Dust in The Great Gatsby
In the novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald incorporates many different themes, but the most prevalent message is that of the impossibility of the American Dream. Fitzgerald writes of two types of people: those who appear to have the ideal life and those who are still trying to achieve their dreams. Tom and Daisy are two characters who seem to have it all: a nice house, a loving spouse, a beautiful child, and plenty of money (Fitzgerald 6; ch. 1). However, neither of them is happy, and both end up having affairs. Their lovers, Gatsby and Mrs. Wilson, are two examples of characters who are still trying to attain the perfect life. By the end of the novel, the hopes of both Gatsby and Mrs. Wilson have been dashed and they have passed away. While discussing the lost dreams of these two people, the image of dust is used several times. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald used dust to symbolize the destruction of the dreams of the common man.
For instance, Mrs. Wilson was an ordinary woman who had high hopes for creating a new and better life. She couldn’t wait to escape her life as the wife of a poor car repairman (35; ch. 2). Her husband had settled for this life, but Myrtle still hoped for better things. A white ashen dust veiled his Mr. Wilson dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity – except his wife, who moved close to Tom (26; ch. 2). Fitzgerald uses dust to emphasize that Mr. Wilson had no dreams, and that Mrs. Wilson still had aspirations of living the perfect life. Myrtle’s dreams are destroyed along with her life when she was hit by Tom’s car, and Fitzgerald uses dust in her death scene to symbolize what she had lost. The other car, the one going toward New York, came to a rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her dark thick blood with the dust (138; ch. 7). Dust is again used, this time to insinuate the lost dreams of a common woman.
Fitzgerald also uses this symbol when he writes of Gatsby’s vanquished hopes. Gatsby was a man who had fulfilled most of his dreams. He had a large house, lots of money, and he mingled with the rich and famous, but he still had one thing that he needed to make him happy (50; ch. 3). Gatsby had achieved all that he had for one purpose: to win the woman that he loved, Daisy (79; ch. 4). Gatsby finally had realized his dreams for a short while, when Daisy told him that she loved him (116; ch. 7). However, this perfection didn’t last very long. Daisy soon went back to Tom, and Gatsby’s visions of his ideal life were destroyed. When Nick visits Gatsby’s house after Daisy had gone back to Tom, he noticed that there was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere (147, ch. 8). This dust was what remained of Gatsby’s obliterated fantasies.
Fitzgerald foreshadows the end of Gatsby’s hopes in the very beginning of the novel also by talking about dust. It is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men (2; ch. 1).
This reference to the conclusion of the book shows Fitzgerald’s view that happiness is only available for a short period of time. Dust again portrays the image of the tiny fragments of hope left in the trail of dashed dreams.
In conclusion, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes of many themes and uses many symbols in The Great Gatsby, but none is more obvious than the theme of the impossibility of the perfect life. By the end of the novel, none of the characters has achieved happiness through their dreams or actions, and Fitzgerald often refers to dust in order to symbolize lost hopes and aspirations of the common-born characters that try to move up in society. Myrtle Wilson was an ordinary, poor woman who dreams of a better life, and dust is used in her death scene to signify the destruction of her attempts to rise in social class. Gatsby was another common person, but he had already attained many of his dreams. However, he still needed one thing to complete his vision, and this was Daisy. Gatsby’s ambition was rewarded with a small glimpse of happiness when Daisy told him that she loved him, but she soon went back to Tom. After this had happened, dust covered everything in Gatsby’s home, representing what remained of his dreams. Therefore, Fitzgerald uses dust in the novel The Great Gatsby to symbolize the lost hopes and dreams of the common man.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Collier Books, 1925.
Dust in The Great Gatsby