Home

Writing Catalog


Sam Mathews

Grade: 11

University High School

Instructor: Scott Boehnen

Dreams Over Demise: An Essay on The Great Gatsby

Critical Essay

Dreams Over Demise: An Essay on The Great Gatsby

Readers of The Great Gatsby will look in vain for the term they expect to find: the American Dream. However, the American Dream is written all over the novel. This concept arises from Gatsby's own dream which resembles the American Dream, a dream of not only economic prowess, but also of social mobility. In the 1920s the American Dream was questioned by the rise of the eugenics movement. The elite class looked down on the lower class, viewing them as inherently defective; the lower class could not—and should not—rise up. This disparity is represented in The Great Gatsby when Tom Buchanan says, "It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things" (Fitzgerald, 13). The last page of The Great Gatsby culminates in the question of whether dreaming can succeed in 1920s American society and if dreaming is good. Overall, two different views on dreaming develop as F. Scott Fitzgerald writes from the perspective of both Nick Carraway and himself. Nick views dreams in a pessimistic manner because he thinks that American society punishes those who dream, while Fitzgerald has an optimistic outlook, believing dreaming can improve oneself and society.

The first two paragraphs are from Nick's viewpoint. Fitzgerald writes in first person singular, suggesting Nick is narrating these thoughts. Fitzgerald uses rhetorical devices such as imagery and metaphors to demonstrate Nick's pessimistic view on dreams. First Nick says, "There were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound" (Fitzgerald, 180). This thought acts as both imagery and as a metaphor. With imagery, Nick's dark details like "shadowy" explain that there is a dark, pessimistic, malicious world. Regarding the metaphor aspect, the lights represent dreams. The ferryboat's artificial light, a paler version of natural light, represents the American Dream that a modern industrial United States claims to have, but does not deliver. Nick describes the ferryboat as moving, suggesting that one can never reach it. Nick uses another metaphor when he ponders, "Gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes —a fresh, green breast of the new world" (Fitzgerald, 180). In this instance, the island is the dream, and the act of flowering epitomizes the benefits that reaching the dream reaps. However, this old island only flowers once, suggesting when someone reaches their dream the reward they were seeking is not what they find. Nick uses this metaphor to further his belief about American society. The Dutch successfully created a colony in New York as they dreamed, but it was quickly stripped away from them by the British. This proposes the idea that even if someone reaches their goal it will be stripped away by American society.

Nick continues to critique American society in the second paragraph of the last page of The Great Gatsby, with an emphasis on Jay Gatsby's own experience. Nick explains Gatsby's experience: "His [Gatsby's] dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night" (Fitzgerald, 180). Nick uses an array of rhetorical devices to express his pessimistic attitude towards dreaming. First, Nick uses imagery of Gatsby reaching out and philosophical diction of grasping a dream to show Gatsby does not reach his goal. Diction with negative connotations like "that vast obscurity" and "dark fields" are used to create a pessimistic tone about dreaming. Finally, Nick uses diction referring to the American society like "city" and "republic." The combination of all these rhetorical devices supports Nick's view of dreams; people like Gatsby can reach for dreams, but American society will always prevent them from reaching those dreams.

Fitzgerald is the narrator in the last two paragraphs on the last page of The Great Gatsby. The writing changes from first person singular to first person plural, indicating Fitzgerald is speaking for all humanity. Fitzgerald sees the light at the end of the tunnel; he has an optimistic view on dreaming. Fitzgerald exclaims, "It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther" (Fitzgerald, 180). Fitzgerald writes this metaphor to explain why dreams are so important. The process of reaching the dream is what is beneficial; reaching the actual dream is just an extra bonus. Fitzgerald uses physical actions to describe people improving, adapting, and excelling while they try to achieve their goals. Fitzgerald emphasizes this in the last paragraph when he says, "So we beat on, boats against the current'' (Fitzgerald, 180). This metaphor about boats on a current is like people with dreams. The hope of and desire for the dream pushes people on despite obstacles. There is a direct contrast between Fitzgerald's view and Nick's view. Nick only sees that in the end, people do not reach their dreams, while Fitzgerald's view explains that it is the process that is beneficial because people improve.

Even though Nick and Fitzgerald have wildly differing ideas on dreams there is real world evidence that supports both. Fitzgerald's argument that dreams are beneficial because of the process stems from an idea that a later writer, James Truslow Adams coined.

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position (Adams qtd. in "American Dream").

