Author Information

Kimberly Pumphrey


In James Truslow Adams’ book, The Epic of America, he defines the American dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (404). In the middle of the roaring 1920’s, author F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, examining the fight for the American dream in the lives of his characters in New York. Fitzgerald illustrates for the reader a picture of Gatsby’s struggle to obtain the approval and acceptance of high society and to earn the same status. Jay Gatsby travels the journey to achieve the American dream, but his dream is corrupted and outside forces prevent him from ever fully attaining it. Adams’ definition continues: “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (404). This definition corresponds to what could be considered the inception of the American dream - “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” - which were dubbed unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence (US 1776). Fitzgerald sets Jimmy Gatz out on the right path toward the American dream, but it is distorted by the influence of society’s focus on materialism. Gatsby’s materialistic way of life, however, does not win the approval and acceptance of the New York elite, or the heart of his beloved Daisy. Fitzgerald criticizes American society for depriving Gatsby of his American dream because of the country’s growing obsession with consumer culture and misunderstanding of the American dream as a culmination of wealth.

Note on the Author

Kimberly Pumphrey is a senior studying English and Secondary Education. This paper was mentored by Professor Kimberly Chabot Davis and was originally written for the senior seminar course: Gender, Race, and American Modernism in the fall semester of 2010.

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