In accordance with Fitzgerald’s epic ambitions to write a novel that expressed the vital spirit of his country, The Great Gatsby attempts to explain and evoke the essence of the fundamental myth at the heart of the American experience. Even in the high times of the wild 1920s, Fitzgerald perceptively sensed that the original energy of the American dream was irrevocably vanishing, and he wanted to record its power before it faded into memory and fable.
Fitzgerald explores the American dream through two characters: Nick Carraway, the narrator, and Gatsby himself, both young men born in the heartland of the Midwest at the dawn of the twentieth century. Like Fitzgerald, they arrive in New York with some of the innocence characteristic of middle America, lured to the great wicked city by its promise of glamour and success, vulnerable to its dangers and its corruptions. They bring some of the classic virtues of the heartland with them-simplicity, determination, loyalty, and perhaps most of all an innate sense of honesty and decency. For Gatsby, beguiled and practically enslaved by love, these virtues have been driven into the deeper recesses of his character. For Nick, the temptations of city life are also quite strong, but he is able to turn back before he is consumed. A sense of the American dream’s possibilities animates both men, but Gatsby has allowed the realities of contemporary American life to distort the parameters of his romantic vision.