The Foolish Pursuit of a Shallow Happiness – A Polished Critical

… the ways in which individuals pursue or compromise their happiness.


‘The American Dream’ refers to the idyllic yet unrealistic idea that individuals who incorporate a strong work ethic into their life will receive their much-deserved compensation: wealth, a lavish lifestyle, and the ultimate gaining of true happiness. In hoping to achieve such a romanticized ideal, that the American Dream offers, individuals will do whatever it takes – even if immoral – to achieve the end result of a blissful American lifestyle. However, the trouble in indulging in such notions of gaining wealth and status ultimately results in the tragic demise of such individuals out of their own pitiful inability to realize how shallow these ideals prove to be; in the end, individuals are unable to actually gain the much-wanted happiness that motivated their pursuits in the first place. In the novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the idea that when determined individuals face the dilemma in which they have the constant frustration of never reaching full satisfaction with their circumstance, said individuals may pursue the American Dream out of the want to fulfill their demanding desires. Fitzgerald asserts this through protagonist Jay Gatsby: with newfound success, wealth, and an honorary reputation, Gatsby is somehow unable to reconcile his own internal yearning for happiness and in such frustration, embarks in the pursuit for Daisy Buchanan – which in his eyes, is the solution for the happiness he so desperately seeks. Yet, his own inability to understand that this fake sense of contentment is merely an illusion results in his own epic demise.


Out of the desire to gain some sense of happiness, individuals will pursue crazed ideals of what said satisfaction should look like out of the mentality that nothing they have is ever enough; likewise, in American society the same principles may be applied: the manifestation of these ideals in people’s attitudes drive them to pursue a never-ending happiness that being wealthy seems to hold. As the narrator, Nick introduces the infamous Jay Gatsby to the reader with a clear bias within his unreliable form of narration that favours Gatsby, “There was something gorgeous about him [gatsby], some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life…” His description paints a beautiful picture of Gatsby to the reader to the point where one perceives him as ultimately divine and perfect – thus, the reader also develops empathy towards Gatsby out of the tainted narration that Nick provides. As Nick becomes closer to his new companion, he learns the ultimate motive that Gatsby holds when hosting the utmost elegant and extravagant parties in his house: to pursue a love with Daisy by catching her attention with his newfound wealth and prestige. Upon learning the true motives of his actions and his pursuit of his own shallow idea of what happiness is, Nick is swayed by such his fondness toward Gatsby to help in the pursuit of Daisy. The use of unreliable and biased narration on Nick’s part is used out of the Fitzgerald’s own intent to insert a certain commentary of how not only are the characters swindled by this romantic pursuit but so it the reader and by that matter, the entire world: all are tricked into believing that Gatsby’s actions to pursue this shallow sense of happiness through chasing an unrealistic life with Daisy is perfect and even beautifully innocent. In turn, Gatsby fails to realize how unrealistic said pursuit is: Daisy is a married woman with a child; yet, Gatsby continues to go after her because of how his desire for happiness that a life with Daisy seems to promise is much more potent and blinding than the present reality of his circumstance. Nicks narration parallels the attitude of America after the devastation felt from the first world war; the war had been largely destructive on a scale never seen before thus the need for change and restoration of hope was prevalent in society: Americans needed to feel that they had some sort of security and control over their own destiny and circumstances and thus the American Dream was developed. The American Dream provided a way out for many struggling individuals in that it promised an era of change and the restoration of happiness that had been lost during the devastating war. Much like Nick, the entire country was in complete favour of said movement and therefore began to pursue it through the gaining of ‘new money’ and the adoption of the attitude that anyone could be given a second chance and achieve their own success. However, with the development of the Dream in American society, individuals were unable to recognize the threat that this shallow ideal of happiness placed on them and their eventual fate.


