Critics say that The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald symbolises the corruption of the American dream. For example, Charles R. Hearn:

Fitzgerald emphasizes the fact that the content of Gatsby’s dream is materialistic and corrupt. Like Dexter, Gatsby has a goal beyond material success, but that goal itself (Daisy) is symbolic of shallow, materialistic glitter. [...] Gatsby’s method of realizing his dream is no less corrupt than the content of the dream itself. He cannot even be given credit for the open and honest ruthlessness of the robber baron of a generation before him; his fortune has come from bootlegging, gangsterism, and unexplained shady deals.

Charles R. Hearn (1977). The American Dream in the Great Recession, p. 44. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

But how can the American Dream be corrupt? It is merely a concept, an ideal. What do critics like Hearn mean when they say this in relation to The Great Gatsby?

  • apparently, it is the bootlegging and the materialism Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 1:14
  • I’m voting to close this question because it is not about the work cited but an idea suggested by it.
    – Mary
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 1:37
  • 3
    @Mary: I think the question is fine -- the OP would like to understand what literary critics mean when they write about Gatsby using these words. I've added an example to the question to help make it concrete. Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 11:04
  • @Mary Asking why a work of literature is interpreted in a certain way is valid here. Do you still consider the question off-topic in its current form?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


The essential aspect of the American Dream is that anyone can achieve success through hard work and dedication. In a manner of speaking, this is present in the rich people of the book. Many, including Gatsby, have attained riches through their work, but despite his money, Gatsby is never truly accepted by his compatriots, and he fails to attain his true goal of love and Daisy. Essentially, there are three axes in which the book shows the failure of the American Dream.

  1. One can attain wealth in a manner which is unethical or dishonest - Gatsby's bootlegging, and Jordan's covered-up cheating scandal, are examples where wealth is attained in a harmful or dishonorable fashion.
  2. Even with wealth, one is not always accepted - While people attend Gatsby's parties, it's pretty easy to argue that no one truly respects him. He is nouveau riche and therefore lacks the pedigree that much of high society expects.
  3. Money can't always buy your heart's desire - What Gatsby wants more than anything is Daisy, who he never attains. Therefore, it's easy to argue that he failed the American Dream in that, in spite of all of his efforts, he never truly succeeded in what he was aiming for.
  • by success, you mean "happiness" I suppose? Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 4:40
  • @LawrenceBragg: Hmm... I honestly would probably stick with "success". Protestant work ethic and all, happiness seems to often come second. Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 10:45

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