The entire story of the Great Gatsby centers around Jay Gatsby’s desire to return to the loving state he once shared with Daisy. In addition to this central storyline, the other main characters exhibit desire through their own desires: Tom’s desire for more success as he already has money and a wife, Daisy’s desire for higher status and more material items, and Nick’s desire to be accepted by people in a higher class than he was born into. Desire drives the idea of the American dream, not love, as proven by Jay Gatsby and the surrounding characters in the Great Gatsby.
The American Dream is built from the idea of the “self- made man” which developed in the Gilded Age. During this time thousands of immigrants came to America because of the welcoming message of the Statue of Liberty; the Statue of Liberty was symbol to show that success is possible for everyone with hard work. This idea was also shared amongst lower class Americans who wanted to reach the status of higher class people. This was shown in the Great Gatsby by Nick, who came from a middle class family in the West and traveled to the East coast in order to become wealthy and acquire position in the upper class. He explains this on page 9 when he says, “Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe- so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it could support one more single man.” Nick did not have a love for the bond business: he had a desire to acquire wealth and independence.
Hence, the American Dream is driven by desire. Jay Gatsby represents the American Dream in the Great Gatsby, along with the other main characters, because of the way he worked his way up to the top and achieved the classic “large suburban house, dazzling parties, high social status” American ideal that was the American Dream in the 1920’s. Jay Gatsby was driven by his desire for Daisy because of how unattainable his love for her was, as shown on pages 86-87 when Nick says, “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.” Even if Gatsby loved Daisy, he more so was in love with the idea of her, with his illusions of her, with the memory of what they once were.
Even Nick (who is relatively objective and disconnected to the other characters throughout the book) knows that Gatsby is driven by an idea of a memory which is unattainable. On page 87, Nick says, “He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was . . .” This is a good representation of people who desire the past; often they do so because they left a piece of themselves in the past and they wish to retrieve it. So of course Gatsby could not ‘find out what that thing was’ because that thing is his love for her which has been replaced by desire.
Desire is a state of being that can only be achieved if the thing being sought is not yet achieved. The green light at the end of Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s dock represented Gatsby’s desire for Daisy; he wanted to go back to the state of love which he and Daisy once had. It is impossible to return to a state of love that once was, just like how it is impossible to reach the green light at the end of the dock. This symbol is introduced when Nick first sees Gatsby on his front lawn on page 24, and he says: “…I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” The symbol of the dock shows that Gatsby’s “love” for Daisy is distant and surrounded by a desire for the idea of love.
Lastly, desire goes hand in hand with greed because once the person achieves what they seek they no longer have desire, so they strive for more to continue this lust for desire. Greed was exhibited through Daisy and Tom who constantly sought more. They both had already achieved wealth and love, but Daisy wanted material items and to raise her social standing in any way possible, and Tom wanted more love and respect. In chapter seven Nick said about Daisy’s voice: “I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl . . .” This shows that she was so driven by her desire for material wealth that her character/voice/personality has been shaped around it. Daisy has never had to struggle: she was born into a great amount of wealth and married into it young. Gatsby’s desire for Daisy forced him to strip himself of his own character and achieve wealth instead, in order to make Daisy love him as much as she once loved the idea of his wealth.
In conclusion, the Great Gatsby is a tale of desire mistaken for love. Love is only present when those who experience it are content in it, and none of the characters in the Great Gatsby are satisfied with their success or love. The characters are representative of the American Dream in this way, and the story of the Great Gatsby shows that the American Dream is driven by desire.