It was literary critic Lionel Trilling who quite aptly described the collective entity Jay Gatsby when he wrote, “Jay Gatsby [stands] for America itself.” Jay Gatsby lives his life entrenched in unfathomable wealth. His true roots are rather mysterious, but they revolve around an anti-Calvinistic attitude and what is Jay Gatsby essentially reinventing himself. Through Gatsby’s modest upbringing, domineering drive, and his tragic demise, Gatsby truly is representative of America as a whole.From its very beginnings, America consisted of rather modest individuals who all led simple lives with accordingly simple goals (Bewley 13). Jay Gatsby, or James Gatz, began his life like the classic American ideal, through the idea of rebirth. Originally born to modest farmers, Gatsby receives his first taste of affluence from a man named Dan Cody (Mizener 182). As Fitzgerald himself puts it, “To young Gatz, resting on his oars and looking up at the railed deck, the yacht represented all the beauty and glamour in the world…Cody asked him a few questions (one of them elicited the brand new name). (Fitzgerald 106)” It is Gatsby’s total reformation that aptly reflects America’s reputation as the land of opportunity. Beyond his desire and ability to become reborn, Dan Cody also facilitates the growth of Gatsby’s eternal drive for wealth and glory. Critic Marius Bewley asserts, “[Gatsby] sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about his father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, meretricious beauty” (Bewley 15). Gatsby’s life is dedicated to his pursuits of a lavish lifestyle that borders on, if not enters into, the arena of gaudiness. It is these immensely capitalistic goals that also parallel the pervading mindset of past, present, and future America. Through an effective blend of a personality naturally inclined towards success and the influence of others, Gatsby manages to reinvent his own image in the eyes of those around him, just as America has done in the eyes of the world time and time again.Literary critic Marius Bewley stated, “The American Dream, stretched between a golden past and a golden future, is always betrayed by a desolate present” (Bewley 17). It is this “desolate present” that plagues Gatsby’s life. Primarily, his modest upbringing shields him from the dishonesty present in those surrounding him (Mizener 190) and allows him to be blindly in love with Daisy (Bewley 20). Despite the seeming hopelessness of Gatsby’s desire, this very inability to abandon one’s goals also serves to represent America. Time and time again, America has been made glorious and has reached historic precedents through individuals who refused to abandon their goals. At one point in the novel, Nick states of Gatsby, “There was something gorgeous about him,” but not only was this a catchphrase of the 1920’s, it shows Nick’s envy of Gatsby’s riches and illustrates the American need for superiority and to be looked up to by the rest of the world (Bewley 26). Paradoxically, while striving for indescribable grandeur, Gatsby also inadvertently works towards humility. Most notably, in the scene where Gatsby shows off his imported shirts to Daisy and Nick, Gatsby’s actions are the engenderment of what Marius Bewley refers to as an unconscious “inner vision” Gatsby is unable to formally recognize (Bewley 22). Finally, Marius Bewley asserts that, “Gatsby to us is less an individual than a projection, or mirror, of our ideal selves,” this notion, that Gatsby is the embodiment of all that mainstream America strives for (24) absolutely reaffirms the fact that Gatsby represents America.During an interview, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” It is this quotation that embodies all that is Gatsby’s fall and its parallel’s to America. While lying in the pool, moments before his death, Nick aptly describes to the reader the desolate feeling surrounding the fall of the noble: “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe [the phone call] would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” (Fitzgerald 169). Just as with any hero, from John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to America itself, all figures of great power and nobility eventually find their decline and consequent fall from grace. Gatsby felt alone and Gatsby felt alienated, all feelings of sorrow and failure that are not at all uncommon to the lives of many Americans. After the murder goes unnoticed by Gatsby’s hired help, it seems life continues on a normal course for quite some time before the true gravity of Gatsby’s death sinks in (Hindus 243). This mindset that doesn’t accept change or sorrow is quite similar to the emotionless manner with which many Americans view their lives and the lives of people around them.”[Future dreams] eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther” (Fitzgerald 189). The idea aptly portrayed in these final lines of The Great Gatsby is the simple notion that people will forever seek certain goals, American goals. Goals such as power, freedom, love, and wealth; and it is the total amalgamation of these goals that truly represents and describes the vibrant spirit and being of Jay Gatsby.Works CitedBewley, Marius. “Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York/Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1986. 11-27.Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1925.Hindus, Milton. “F. Scott Fitzgerald and Literary Anti-Semitism.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski, and Phyllis C. Mendelson. Detroit: Gate Research Company, 1978. 243-244.Mizener, Arthur. “The Great Gatsby.” The American Novel. Ed. Wallace Stegner. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1965. 180-191.Morris, Lloyd. “Postscript to Yesterday: America: The Last Fifty Years.” Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski, and Phyllis C. Mendelson. Detroit: Gate Research Company, 1978. 244-245.
