lives emphasising the gulf in class between the two men. Gatsby throughout the film tries to ignore the difference in class, where as Daisy can’t see past it as in the end, she decides to settle for the security of old aristocratically rich Tom Buchanan.

The film emphasises the material wealth of the two men and this issue of material wealth is linked to the issue of gender. Daisy is treated by the two men as an item which they both wish to purchase. Tom Buchanan’s affair shows his lack of respect for Daisy. Daisy in the end feels powerless as a woman stating ‘that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’. Daisy here shows the lack of respect society has for women and is saying that a woman is better not to realise this fact by being a fool. The Great Gatsby film has not got one main character who is African american symbolising the reality that there were none or very few rich African Americans at this time. Tom Buchanan also makes a couple of derogatory comments which would be viewed today as racist.

Overall the film shows the flaws in the idea of the american dream as Gatsby has become a rich man but cannot fulfil his american dream due to the difference in class between him and daisy. The old money elite see Gatsby as a gangster due to the ambiguous way in which he has made his money and therefore his american dream fails.

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The icon of an American Gangster is portrayed through the role of Jay Gatsby in the film The Great Gatsby ( 2013). There is no doubt he is a portrayed as a ‘gangster’ in the sense that we are aware that he made his money through illegal practices and we are also conscious of his  lavish parties every Saturday night in his mansion despite the prohibition of alcohol during this time period.  However,  he is fundamentally portrayed as a gangster in that fact that he is of ‘new money’ and not ‘old money’ unlike the character Tom in the film, Gatsby’s love rival. Hence, his class position is not legitimate nor stable and this represents a bigger social change in America at the time during the 1920s when anything was possible due to the phenomenon of the ‘American Dream.’

It may be argued that Gatsby is a ‘gangster’ as he is constantly trying to progress in life and is searching for perfection.  His wealth and position in society is not accepted by the old elite in East Egg and he constantly tries to fit in with this wealthy elite through his lavish parties, his use of the phrase ‘old sport’ and most importantly by concealing his true roots. The mystery and secrecy surrounding Jay Gatsby therefore conveys a ‘gangster’ like image especially to the characters Tom and even Daisy who eventually rejects Gatsby for the stability that comes with her husband, Tom. However, for those watching this film, Gatsby is lovable gangster and as the film progresses we become aware of the reasons behind his crazy lifestyle and his attainment of wealth and that is his overwhelming love for Daisy. Image

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