There are many small steps in the American Dream, as people aspire to be something better. In the process of reaching a goal each step is an achievement that helps people grow and improve. It isn't necessarily the ultimate reward of the American Dream that is so valuable, but it is the hope that it gives, which betters peoples' lives.

On the other hand, the eugenics movement confirms Nick's belief that American society punishes those who dream. The goal of the eugenics movement was to limit the passing of "bad" genes. Over 60,000 people were sterilized in 32 states. The United States' government discriminated against many minorities such as African Americans, the impoverished, immigrants, people with disabilities, and other persons of color. The government used an incohesive justification of science, which was not valid, to conduct these sterilizations (Stern). The movement, which was generally supported by the upper class in an attempt to create a better human race, told many Americans they were not worthy of the American Dream. People were not given the chance to live how they wanted, which is the contrary of what the American Dream promised. Beyond eugenics, American society also created an atmosphere that punished those who dreamt. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is from a lower class. He dreams of rising the social hierarchy, and he yearns to be with Daisy Buchanan. However, in the end, Gastby is killed by Wilson after protecting Daisy's secret and inadvertently taking responsibility for killing Mrs. Wilson in a car crash. Mrs. Wilson, another dreamer from the lower class, was crushed by a luxury car, which is symbolic of the stratified society that punishes dreamers of the lower class. Gatsby is punished by American society for dreaming, which is what Nick so strongly believes will happen to everyone who dreams. This remains consistent with Nick's pessimistic view about dreaming.

Since Fitzgerald's voice concludes Nick's narration in the final two paragraphs, his voice takes precedence over Nick's. Fitzgerald points out how dreams, in general, can benefit people. However, Nick only focuses on the outcome of dreams. Nick sees that in the 1920s American society, people don't actually reach their dreams. He neglects to see that the process of getting there is beneficial. Even though it may not seem like it, the most realistic view is Fitzgerald's in which dreams enrich peoples' lives despite obstacles like eugenics. Aspiring to reach dreams has benefited the United States and the world with the rise of movements such as the Civil Rights, feminism, LGBTQ+, and countless more. The world must continue to dream because every step we as humans take towards our dreams is another step towards elevating humankind.


Convicts or Nation Builders: Great Britain's Penal Colony in Australia

Critical Essay

Convicts or Nation Builders: Great Britain's Penal Colony in Australia

Today, one in five Australians can draw a line back to an ancestor who was brought to Australia as a convict (Sood). Great Britain has had many penal colonies including Australia. Before sending convicts to Australia, Great Britain sent criminals to its North American territories, primarily Georgia. They sent over 50,000 convicts, including many debtors, to the Thirteen Colonies, but once the American Revolution broke out, Great Britain had to find somewhere else to send its criminals (Butler 12). Great Britain decided to send its convicts to West Africa, but the waterways and lands were not suitable, and the indigenous people were hostile. As a result, Great Britain decided to turn to Australia (Genger 4). Great Britain chose to send convicts to Australia because they wanted to get rid of the criminal class. Colonizing was only a side benefit. The first ships arrived in what is today Sydney Harbor on January 26, 1788. This first penal colony was called Botany Bay (Fearon). This was just the beginning of the transportation of convicts to Australia. From 1788 to 1868, around 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia's 11 penal colonies (Sood). This is known as the largest forced removal of citizens in pre-modern history (Hughes 28). The majority of these criminals did not commit harsh crimes. Around four-fifths of the convicts sent to Australia were transported for "offenses against property." Most of these crimes were petty ones like stealing farm animals or clothing. Only a very small amount of the criminals were sent to Australia for hard crimes like murder or kidnappings (Hughes 233). Convicts had the biggest impact and influence of any group on Australia's development by helping British colonization efforts, interacting with Aboriginal Australians, and influencing politics.

The first way convicts had an impact on Australia was through colonization. Convicts were often used as forms of labor once they arrived in Australia. After a period of time of forced work, the convicts were freed and could choose any job or profession. Robert Hughes explains the system:

Every convict faced the same social prospects. He or she served the Crown or, on the Crown's behalf, some private person, for a given span of years. Then came a pardon or a ticket-of-leave, either of which permitted him to sell his labor freely and choose his place of work (416).