The figurative as well as literal death of Jay Gatsby in the novel The Great Gatsby symbolizes a conclusion to the principal theme of the novel. With the end of the life of Jay Gatsby comes the end of what Fitzgerald views as the ultimate American ideal: self-made success. The intense devotion Gatsby has towards his rebirth is evident by the plans set forth in Gatsby’s teenage schedule, such as “Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it.” Gatsby’s death ironically comes about just as he sorrowfully floats in his pool, witnessing the “youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves” (157) come crashing down. The rhetorical devices employed in the above passage illustrate the demise of the American Dream, the central theme of The Great Gatsby.”Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees,” (169). Two details in this rather terse paragraph come to the reader’s attention: first, Gatsby’s decline for assistance in carrying the mattress to the pool; and second, the “yellowing trees.” Gatsby’s refusal to accept help with the mattress is just another example of Gatsby’s life, spent working for his own benefit, without receiving help from anyone. Gatsby even had the opportunity to receive $25,000 in inheritance from Dan Cody, but as Fitzgerald puts it, “He never understood the legal device that was used against him, but…He didn’t get it.” The yellowing trees tell the reader that autumn is fast approaching; and most people would agree that swimming in New York in autumn is most likely not the best idea. However, Gatsby’s choice to swim is an exemplification of Gatsby’s refusal to accept the way of life which is dictated to him. Had Gatsby kept along the path of life that was seemingly set for him, he would not have become half of the man he currently was. Ironically, Gatsby’s determination to live outside of the realms of conventional judgment is what also leads to his demise.The next few sentences in the passage are sentences that are written with particularly descriptive similes all calling attention to one conclusion, Gatsby’s unattainable dream of a relationship with Daisy had come to an end. “[Gatsby] must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream,” (169). As Gatsby lay in the pool, he felt forlorn. He was coming to the realization that Daisy had become the one goal he was unable to reach. Gatsby was alone and cold, both figuratively and literally. Gatsby used to envelop himself in the warmth of his wealth, grandeur, and dreams of Daisy; however, as the depressing notion that he could never rekindle what he and Daisy used to have began to sink in, he felt stripped and enervated. “He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass,” (169). With his skewed view of life removed, Gatsby was viewing the world through new eyes. Rather than see the world he had grown accustomed to, Gatsby began to see life and the area around him through a much more realistic and pessimistic stance. Gatsby’s dismal glance fell upon “an unfamiliar sky,” “frightening leaves,” a grotesque rose, raw sunlight, and barren grass. “A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about,” (169). Gatsby viewed this new world as being full of people who are “poor ghosts,” “breathing dreams like air.” The simile between dreams and air proposes a very interesting concept, the idea that dreams are essential to life. Just as people need air to live, dreams are necessary as well; and since Gatsby ceased to have his dream of being with Daisy, he ceased to have a way to live. Fitzgerald’s choice of the word “fortuitously” fixates a notion of Gatsby’s personal character. Always needing to be superior, Gatsby found himself unable to admit defeat in any field, especially that of romance; the idea that these “poor ghosts” drift around by chance signifies that in Gatsby’s final defeat, he did not lose because Tom is superior in any way, but rather because Daisy and Tom’s romance happened by chance.Throughout the course of the passage, Fitzgerald foreshadows Gatsby’s death. Phrases such as “waited for [the phone message] until four o’clock–until long after there was any one to give it to if it came,” “paid a high price for living too long with a single dream,” and “that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees,” all point to Gatsby’s impending murder. Even the simile regarding dreams being like air, essential to life, hints that Gatsby’s life will soon to come to an end given that he has nothing left to dream for.The last striking bit of irony occurs in the final paragraph of the passage, “The chauffeur–he was one of Wolfshiem’s proteges–heard the shots–afterward he could only say that he hadn’t thought