Amory Blaine and Jay Gatsby are two iconic characters from Fitzgerald’s fiction that contrast greatly with each other. Fortunately, by analyzing both critically we can understand both sides of the American Dream; from the perspectives of those that have and those that have not. Both stories feature young men struggling to carve out their own slice of the American Dream, and from the stark contrast between their two different approaches in reaching success- a paradox can be constructed. On the one hand, Amory Blaine tries to exemplify aristocracy while never actually being part of the class all on his own. While Jay Gatsby, on the other hand, manifests the success promised by the American Dream without the social or business network he can take pride in professionally. Through deconstructing Gatsby’s rise to wealth and Blaine’s loss of it, a socio-economic construction of class can be presented based on economic agency.

Comparing these two characters fleshes-out the existential binary between the self-made man and the struggles of the working class in overcoming economic determinism. Alan Krueger, former chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, gave a speech back in 2012 where he explored social mobility in countries of dramatic income inequity. In an economic relationship dubbed the “Great Gatsby Curve,” a phenomenon was discovered when comparing countries with greater income inequality to those more economically opportune. Countries composed of large working-class populations who struggle with economic disparity demonstrate correlatively that in less equal societies a person’s social mobility is determined more by where they start in life, as opposed to what they do in it (Krugman). This means that greater the economic divide between the working and ruling classes, the less likely individuals are to excel financially because of their own merit. Therefore, one must question the reliability of the American Dream if the tragedy of Gatsby’s fate is to be understood. Having a dream, capitalistic angst, and a good work ethic does not promise tangible prosperity if the deck is stacked against the common man by an income gap that literally marginalizes any real opportunity to advance.

One of the greatest contradictions to the American Dream under 20th & 21st century capitalism is the way corruption and criminality can, and are, rewarded. Gatsby becomes an ideal hero for the individualist, enamored with Gatsby’s wealth and extravagance. In “Gatsby as Gangster” Thomas Pauley explores Jay Gatsby’s criminality, and the perception other characters have of him because of it. He found that honest characters like Nick were not only willing to sympathize with Gatsby’s crimes, but often thought of them as just rumors or myths. Possessing such discretion when creating his reputation, it can be speculated that Gatsby’s role in Wolfsheim’s business was that of finance and risk management. It can even be said that without Gatsby Wolfsheim would not have been as successful (Pauley). Therefore, Jay’s distinguishing qualities that would perceivably alienate him from the criminal underworld are actually the traits that put him in the opportune position to take advantage of illegal activities. Gatsby represented as a gangster challenges the ideal of the American Dream held by so many, who only want work to excel at professionally and the ability to provide for a family.

When comparing Gatsby’s money to Amory’s, one should question the ethics of the means by which both acquire wealth. Amory, like the Buchannan’s, inherited their capital and now only needed to manage it. For Gatsby, it is because he helps manage Wolfsheim’s ill-gotten gains that he becomes successful. What does this say about abiding by the American Dream? The former group had no need for the dream as they were given everything promised by it at birth. However, with Gatsby we can assume his work, whether legitimate or illegal, still fulfills a market-demand somewhere in economy of the Gilded Age. While Tom and Beatrice only figure out where they wish to invest their money, Jay must decide where to invest his time and trust. By distinguishing these two ways Fitzgerald’s characters accumulate capital the picture of American Dream becomes skewed. Only the latter means is afforded to those without startup capital, but how necessary is it to be born bringing money to the game as opposed to working for it. Therefore, The Great Gatsby opens the floor to the discussion and examination of social mobility when individuals are born into the working class of a country with polarizing wealth distribution (McAdams). Through questioning the American Dream in The Great Gatsby one wrestles with its tangibility, and thus becomes less enchanted by the “land of opportunity.”

Readers might empathize with Amory toward to end of his story, but should they? It is because of his parents that he was afforded the privilege to become a “Princeton man,” and yet that doesn’t do anything for him in the end. While Jay was completing his service in the armed forces, Amory was constructing his own view of a world he does not inhabit. It is only the spiritually divorced man that can ever hope to control one’s life, for the struggles are promised if they remain unbroken by the status quo (Gross). This means it is precisely because of Gatsby’s willingness to capitalize outside of the legitimate market that he can achieve something similar to the American Dream, if only temporarily. However, Amory, unaffected by the dream, refuses to take responsibility for his own economic position. He could have tried to help his mother manage the family’s finances, but they seem to have been taken for granted. Gatsby, on the other hand, has little problem producing and spending his own money. Where Amory waits till graduation to enter the market, Gatsby lies about graduation and finds a market niche all on his own. Yet, the question still remains: Are those born with means given all the opportunities not afforded to those occupying lower classes, or must all simply pick the opportunities they wish to put faith in and capitalize on?

Works Cited

Burnam, Tom. “The Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg: A Re-Examination of “The Great Gatsby””
College English 14.1 (1952): 7-12. JSTOR. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2013. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1948. Print.

“Studies in the Novel, University of North Texas 1.1 (1969): 51-59. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

Krugman, Paul. “How Fares the Dream?” The New York Times.
The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.

McAdams, Tony. “The Great Gatsby As A Business Ethics Inquiry.”
Journal of Business Ethics 12.8 (1993): 653-660. Business Source Complete.
Web. 6 Mar. 2015

Pauly, Thomas H. “Gatsby as Gangster.” Studies in American Fiction 21.2 (1993): 225+.
Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.