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The Great Gatsby: American Dreams and Modern Connections

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Let me go ahead and warn you that if you haven’t read The Great Gatsby or you didn’t care for the movie, you might want to bow out now. This, my friends, is an English major’s fangirl post – and here be spoilers. (Also, this is thanks to whoever is finding my blog on the search “Great Gatsby American Dream.” So like Tom Cruise says in Jack Reacher, “Remember: you wanted this.”)

I LOVED The Great Gatsby in high school. I wrote at least three papers on it – one about the American Dream, one about misogyny, and I believe the third was about how Daisy was actually a total asshole (maybe not so much in those words but it’s still true). It was my favorite book and still hits my Top 10 – even more so now, I think, because reading it as an adult, I see so much I missed – in high school, you look for the symbolism and themes, but as an adult, I can see the sadness of the story and how it connects to today’s world.

So when I read that not only were they making a Great Gatsby movie, directed by Baz Lurhmann (of one of my favorite movies, Moulin Rouge), but starring my favorite actor Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, I think I swooned.

Long story short, I loved the movie. It was incredibly spot on with the book, right down to the green light that, to Gatsby, represents Daisy, while to us, it represents that ever moving American dream. The wide camera angles that spanned over the city, the glitz and glamour of Gatsby’s parties, the mix of 1920’s music twisted with modern day hip hop, were all aspects I expected of Lurhmann. I would’ve been disappointed if it’d been any less! My husband hated the soundtrack, but I bought the deluxe edition – from the hauntingly appropriate Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful to the sinister truths of Jay-Z’s 100$ Bill I thought that this was a perfect mix of music to bring to the table. We have to keep in mind that this story, this era of jazz and Prohibition, is almost 100 years old, but when you bring in today’s music (for better or worse), it helps keep us connected to this era. We understand more when it relates back to what we know.

I’ve always found Gatsby’s story to be incredibly sad and despite his flaws, he only ever wished to be accepted and provide the proper life for his debutante love. He did what all hardworking Americans do – he transformed himself into something more. It seems incredible that everything he did – the jobs, breaking the law, risking everything he had for more – was all for a lost love. But truly, the money doesn’t matter to him – all he wants is to win Daisy back. For a while we believe he can do it, too. Lurhmann did a great job – as I anticipated – of long lost love reunited. The love story between Daisy and Gatsby is heartbreaking and, for a while, you believe Gatsby can get her back, sweep her off her feet and away from her temperamental, cheating husband. In the end, however, Daisy Buchanan, with her expensive homes and a “voice full of money,” chooses security over love, just as she did when she married Tom (though it can be argued she was forced into it by her parents, up until Jordan says she’s “never seen a gal so in love with her husband”).

Gatsby even took the blame when Daisy accidentally killed Myrtle, her husband’s mistress, with his car and it always hurts to think that after all their moments together, his last view of Daisy was as she looked down at him from her bedroom window, walking away from the curtain to curl safely back into bed with her cruel husband. Daisy left without warning – some could argue Tom dragged her away, but 1920s or no, she had a choice. Did she even know about Gatsby’s death? There’s a chance that Daisy and Tom, sitting in their kitchen with the untouched fried chicken, even planned to save her skin by sending Wilson after Gatsby instead. After all the love Gatsby gave her, all the work he did to prove it to her, and sharing, however briefly, in that love while wishing to escape her life with Tom, instead she showed no loyalty, no love and simply ran away to escape the difficulty of it all. It’s for that reason I agree with Nick about Daisy and Tom: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

I admit it: as Gatsby climbed out of his pool to eagerly answer the phone call he believed to be Daisy (and was actually Nick), when Gatsby got shot and the camera went in to see DiCaprio’s eyes full of hurt and disbelief, a few tears slipped out and down my cheek. To see Gatsy’s life end so abruptly after everything he’s managed to achieve is something that’s always stuck with me. All those people who came to his parties, all those he’d met in his adventures, failed to come to his funeral, leaving only his father, Nick, and one peculiar man we’d once met in the library, to celebrate his life and say goodbye. It’s incredibly sad to think that, despite being surrounded by money and people, he still died alone. But Gatsby’s dream, the American dream of rising up in this country from a poor mid-Western nobody to a successful, rich somebody resonates even today. It’s why The Great Gatsby will always be a classic.

We know our country’s history, and from the moment our immigrant ancestors stepped foot on this land, we’ve been chasing the American dream. The chance to make something of ourselves, to be somebody. “I didn’t want you to think I was just some nobody,” Gatsby says defiantly. And we say it with him, almost a hundred years later.

Nick tells Gatsby we can’t repeat the past. “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” Gatsby replies. Nick doubts him, but it’s this line that resonates with us, that reminds us that we are yet one more generation hoping to achieve the American Dream:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

About the author

Liz Long

2 Comments

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  • Now you make me want to go see it! I had told my husband not to let me, because they’d surely ruin it with modern music… I suppose that prejudice is a poor excuse. If someone who loved the book so dearly as you can get past (even appreciate) the modern mix, I should probably give it a shot too. 😀

  • I can understand that the film might be an acquired taste for some, but honestly the script stuck so closely to the book that I think most people who enjoy the book can overlook the soundtrack. Once you get past the big parties and into the heart of the story, it’s easy to love 🙂 Thanks for reading! 🙂

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