When one has achieved a sense of personal satisfaction through attaining the much-desired lifestyle of grand wealth and prestige, there is always the fear of losing it that runs in the back of their mind and in response to this, one may try to do whatever possible to maintain the grasp they have over this way of life. However, the want to hold on to this lifestyle and the desperate attempts to prevent it from slipping through one’s fingers requires a great extent of dedication and a passionate stubbornness against the reality of convention. In the novel, after the scene where both Gatsby and Tom explicitly and violently fight over the right to Daisy, Gatsby finds himself desperate in securing his relationship with her; thus, he begins to implore her to admit that she never loved Tom,“it was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me.” However, despite his attempts, Daisy is unable to admit so and rather confesses to having loved both at one point – Gatsby must come to terms with this unfortunate truth. Even in spite of the disillusionment this brings him, he still manages to cling on the hope and love he holds for her; in returning home Gatsby willingly harbours the responsibility of the death of Myrtle even though it was done so by Daisy’s careless actions. He willingly takes full blame for her death out of his foolish sense that it his duty to do so as it is absolutely necessary in keeping Daisy all to himself. As Gatsby wins Daisy over and starts a secretive affair with her, he falsely convinces himself that he has reached the climax of his happiness, when in reality he is blinded by his infatuation for her and the short-ended joy that having Daisy brings him. However, because he believes that he has reached true happiness he takes all measures in protecting it – in believing so, he ultimately takes the blame for Myrtle’s death out of his attempt to desperately maintain the love they have fostered – ignorant of the consequences to come. Throughout the novel, Daisy is portrayed as an alluring and irresistible object that would give full satisfaction and happiness to any man that holds possession over her. Thus, Daisy herself is a symbolic representation of The American Dream as the same shallow and materialistic ideals are manifested in her beautiful appearance and her harmonious voice “full of money.” Therefore, Gatsby’s attempts to secure a future with her are representative of the shallow happiness that her beauty would bring him. Human nature drives one to always be defensively protecting the happiness which they value most; any sort of threat to the deterioration of such happiness – even if shallow or an illusion altogether – will spark an aggressive response out of such individual as a resort to defend their belief of happiness. This mentality will only later prove to be detrimental to said individual as reality will seep in and the individual must face the consequences of their past actions.


In the blinded conquest of the false ideals of a shallow happiness, individuals will neglect to realize the significant threat this poses and the great likeliness of their own downfall to follow. The reckless and ignorant actions taken by Jay Gatsby out of his pursuit of first winning Daisy over and then later trying to protect their love by taking the blame for her own actions ultimately leads to his own tragic downfall. Because of the rage that took over George Wilson, he embarked on a mission to avenge his wife’s’ death by killing Gatsby – who took responsibility for it – despite the fact that it was truly Daisy who killed her. After Gatsby’s devastating death, Nick professes the belief that Gatsby had for the green light, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…” His death and even worse the fact that his sacrifice was meaningless as at the end as Daisy chose Tom and did not even attend his funeral, revealed his foolishness throughout the novel in that he pursued a falsified illusion of love only to find that his past actions were ignorantly pointless. The end of Gatsby although tragic in of itself, was nonetheless predictable as it was constantly foreshadowed throughout the novel: one such instance being the inconsistent flickering of the Green light, indicating an issue or faultiness with Gatsby’s intense pursuit of Daisy and thus his idea of the American Dream which seemed to promise him the happiness he so desperately sought. The Green Light imagery in the novel symbolized wealth and the envy that Gatsby had toward Tom for his possession of Daisy; as well, the green light represented the American Dream that Gatsby had embraced through his longing viewing of it across the dock. It was the promises of the green light that had driven him to “run faster” or “stretch out his arms further” – because of his mentality that nothing he had was ever enough. The inconsistent flashing of said light hints at how Gatsby indulging and passionately believing in the light was going to end in his own downfall because of how the American Dream had its own faults in that the ideology altogether is one based off of a shallow desire for a falsified happiness. Individuals, out of the want to achieve happiness by seeking a life promising wealth and prestige, must deal with the disappointments to follow: this seeking of what they falsely believe to be happiness will, in turn, result in their own dissatisfying downfall. Thus, it truly is one of the biggest mistakes an individual can make: believing that a materialistic lifestyle with luxurious possessions such as clothing, cars, or even the control of another human will bring one never-ending happiness that will forever bring satisfaction, when in reality, the attaining of these shallow pursuits will promise nothing but disillusionment and ones own epic demise.


In pursuit of Daisy and the want to gain a sort of happiness, Gatsby not only sacrificed his own honour but his life as well, only for it all to be meaningless; Gatsby’s downfall indicates how truly faulty this pursuit of a shallow happiness is: it will only result in reality seeping in to bring unwanted consequences. The Roaring 20’s, was an era of change and a time where the common belief was that anyone had the potential to become rich because of the promises that America brought; such, the American Dream was glorified in society and was seen as a way for individuals to escape the realities of their pasts and rather pursue their own ideas of happiness: much like how Nick described the green light across the dock as being what the settlers must have seen upon arriving in America during the New World Era where the land provided people with opportunities and second chances thus signifying the American Dream. Instead of also advocating for the successes this social movement had, Fitzgerald sheds a rare light on the concerns and criticisms regarding the American Dream in which many individuals follow out of the belief that in having materialistic things, they will find all the happiness they could want in life; when in reality, the gaining of this wealth and luxury proves to be meaningless and just corrupt the individuals themselves. Thus, the materialistically influenced idea of what happiness is and further the pursuit of it only results in their own pitiful yet foolish demise.


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