“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
-The Great Gatsby
"I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really -- I was alive."
The American Dream, is, at its utmost core, the pursuit of wealth. Often accompanied by illusions of unadulterated grandeur and luxury, pursuers buy into this philosophy, chasing a reality where they live blissfully distant from the issues that plagued their previous, penniless lives. Both The Great Gatsby and Breaking Bad recount the lives of two men, seeking to enrich themselves through the wonders of capitalism. While Walter White and Jay Gatsby are distinctly different characters, both manage to achieve their fantasies of vast, unthinkable wealth before ultimately realizing that the wealth they had accrued could never truly resolve the problems that haunted them originally. It is the way, and the reason, that these two confront their newfound epiphany that is truly the divergence of their characters, one becoming obsessed with the road, while the other became consumed by the destination.
The image above is one of the final scenes of the show Breaking Bad where Walter White finally admits to both him and his wife the reason behind his insistence on building his meth empire. While the initially feeble, timid man began cooking drugs to make enough money to support his family after he contracts a terminal lung disease, Walter soon finds himself obsessed with the power that his status as a kingpin brought. Throughout the show, Walt rejects his status as a power hungry monster, refusing to accept the fact that he continued to murder and cook for his own self satisfaction. Instead, he points to the destination, where that money would eventually go, and manages to convince himself that every crime he commits is for the sake of his borderline broke family. Gatsby on the other hand does not particularly enjoy the wealth and power he has gathered. While he is famous for hosting lavish parties, he does not partake in them, purposefully ostracizing himself from his guests. To Gatsby, his wealth is simply a means to accomplish a goal, to rekindle the flames of his long lost love, Daisy Buchanan.
Walter's confession, as shown in the picture above, emphasizes the difference between Walter and Gatsby’s characters, Walt who becomes drunk on power, and Gatsby, who doesn’t drink despite the fact that other drunk people gave him power. Where Walter attempts to further embroil himself in conflict to further live out the journey to his dream, Gatsby purposefully distances himself from the journey, only travelling through it to meet Daisy once again. Despite the fact that their reasons for pursuing the American Dream, to fix their problems as former members of a lower caste of society, are essentially the same, the scenario of the image frame the severe differences between Gatsby and Walter’s ambitions.
Gatsby and Walt's quotes further exemplify this juxtaposition of opposites. Gatsby states that he wished to become wealthy to make Daisy cry out “I must have you!” His reason for seeking out fortune is, as stated previously, to catch the attention of his lost lover. Gatsby’s personal goals directly conflict with the internal struggle of Walter White between his obligation to his family, his supposed reason for pursuing a drug laden version of the American Dream, and his own, selfish desires to feel like a god. While both men do illegal, morally incorrect things in order to get what they want, and while their journeys parallel the other’s in many ways, the things that they “want” are so incredibly different, that it leads them to have entirely different philosophies regarding how they should use their newfound power, Walt actively becoming involved in expanding it, and Gatsby, passively watching as his guests party on without him.
Ultimately, though, Walter and Gatsby’s struggle to achieve their goals lead to their eventual downfalls, both dead by the end of their respective book/show. In the end, it is not their reason for the pursuit of power, but their blindness in pursuing that power that eventually kill them, as seen in Gatsby accepting the blame for Daisy’s hit and run murder, and Walter White’s days as a drug cook finally catching up to him. Both of their insistence on attempting to achieve their own respective ideal realities, and the way they recklessly pursue them without weighing them against the potential consequences is what leads to Gatsby and Walter both indirectly being murdered by their enemies. In the end, at least according to The Great Gatsby, the American Dream has long been dead, and anyone naive enough to pursue it will follow the same, unfortunate fate of Gatsby, regardless if they find the journey or the destination more enjoyable Wealth is not the catalyst for happiness.
If you have read The Great Gatsby, watched Breaking Bad or done both, then I invite you to consider the endings of either the book or the show and answer one question: whose death do you think was the most tragic, Walt or Gatsby? If you have any thoughts or any parallels between the story of Jay Gatsby and Walter White, then I strongly encourage you to discuss in the comments below.