American Dream in “Franklin’s Way to Wealth” vs “The Great Gatsby”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 4
Words: 1106
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: Master


Jay Gatsby was a man known and remembered by most people for his wealth and luxurious parties, which were attended by hundreds of guests. At first glance, Gatsby’s life looks like an American Dream because of his wealth and the fact that he achieved his status by perseverance and his own efforts. However, if one looks at the details of the story, one realizes that Gatsby has little in common with the idea of the simple and honest man described by Benjamin Franklin in Franklin’s Way to Wealth. Therefore, as is evident in the movie The Great Gatsby, Franklin’s assertion that the American Dream is available to all people is incorrect because Jay Gatsby didn’t reach it honestly, ignored all the frugality and prudence rules, but lost it because of love.

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Baz Luhrmann, the director of The Great Gatsby, managed to show the American Dream, or rather the dream of wealth and celebrity, brightly and spectacularly; however, he only partially illuminated the path to achieving it. At the beginning of the film, the viewer can only hear stories that Gatsby invented about himself or rumors others have created (Luhrmann, 2013). For this reason, it seems that Gatsby has always been rich and is the epitome of success and wealth. However, when James Gatz, which is real Gatsby’s name, reveals to his friend and neighbor the story of his origin, he becomes a symbol of the American Dream in Franklin’s interpretation (Luhrmann, 2013). Franklin (2013) argued that working honestly, avoiding laziness and idleness, paying taxes, and serving your society is the path to wealth. Hence, James Gatz, who was raised by a family of poor farmers and went through the war, worked hard on Cody’s yacht, and achieved wealth because of his dream and endeavor, is Franklin’s ideal American (Luhrmann, 2013). However, further details of Gatsby’s life demonstrate that this idea is false.

First, James Gatz was a diligent student and companion of Dan Cody, whom he once rescued from a yacht wreck. Gatsby’s endeavor to become a better person is the kind of work that Franklin described, although Gatsby wanted to earn money through inheritance but not to save. However, his hard work and friendship with Cody demonstrated that an honest achievement of a dream could be unrealistic when Gatsby lost his entire inheritance because of deception (Luhrmann, 2013). Military service and participation in the war also brought Gatsby nothing but obsessive love for Daisy. Although further details of Gatsby’s life are vague, his behavior and hints from other characters show that the young man did not achieve his position in an honest way. Gatsby frequently has suspicious phone calls, meets with well-known people in the criminal circles, and Mr. Buchanan accuses him of fraud with pharmacies and bonds (Luhrmann, 2013). Although Gatsby denies all of the accusations, the details of the story suggest they are right. Consequently, Gatsby’s way to wealth does not match Franklin’s ideas and demonstrates that this approach makes the American Dream real for only a few people.

Moreover, Gatsby also violates one of the basic rules on the way to wealth; however, his actions have no consequences. Franklin (2013) argues that spending money on temporary pleasures is one of the main enemies of wealth and that money squandering makes all effort and work meaningless. However, the parties that Gatsby throws, his expensive car and “castle” only by their appearance deny this statement (Luhrmann, 2013). Gatsby had everything he wanted and spent his money on small and large purchases because he had enough money and a source of income that could satisfy his needs. In addition, Gatsby bought all the things and threw parties, not due to his vanity but because he wanted to attract the attention of Daisy, who needed money and comfortable life (Luhrmann, 2013). Therefore, while frugality is one of the important aspects of wealth accumulation, buying temporary pleasures is not an obstacle to the wealth of those people who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in an honest or dishonest way.

Another difference between Franklin’s ideas and real life is the likelihood of losing your wealth and the American Dream. Franklin (2013) believed that a person who achieved their dreams through their work could lose everything through laziness, idleness, or unreasonable waste. However, people can lose their wealth for various unforeseen reasons, such as illness, war, natural disaster, or death. In addition, those people who have more cunning and less moral principles can easily steal the success, money, and achievements of an honest person. Gatsby received nothing during his years of sailing with Cody, although he earned an inheritance with his loyalty (Luhrmann, 2013). Thus, the American Dream is often unattainable for honest people for reasons beyond their control.

Moreover, if one views the American Dream as a combination of material wealth, respect in society, and the love of dear ones, this dream is even more fragile. This fact is confirmed by the story of Gatsby, who lost everything because of the love and obsession with Daisy (Luhrmann, 2013). Gatsby’s death was unfair and undeserved because, despite all his mistakes, he did not want to harm other people. However, Gatsby lost everything because he wanted to protect the woman he loved from the murder charge (Luhrmann, 2013). In addition, even if Gatsby hadn’t been shot, he probably would have lost his American Dream anyway. If Gatsby found out that Daisy ran away with her husband and never called him, her act would probably break the man’s heart, and he would lose hope and the meaning of his wealth (Luhrmann, 2013). Consequently, the American Dream can be inaccessible to a person due to the lack of motivation for its achievement.


In conclusion, the example of Jay Gatsby’s life demonstrates that the way to the American Dream is challenging and differs significantly from Franklin’s ideas. Honest and hard work is a too long road with many obstacles such as illness, deception, or failure. Frugality and enthusiasm are often not the main reasons for accumulating wealth, since understanding the legal or illegal ways that bring significant income is a more reasonable opportunity for success. However, even those people who have achieved the American Dream can lose everything in a few moments due to reasons beyond their control but not due to laziness, idleness, or unreasonable waste. Consequently, The Great Gatsby demonstrates that the idea that the American Dream is available to all people is not correct. The American Dream is only available to people who are more cunning and entrepreneurial to find a shortcut to wealth or simply lucky to earn it through frugality and honest work.

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Franklin, B. (2013). Franklin’s way to wealth or, ‘Poor Richard improved’. The Project Gutenberg.

Luhrmann, B. (2013). The great Gatsby. Warner Bros.