A Primer on Crime and Delinquency Theory recognises that crime can be a result of individuals aspiring to achieve the American dream. This theory relates to The Great Gatsby, because Gatsby partly achieves economic success through crime, possibly through bootlegging.
Steven F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld state that the American dream is '"the goal of material success.'" Therefore, if an individual is unable to gain economic success through the legal means of working hard, they will resort to working hard illegally, because every American citizen is supposedly entitled to the dream. This definition also shows how materialistic America has become, as one of the cardinal purposes, or perhaps the cardinal purpose of American life, is to obtain as much money as possible in order to gain material items. In relation to The Great Gatsby, Gatsby achieves material success illegally. For example, he lives in a mansion, holds parties and drives a Rolls-Royce. As a result, he illustrates that some individuals are able to achieve material success through illegal means.
However, Messner and Rosenfeld's definition of the American dream can be seen as unreliable, because they have a middle-class bias. They assume that 'crime and delinquency among lower-class individuals are reactions to their failure to achieve middle-class goals.' Therefore, these theorists suggest that the lower-class are unable to achieve the American dream and this is echoed within The Great Gatsby, because George Wilson is represented as a lower-class citizen, who wishes to progress upwards into the middle-class. However, during the 1920s this would have been toilsome as arguably, the lower-class and upper-classes dominated society at this time. Yet, Wilson does not turn to crime in order to achieve, instead he works hard in his garage, hoping that one day his hard work will be worthwhile. Therefore, it appears that individuals who obtain morals will not result to crime in order to achieve the American dream, even if they are in an unfortunate situation. Wilson demonstrates a sense of morality through his religious language, for instance: 'God sees everything.' (Page 146.) In contrast, Gatsby resorts to crime in order to achieve, therefore he can be portrayed an an immoral character.