anything much about them.” This sentence says that Gatsby’s butler, the one who could have possibly saved Gatsby’s life, and caught Wilson, heard the gun shots, but didn’t notice them. The irony is this: when Gatsby still saw hope between himself and Daisy, he replaced his original butler staff with assistants from Meyer Wolfshiem, a man who works for the mob. He hired these men so that they would protect Daisy from hearing possible rumors regarding Gatsby’s past. In effect, he hired men to shield Daisy from rumors; however, these men were from the mob and thus accustomed to hearing gunshots, so the very men he hired for his benefit also lead him to a great deal of harm. Gatsby’s success facilitated his ability to hire these mobsters, however, just as with his infatuation with Daisy, Gatsby’s success led to his downfall.The idea that the American Dream is to be successful by one’s own devices is the prominent theme of The Great Gatsby, however, through the use of rhetorical devices, the demise of said American Dream is just as vividly illustrated. If Fitzgerald’s tale is any insight into the fate of those who dare to rise above the life that was dealt to them, these efforts serve futile. As Fitzgerald says at the conclusion of the novel, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Living too long with one dream leads to inevitable destruction, and without anything to dream for, there is no way to truly live.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is regarded as a brilliant piece of literature that offers a vivid peek into American life in the 1920’s. The central characteristics of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920’s society are shown through the decay of the American Dream. This novel shows that the American Dream no longer signifies the noble idea it once did, but rather it stands for the corruption of the 1920’s society. The decay of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby is shown through the actions of the characters when America, the new Eden, is abused and destructed, when Gatsby cannot attain the success that he desires with Daisy and through the careless and dependent attitudes of the aristocracy.One of the main ideas of the American Dream in Modernism refers to America as a new Eden, a land of beauty, bounty, opportunity and unlimited resources. The characters in The Great Gatsby do not respect or preserve this New Eden; rather they do nothing but corrupt, destruct and abuse it in their desire for money and power. The lives of people like Gatsby, Daisy, Tom and Jordan revolve around material things and money. This becomes a prevalent concept throughout the novel. Daisy especially is extremely caught up in the desire for wealth, so much that her voice is described as being, “full of money” (127), by Gatsby. The society of the 1920’s, like Daisy, is characterized by an endless pursuit of pleasure and a decay of moral values. Throughout the summer months, Gatsby is known for all the extravagant parties he throws. People come from all over New York City to Gatsby’s party, although none of them seem to know Gatsby other than from the rumors they hear. This makes no difference to them because they are only interested in pursuing their own pleasure, which they find at drunken parties such as Gatsby’s. This pursuit seems to be a top priority for most of the characters in this book, with no respect for the opportunity or beauty of America. As one of the guests at Gatsby’s party says, “I like to come, I never care what I do, so I always have a good time” (45). Aside from being a careless group of people, many of the guests at Gatsby’s parties are destructive and abuse the new Eden for their pleasure. As Nick states, “Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toil all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden shears, repairing the ravages of the night before” (43). These people give no thought to their actions no matter how destructive, as long as they reach their goals of money and pleasure.A spirit of perseverance can characterize the American Dream along with hope, through which one can expect continued success, progress and the fulfilling of desires. While this may have been true for some people, it certainly is not for Gatsby. His ultimate goal in all that he did was to get Daisy. The ostentatious parties, the huge mansion, the lavish clothing are all attempts to win the attention of the cruel and shallow Daisy, who cares only for pleasure and money. Little did Gatsby know that what he desired was something unattainable. He builds Daisy up into something that she is not. She becomes the object of his dreams and desires more than the actual person that Gatsby knows. When Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in five years, Nick comments that, “There must be moments…when Daisy tumbles short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion” (101). This fantasy that he creates could never be attained with the results he desires. “He wants nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you'” (116). He desires so much of Daisy that in the end he found that what he dreams cannot be fulfilled. In a way Gatsby is neglecting reality while he chases an illusion. The more Gatsby reaches for his dream, the more it retreats into the shadowy past, taking