The convicts worked in an indentured servitude system before they were freed. The convicts worked for either the settlers or the government. In Great Britain, the criminals came from many different backgrounds and jobs. Some were skilled laborers while others were unskilled. Convicts worked as laborers on farms, ploughmen, tailors, butchers, cooks, housemaids, grooms, and shoemakers for the settlers (Oxley). They were also carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers, and other skilled craftsmen ("What Work Did Convicts Do?", Sydney Living Museum). The convicts provided free labor that helped drive Australia's economy. Settlers could rely on low-cost labor to propel their businesses and make profits (Genger 5). Convicts had different types of jobs for the government. Convicts worked in gangs to create infrastructure. They made roads and buildings to help Australia create infrastructure. After convicts were freed, they still contributed to the economy, and some even became wealthy (Langley).

Another way the convicts helped Australia colonize was by attracting settlers to the continent. Australia is on the other side of the world from Great Britain, so many people were skeptical about moving there. The government persuaded many people to move to Australia with the promise of two things: land and free labor. This free labor, provided by the convicts, especially free skilled labor, was very valuable because it was so scarce, and it could help drive businesses with little to no cost (Hughes 417). This idea of attracting people to Australia was just one of the three reasons that the British government created the assignment system. The other reasons were to make the citizens pay for the convicts housing, food, and daily living and to separate the convicts, so there would be fewer uprisings ("What Was Convict Assignment?", Sydney Living Museum). Through the assignment system, many settlers were able to use convicts as the basis of the Australian economy. Convicts were used for many jobs and helped stabilize the economy. Convicts were especially useful in working in fields to develop the agricultural segment of the economy. Overall, convicts helped Australia's colonization prosper through creating infrastructure helping the economy grow.

Convicts also had a significant impact on the people who lived in Australia. Convicts affected the lives of many Aboriginal Australians. When the convicts first arrived and Great Britain was colonizing Australia, relationships were good between the settlers and the Aboriginal Australians. Hughes explains the good relationships:

The Royal instructions to every governor of Australia, from Arthur Phillip in 1788 to Thomas Brisbane in 1822, always repeated the same themes. The Aborigines must not be molested. Anyone who 'wantonly' killed them, or gave them 'any unnecessary interruption in the exercise of their several occupations', must be punished (404).

The Aboriginal Australians were respected and treated well, but the convicts were irked by the thought of being considered inferior to the natives. The convicts started to spread racist thoughts amongst themselves and to the higher classes (Hughes 145-147). Over time, the social status of the natives dwindled. Along with the racism coming from the convicts, the Aboriginal Australians were deemed useless by the government because the natives did not use as advanced tools as the Europeans. Settlers only used convict labor because it was too difficult and time consuming to teach the natives to use these tools (Hughes 404). The natives were being ignored. As time passed, relations got even worse and Great Britain committed "cultural genocide" (Genger 9). The British tried to make the Aboriginal Australians like them. The natives were forced to move for "Western" education, and European cultural institutions were forced upon them. As this happened, a lot of the Aboriginal Australians' homes, beliefs, languages, practices, investments, and structures were destroyed (Genger 9).

Not only were the Aboriginal Australians being treated terribly, many were killed. The Aboriginal Australian population declined from 300,000 in 1788 to 58,000 in the 1920s; more than 80 percent were killed (Harris 81). This was primarily due to violence and disease. The initial violence was started because of convicts. In 1788, convicts stole some Aboriginal Australian weapons to sell to free sailors for souvenirs. Aboriginal Australians killed the convicts who stole their weapons in retaliation (Hughes 145). Convicts who were freed often moved to the outskirts of towns. They maintained their anti-Aboriginal Australian beliefs as they moved, so there was a high volume of conflict. There was also a lot of conflict over land in Australia. A court decision in 1836 said that all of the land in Australia was the Crown's. Hughes explains, "[It was] declared that the Aborigines were too few and too ill-organized to be considered 'free and independent tribes' who owned the land they lived on" (406). Because the natives did not own the land in the eyes of the British, Great Britain applied terra nullius to take the land. Terra nullius was created by Great Britain, so they could take any vacant or uninhabited lands (Genger 6). When new penal colonies were created in Australia like at the mouth of Port Phillip, Victoria, the British took control of the land. They did not have any negotiations with the Aboriginal Australians. This caused conflicts between the Europeans and Aboriginal Australians (Genger 5). Harris quantifies, "About 2,000 non-Abo-riginal people, mostly Europeans, were killed by Aboriginal people and that about 10 times this number — 20,000 Aboriginal people — were killed by Europeans" (Harris 83). Disease also wiped-out large numbers of Aboriginal Australians. The natives did not have any immunity against European diseases. Diseases like the measles, smallpox, and influenza spread throughout the native population and killed many (Harris 96-97). The deaths of the natives is a dark part of Australia's past. It stopped the expansion of their culture and it changed Australia's path. Overall, convicts impacted Aboriginal Australians through lowering their social status and playing a major role in the massacre of thousands of them.

