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The Great Gatsby delusion
F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, the emblematic novel of 'the American dream’, is as misunderstood as that clichéd phrase

If America is a land of fables, then the “American dream” is supposed to be one of our favourites. Although most would call it a consolatory idea, the phrase “American dream” was in fact created to describe not America’s success stories, but its failures: it was intended as a corrective to acquisitiveness, not a name for it.

In 1931, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote an essay, “Echoes of the Jazz Age”, in which he noted that the 1920s “leaped to a spectacular death in October, 1929.” Less remembered is that he also marked the jazz age’s birth — with a violent protest against corrupt financiers. It started “when the police rode down the demobilized country boys” just home from the Great War at the behest of “goose-livered business men,” during the May Day riots of 1919; it began to seem that “maybe we had gone to war for JP Morgan’s loans after all.” Ordinary Americans would continue to pay the price for the 1920s. By 1929, more than half the population lived below subsistence level, while the richest one percent owned 40 percent of the nation’s wealth: capital had been siphoned to the top.

Such a top-heavy system seemed bound to keel over, and the historian James Truslow Adams (among others) predicted, before 1929, that a crash would come. In the same year as Fitzgerald’s essay, Adams wrote a book entitled The American Dream. His publishers didn’t think it a catchy phrase, so they persuaded him to call it The Epic of America instead.

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Source: Telegraph




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