him further and further from what is real. At the end of the book, after the death and funeral of Gatsby, Nick states, “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must seem so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it” (189). Gatsby travels far in his life, and always seems to have hope in the future, although that hope came to an end along with his relationship with Daisy and his life.The idea that the self-reliant, independent person can triumph and get anywhere as long as they trust in their own powers is contradicted in the novel The Great Gatsby. The main characters of this book seem to be the complete opposites of those having self-reliant and independence. They are extremely self-conscious and social people who rely on others to maintain their careless existence. At one of the parties, Jordan Baker tells Nick, “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy” (54). This statement is completely ironic in its meaning since large parties are in no way intimate. The society of the 1920’s desires to float around from group to group at parties, never being intimate in any way, but rather just being social with as many people as possible. At the same party, Nick notices that, “the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never know each other’s names” (44). The entire society appears to be utterly careless with their entire existence, not just at social events. This carelessness is one of the biggest traits of the Upper Class, which comes to be known as the “Lost Generation.” They are unable to be independent, in such a way that when things do not go their way they rely on others to fix them. Nick comes to realize this about Tom and Daisy at the end of the book, “They [are] careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smash up things and creatures and then retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that keeps them together, and let other people clean up the mess they make” (188). This inability to rely on themselves instead of others and their money eventually leads to Nick reaching a new maturity and realizing that these people are no more than children.
To many Americans, wealth and happiness are inextricably intertwined. After all, the democratic ideals of our country are predicated on the notion of the âself-madeâ? man. Ironically, it is sometimes the striving for wealth or the striving for happiness through wealth that leads to our downfall. In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald presents us with a vivid picture of three different strata of society and their common thirst for wealth. We meet Daisy and Tom Buchanan of the âold moneyâ? community of East Egg; they seem to have everything, yet they lead double lives and destroy others in their quest for excitement and self-fulfillment. On the other side of Manhasset Bay in West Egg resides Jay Gatsby, a newly wealthy man who throws lavish parties and seems to encompass the âself-madeâ? man ideal. However, Gatsby also longs for happiness, in the form of Daisy Buchanan. Situated in the middle of the vast wealth of East and West Egg is the Valley of Ashes, home to the utterly poor Wilsons. Although the Valley of Ashes is essentially a despair-inducing locale, the Wilsons, envious of the wealth of their surroundings, go to great lengths to try to attain the âideal lifeâ? that they incorrectly believe East and West Eggers lead. It is thus from these discrete yet connected societies the springs Fitzgeraldâs warning of the superficiality and longing for happiness in the form of wealth that pervades communities of extreme wealth or poverty.Our introduction to the Buchanans begins in their enormous house, a ânice placeâ? (12) that Tom ostentatiously displays to Nick Carraway. Tom and Daisy seem to have everything: secured wealth, a beautiful little girl, and a position in high society. Their immense wealth causes them to believe that they are indestructible and omnipotent; furthermore, they believe that wealth gives them a license to manipulate others. Tom clearly takes Nickâs friendship for granted, for he drags him to the city and expects that Nick will approve of his behavior. With regard to Tomâs insistence that Nick follow him to New York to see Myrtle, Nick remarks, âThe supercilious assumption was that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to doâ? (28). Ultimately, when Tom and Daisy leave East Egg in the wake of Myrtleâs murder, Tom decides that he no longer needs Nick as a friend and he moves away without notifying him.The superficiality of Tom and Daisyâs marriage is manifested in a longing for something that is ârealâ? or âtrue.