The 1920's and the American Dream Essay

The American Dream emanated during early American settlements. At this time, a large number of peasants were looking for opportunities for better jobs. Its initiation is through the declaration of independence, which focuses on the attitude of hope among the American people. Based on this hope, it is stated that every individual in the United States of America is equal and born with certain inseparable rights. These rights include the right to life, freedom, and being happy. The American dream cannot be understood without reference to the Great Gatsby in which case, the American dream plays an imperative role in shaping characters. It is only through the Great Gatsby that one can see the events that took place in the 1920s, a season marked with the inception of the American Dream (Marchand, 102). As such, this paper focuses on the demise of the 1920s American Dream evident in the Great Gatsby. This focuses on the cultural practices that marked this period and how it affects the lives of the American populace.

Achievement of Success

In the 1920s, the viewpoint of the American Dream focuses on personal success in life regardless of their origin and social status. According to this perspective, the most important thing is for an individual to work hard in attaining their goals. Reference to this can be drawn from the book “Advertising the American Dream: Making way for Modernity” by Marchand Roland. In this work, the author gives a description of a character in which case he feels this figure represents the quintessential 1920s person who is living the American Dream. The writer says that this man not only succeeds in the fast-paced, contemporary urban milieu of tall storied structures, taxicabs, and luxury driven people, but also perceives himself well-experienced in the latest moves in fashion, modern lingo as well as popular activities. The book’s relationship to the American Dream is seen in the number of times it talks about the Great Gatsby. On the contrary, any reader of the work cannot deny the link between the writers definition of the man living the American Dream and the Portrayal of Jay Gatsby, who works his way from a humble background to become a millionaire (Marchand, 99).

In the Great Gatsby, the protagonist epitomizes the issue of personal success. We see an individual who is financially successful as well as in the social status, ultimately creating a novel individual out of himself regardless of his underprivileged past life. It is however evident that all the wealth that Gatsby acquires associated with the American Dream eventually lead to its demise.

Consumerism and Excess material Wealth

The 1920s and the American Dream is marked by consumerism and acquisition of excess material wealth. This identifies the culture of wealthy Americans as seen in Gatsby. At any moment Gatsby finds the opportunity, she displays seen through the lurid style of outfit. She has a huge mansion in which case she organizes frequent parties to show off to the rest of the American populace how hard working she has become. The American Dream in the 1920s can as well be referred to in terms of Veblen’s work, “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” He points out that a person gaining and sustaining the admiration of men is not sufficient through controlled wealth and power (Fitzgerald, 140). According to Veblen, the wealth and power should be put into substantiation. Veblen who advocates for the idea of conspicuous consumption that precisely describes the events in the Great Gatsby is attempting to establish that individuals that emanate from humble backgrounds and attain wealth through their hard-work, try to destroy reverence and admiration by showing off through purchases.

Houses shown in the Great Gatsby are conceivably the most evident indicators of the inexorable completion to proclaim personal status. This is because a majority of the rich try to outshine each other in the size and amenities of their homes. It can therefore be said that the American Dream in the 1920s concerned itself with individual progress. The strengths linked to the American Dream are that the population attain lower taxes as well as avoid interference from the state in their daily activities. Additionally, there is no pride for the poor as well as lack of interest in pertinent matters like environmental protection. As a result, the American Dream results into more damage to the environment especially with the advent of machinery, manufacturing and processing plants. The presentation of luxurious living standards and a magnificent house for Gatsby is a true depiction of the influence of the American Dream in the field of art and architecture. The 1920s art and architecture is marked by the rise of skyscrapers and employment of new technology in the construction industry. When we shift our focus on the cities that come up following the American Dream, magnificent buildings like the Wrigley and the Water Tower are central to the rise of Chicago city.

The 1920s American Dream as Revealed through Automobiles

Research into the American Dream of the 1920s reveals that automobiles play a vital role in the culture of most Americans. The American automobile industry involves the diminished national economy especially the late 1920s. During the entire 1920s, the industry filled automobile markets with cars through coming out with novel models that would fit the lifestyle of most American people. This encourages buyers to purchase new models each year as opposed to the previous years of sustaining their older cars. However, it is clear from the Great Gatsby, all this is done in the lieu of showing off. This defines the able in society and those that cannot keep up with the pace of the rising society. It is therefore true that the 1920s American Dream is marked by value degeneration. For the rich in the American Dream, cars’ importance is based on commodity as opposed to being imperative as a mode of transportation. Cars therefore are meant to show the massive wealth that individuals have amassed. For instance, Gatsby in the Great Gatsby is presented as owing a personal Chauffeur, yet he still owns a station wagon and a luxurious Rolls Royce, which are all in use.

It should however be noted that automobiles as seen in the American Dream are meant for cultural obsession with material. This gives room for the ordinary automobile to surpass its functional purpose and become an incarnation of dreams. Just like what homes do to the Americans, the automobiles lead to the downfall of most of them. The society in the American Dream of the 1920s replaces their quest for happiness to search for material wealth. They believe that wealth will gratify their dreams and eventually result into happiness. The demise thereafter is loss of lives. The loss of lives as a result of search for wealth is attributed to the means through which people seek for the wealth. There is the prohibition movement of the 1919 which began through the Eighteenth Amendment. This is believed will reduce incidences of crime as well as encourage moral behavior. According to the amendment, there are restrictions in regard to consumption of liquor. However, there arises a massive demand for alcohol from the rich.

Social Stratification

It is evident that the 1920s American Dream is as well marked by social stratification. As such, there is power struggle between the rich and poor; a move that encourages increased criminal activities (Fitzgerald, 143). Most people want to attain that financial freedom and hence, they can do anything at any cost to acquire wealth. Such social values that crumble are respect for individual bodies. The younger generation engages in such activities as prostitution to get what they want and attain higher status in society. The main focus is the relationship between money and happiness. This leads to the failure of the American dream at the time.

The Great Gatsby novel is therefore a true depiction of what the American Dream is like in the 1920s. It indicates how the American Dream transforms from the idea of all people attaining success in the country through hard work and determination, to the idea that success and happiness comes through accretion of wealth for the ultimate goal of happiness and self-actualization. The shift in values is that people stop looking for equality which is the initial goal of the American dream to the search for wealth. It is not even surprising that the new type of American Dream has to fail. It is indicated that people are no longer treated equally and that there is still a trace of social and racial discrimination.


The American dream that emerged during the 1920s is one of the most influential movements that impacts on the lives of the American population. The paper has essentially looked at what led to the demise of the American Dream during the 1920s. Close reference has been on the Great Gatsby novel that merges its events to what happened in the American Dream. Notably, the failure of the American Dream is attributed to the rise of greed amongst the American people. They overlooked the initial idea of fighting for equality and happiness to the search for material wealth. Its initiation was through the declaration of independence, which focused on the attitude of hope among the American people. Based on this hope, it was stated that every individual in the United States of America is equal and born with certain inseparable rights. The society in the American Dream of the 1920s replaced their quest for happiness to search for material wealth. They believed that wealth would gratify their dreams and eventually result into happiness. The demise thereafter was loss of lives. The loss of lives as a result of search for wealth is attributed to the means through which people sought for the wealth.

Work Cited:

  • Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940. California: University of California Press, 1986
    Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: NuVision Publications, LLC, 2008