The last major area convicts had an impact on is politics. The British government sent political dissidents to Australia because they did not want an uprising like the French Revolution (Moore 15). Around 3,600 political dissidents were sent to Australia. There were many groups including the Scottish Martyrs, Irish Rebels, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, and more (Moore 8). Many political groups had an impact on Australia, but there are a couple of key ones. The first are the Scottish Martyrs. Thomas Muir along with the Scottish Martyrs were the first political convicts sent to Australia (Moore 21). They were sent to Australia in 1794 because they wanted parliamentary reform (Moore 54). While in Australia, Muir along with the other Scottish Martyrs were instrumental in changes. They showed the British government the economic potential of Australia, so the government would invest more. This helped improve living conditions. The Scottish Martyrs were also activists for a free market and the introduction of a parliamentary government instead of military rule in Australia. They sent letters to the government demanding a better system, so competition could drive the economy and living conditions would get better (Moore 59). Muir eventually escaped the penal colony, but he planted a democratic seed before leaving. He created a foundation in Australia that future political convicts and other people could use to spread ideas. Back in England, Muir had radical proposals for working-class inclusion and universal suffrage, which helped start the Chartist movement (Watson). Some of the Chartists would eventually find themselves in Australia as convicts, and they also had a significant impact on Australia. The Chartists had little impact in Great Britain, but they had success in Australia. Monash University explains, "Australia… was one of the first nations to introduce the secret ballot, and was an early adopter of manhood suffrage and payment for members of parliament — all Chartist demands" (Monash University). The Chartists' ideas were also implemented into the New South Wales constitution (Moore 205). Many Chartist ideas became a critical part of the Australian Labor Party as well (Moore 217). Another group that had an impact on Australia were the Irish Rebels. The 1798 Irish Rebels were sent to New South Wales in Australia (Moore 68). The Irish convicts, led by Phillip Cunningham, started the first rebellion against the British in Australia. On March 4th, 1804, the convicts revolted at Castle Hill in New South Wales, with a cry of "Death or liberty and a ship to take us home" (Murphy). The rebels were eventually stopped at Vinegar Hill, but they had a significant impact on Australia (Murphy). The Irish Rebels were the first to resist the British and their working-class ideas were implemented into Australian politics. Their ideas have influenced the Australian Labor Party through ideas of trade unionism and collective bargaining (Moore 132-133). Overall, many different political groups had an influence on Australia. Australia was a melting pot for different ideas and politics because so many different political dissidents were sent there.

The political convicts had a tremendous impact on the politics in Australia. Australia was home to many new political ideas because of convicts. Universal male suffrage was granted in South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria in the 1850s and universal suffrage including women was granted in 1902 (Moore 66-67). The implementation of women's suffrage happened a full 16 years before Great Britain granted women's suffrage themselves because the Chartists were so influential in Australia (Moore 396). The world's first labor government was enacted on December 1, 1899, in Queensland, Australia. The leader was Anderson Dawson, and this Labor government was the foundation that the Australian Labor Party used to grow (Fitzgerald). Early acceptance of trade unionism and working-class politics came from the Tolpuddle Martyrs (Moore 396). Overall, the basis of all Australian politics came from convicts. Tony Moore explains, "Liberalism, republicanism, trade unionism, working-class politics, democracy, responsible government and post-colonial nationalism all arrived in the colonies in chains" (396). Today, Australia is known as being one of the most democratic nations in the world and the origins of this great democracy fall to the political convicts who were brought to Australia.

Convicts have often been overlooked by Australians. Many people have forgotten or ignored the convict past and their impacts. Until recently, current day Australians were ashamed of being descendants of convicts. However, convicts had a great impact on Australia through politics, social interactions, and colonization. It is difficult to tell whether the convicts had a good impact on Australia. The convicts made Australia better through helping it colonize and by bringing new political ideas. Although the massacre of thousands of Aboriginal Australians cannot be overlooked, the massacre was not completely the convicts' fault. However, their prejudice against the Aboriginal Australians fueled violence. Whether or not the convicts had a good or bad impact on Australia, it is indisputable that they played a material part in the development of Australia.