â? Tomâs dissatisfaction and restlessness lead him to pursue an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the poor wife of a gas station owner. In Myrtle, Tom hopes to find adventure or something to ease his boredom. When Myrtle fails to live up to Tomâs expectations, he believes that, because she is more of his property than a human, he has the right to discipline her accordingly. After Myrtle refuses to stop saying Daisyâs name despite Tomâs request that she not, Tom, âmaking a short deft movement [â¦] broke her nose with his open handâ? (41). Myrtle bestows on Tom, her âsweetieâ? (39) much affection and admiration. He, however, shows his arrogance and lack of caring for her when, after Daisy accidentally kills Myrtle, he and Daisy quickly leave East Egg, seemingly without a care for poor Myrtle or Wilson.Across the Bay, in West Egg, Gatsby also leads a superficial life saturated with longing. However, unlike Tom and Daisy, Gatsby knows exactly what will make him happy: Daisyâs love. Gatsby believes that ostentatious displays of wealth and lavish parties will bring Daisy to him. When Daisy visits, he insists on giving her and Nick a tour of his extravagant house: âWe went upstairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken bathsâ¦â? (96). All that Gatsby wants is to ârepeat the past,â? (116) a time when he had Daisy. Ironically though, Gatsby won Daisyâs love when he was a poor soldier. Gatsbyâs sustained efforts to win Daisyâs love and his happiness through money ultimately result in his downfall. It is by association with Daisy and Tom that Gatsby becomes embroiled in the killing of Myrtle Wilson, and that Gatsby is killed by Wilson.Between the lavishness of West Egg and East Egg lies a desolate area inhabited by two appropriately depressed people, Myrtle Wilson and her husband Wilson. The Valley of Ashes is preyed upon by its surrounding wealthier communities. The East and West Eggers use the train station in the Valley of Ashes to get Manhattan, but they try to spend as little time as possible in this âterrible placeâ? (30). Furthermore, those living in the Valley of Ashes are corrupted by the envy the have for the surrounding communities. Myrtle Wilson has such a strong desire for wealth and what she believes will be ensuing happiness, that she is instantly willing to destroy her relationship with Wilson when she meets Tom on a train. Myrtle is clearly most attracted to Tomâs wealth: âHe had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldnât keep my eyes off himâ¦â? (40) When Myrtle spends time with Tom, she too begins to act like a money-driven, obnoxious East Egger. She tells Nick and her sister that she married Wilson because she âthough he was a gentleman,â? (39) but when she learned that he had âborrowed somebodyâs best suit to get married in, (39) she rendered him unfit âto lick my shoeâ? (39). Although Myrtle may think Tom is her âsweetieâ? (39) and be superficially happy when they are together, her desire to sustain her relationship with him ultimately results in her death. As she is rushing away from Wilson to greet the car that she believes Tom is in, with out-flailed arms symbolic of her desire to reach for greater things, she is run over and killed.Through his vivid portrayal of the corruption and superficiality that pervades lives of extreme wealth or extreme poverty, Fitzgerald seems to suggest, through his representation of Nick Carrawayâs middle-class status, what socio-economic class may be âright.â? Nick lives on West Egg in a âsmall eye-soreâ? (10) of a house, sandwiched between Gatsbyâs mansion and other luxurious residences. However, unlike the other residents of East and West Egg and the Valley of Ashes, Nickâs desire for wealth is clearly transitory. He refuses a âfast-moneyâ? scheme presented to him by Gatsby because he has no desire to become extremely wealthy through illegal means. Although Nick is surrounded by money, he remains remarkably free of envy for his friendsâ wealth. Furthermore, Nick is the only character who is not restless and who does not long for something that he cannot have. Nick recognizes the âdistortionâ? (185) and the money-driven corruption that pervades the lives of Easterners, and he ultimately renders himself âsubtly unadaptable to Eastern lifeâ? (184). It is thus that Fitzgerald seems to belie the common wealth-happiness mindset of Eastern Americans, and suggest that happiness cannot be derived from any single concrete factor, but instead from a balanced life.
The Great Gatsby and “Babylon Revisited,” both by F. Scott Fitzgerald, are stories about the emptiness and recklessness of the 1920s. Each story has its distinctions, but Fitzgerald’s condemnation of the decade reverberates through both. Fitzgerald explores and displays insufficiencies of the vacuous period, and does so with sharp clarity and depth, leaving no crude, barbarous habit to imagination. Fitzgerald had a deep and personal affliction with the 1920s (most notably in the Eastern United States), and in both The Great Gatsby and “Babylon Revisited,” he hones his conflicts into a furious condemnation. The 1920s were a period of sloth, habitual sin, exhausted illustriousness, and moral despondency; the black mark of a society and world usually tilted more toward attempted civility. Fitzgerald conveys this theme through the use of character, symbolism, and wasteland imagery.First, Fitzgerald uses characters to personify the vast recklessness of the generation. The characters in both are incomprehensibly selfish and carefree, though more noticeably in The Great Gatsby. Tom Buchanan, for instance, is almost flippant in acknowledging his affair with Jordan Baker, a local miscreant golf pro. Tom leaves Nick, Daisy, and Jordan at the dinner table to take a call from her. An exchange between Nick Carraway and Jordan while Tom is gone illuminates the situation. “‘Is something happening’ (Fitzgerald, Gatsby 19), says Nick. To which Jordan Baker replies, ‘I thought everybody knew…. Why-… Tom’s got some woman in New York'” (Fitzgerald, Gatsby 19). Tom Buchanan has an acknowledged mistress in New York, and he politely and confidently leaves the dinner table to speak with her. He is the absolute personification of the reckless actions and attitudes that characterize the era. Duncan Shchaeffer and Lorraine Qualles, appearing briefly in “Babylon Revisited,” also represent reckless and selfish behavior. They burst in to a private meeting at the Peters residence just as Charlie is coercing Lincoln and Marion in to granting him custody of his child. Fitzgerald describes their behavior: “They were gay, they were hilarious, they were roaring with laughter…. They slid down another cascade of laughter” (Fitzgerald, Babylon 385). This after bursting in to the house of a stranger. They are drunk, juvenile, reprehensible in behavior, and acting more like children than adults. Fitzgerald asserts, however, that their actions characterize the generation of lost souls, and these characters are only used to articulate his condemnation of it.Secondly, Fitzgerald uses symbolism to convey a feeling of futility and hopelessness throughout the novel and short story. Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, especially, symbolizes the distorted perceptions and priorities of the decade. Eckleburg watches over the gray ash-heap near Mr. Wilson’s garage with what Wilson thinks an all-knowing eye. Wilson has an unusual reverence to Dr. Eckleburg: he considers him God. In a conversation between Wilson and Michaelis, Wilson discusses a conversation he had previously with Mrs. Wilson just before she died:’I spoke to her [about her affair with Tom Buchanan]…. I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window—‘ With and effort he got up and walked the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, ‘–and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me but you can’t fool God.’ Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at they eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. (Fitzgerald, Gatsby 167)Wilson is hopeless and disillusioned, and his connection to Dr. Eckleburg exemplifies the widespread futility of the era.Lastly, Fitzgerald uses wasteland imagery to show how society circa 1920 was dysfunctional and reckless. The apartment of Myrtle Wilson’s relation, where Tom and Myrtle usually conduct their affair, is the perfect example of this. Fitzgerald describes the scene at the apartment:The apartment was on the top floor—a small living room, a small diningroom, a small bedroom and a bath. The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles…. Several old copies of “Town Tattle” lay on the table together with a copy of “Simon Called Peter” and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway. (Fitzgerald, Gatsby 33)The apartment’s amenities are showy and overdone, and somehow seem more representative of conformity than affluence. The whole generation is caught up in the times, an unthinking, unknowing mob of followers, riding the unenviable wave of recklessness2E The apartment is empty, devoid of any substance at all, a perfect example of the wasteland image. It is where forbidden lovers meet to flirt and cackle, and where people get drunk for only the second time in their life, where people smoke, drink, and live recklessly together, and the only place where none of it matters: the wasteland.The 1920s were an era of lost personality. The people were caught up in the teaming exuberance, riding the inertia or recklessness further in to itself. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and “Babylon Revisited” are fitting and definitive condemnations of the irrational time, and critics are right in deeming them so. Fitzgerald, too, is right: The 1920s were wasted years, and fit for condemnation.
Renowned author F. Scott Fitzgerald became “the most famous chronicler of 1920s America, an era that he dubbed ‘the Jazz Age.'” (Phillips 1). His fame grew in part from his widely published short stories, and also from the art of his novel, The Great Gatsby. Although the central character of the novel is Jay Gatsby, Gatsby does not tell his story himself, nor does an omniscient narrator. Fitzgerald uses Nick Carraway, who appears to be an innocent bystander chronicling the events of Gatsby’s summer, to play an integral role in the narrative. Although he is essentially a minor character, Carraway’s unique role as narrator and confidante establishes the mood, develops rounder characters, and illuminates the novel’s themes.Fitzgerald’s daring choice to speak through Carraway, a character that is within, yet distanced from the main story provides a powerful mechanism for establishing the mood for The Great Gatsby. In the opening pages of the novel, as Carraway struggles to establish his credibility, he informs the reader that he is “inclined to reserve all judgments” (Fitzgerald 1). However, the reader soon learns that the opposite is true: Carraway scarcely hesitates in unleashing harsh judgment toward acquaintances, for he admits that “…[His tolerance] has a limit” (2). Although the reader detects pomposity in his attitude, Carraway’s admissions give the reader what the critic Linda Daley describes as “an even-handed insight to the story” (1). Thus, Carraway’s narrative provides a balance of reservation and revelation. Furthermore, as Carraway begins to reveal the details of plot, the mood evolves into that of a documentary, which reflects Fitzgerald’s tendency toward realism. Scott Donaldson writes, “Carraway’s presence on the scene is acceptable[,]” yet the reader “does not find the scene so alien and forbidding” (109). The reader can clearly see and understand Carraway’s descriptions while accepting them as truth without poignant exaggerations. For example, he morbidly describes Myrtle Wilson’s death, “. . . [H]er left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath” (Fitzgerald 138). Through the narration of Carraway, Fitzgerald establishes a mood that the reader observes in non-fictional chronologies; one that captures the reality of the novel’s thematic elements. Fitzgerald also uses his narrator to construct a mood of mystery surrounding his characters. Although Carraway recounts the events of one summer, he reports the events in a seemingly random way. In the novel, Carraway admits, ” . . . I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were . . . [more than] . . . merely casual events ” (56). Fitzgerald uses the random reports by having Carraway release the details of Gatsby’s past before the actual time that he learns of them. Thus, Fitzgerald not only keeps the reader interested in the plot by releasing details prior to the events which lead to their revelation, but also this use of narration illustrates the themes surrounding Gatsby’s character without the reader having to guess about his past. Fitzgerald uses Carraway to establish both realism and mystery within his narrative.Carraway’s narration also serves to create rounder characters that fully execute the role Fitzgerald has designed. Initially, Carraway introduces Gatsby as a kindred to himself. He notes that both he and Gatsby grew up as a member of the Midwest’s traditional middle class, left home to travel east, and became integrated in the upper class society; however, the one contrasting characteristic of each is the way in which each handles romantic relationships. Carraway displays a pattern of evasion from any profound emotional relationships. When he leaves his home to move east, he is escaping involvement with a young woman because she perspired while playing tennis, he cuts short an affair with a girl because his brother shot him mean looks, and he sees Jordan Baker for no apparent reason (Donaldson 106). Gatsby, on the contrary, will do anything to attain and retain his former love, Daisy Buchanan, whom he had loved five years prior to the novel’s beginning. From Jordan Baker Carraway learns that “Gatsby bought [his] house so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (Fitzgerald 79). Carraway effectively foils Gatsby’s drive and yearning to attain his dream, Daisy, for as Carraway drives his love interests away or moves away from them, Gatsby moves closer to his “green light . . . [at] the end of the dock” (22). This ostensibly minor foil later grows into an important theme concerning the corruption and disillusionment that has occurred surrounding the American dream of the 1920s. Carraway also furthers the development of minor characters. One important aspect of character revealed through Carraway is society’s perception of the character. When Carraway efficiently reveals the nature of “lesser” characters, he mirrors the perception of society. For example, Carraway describes Meyer Wolfsheim as “[a] small, flat-nosed Jew” (69). Donaldson further explains, “With the lower orders Nick is still less charitable. Sentence is passed rapidly on minor characters . . . Catherine is disposed of in a paragraph” (Donaldson 105). Such “sentencing” and disposal is like that of a jury and reveals the way “civilized” upper class society passes judgment on individuals of a different social order. Finally, Carraway’s narration has the distinctive ability to tie characters together. His narrative style allows him to tell the story of Tom and Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s lover, while simultaneously telling the story of Gatsby and Daisy’s romantic affair. He strategically “goes back a little and tell[s] what happen[s]” (Fitzgerald 156) in an order that deftly handles “the story of Gatsby and the story of Myrtle Wilson, parallel characters who share parallel dreams and parallel fates. . . . Assuredly it was a stroke of narrative genius which found the resolution of the two narrative strands” (Lid 167). Through the parallel strands of character development, the reader can see the similarities in the situation; therefore, Fitzgerald’s characters come even more alive to the reader. Carraway’s narration promotes the rounder characters that make The Great Gatsby notable.Another important quality Carraway’s narration brings is the ability to paint an amplified theme. Carraway’s narration illuminates the theme by eluding emotional attachment between the reader and characters. Because the reader views each character through Carraway’s eyes, he is limited to the extent of Carraway’s emotions. However, Carraway admits that he views social interaction as “a trick of some sort to extract a contributory emotion from me” (18). This lack of emotional attachment frees the reader “from a blinding sense of identity with any one character” and allows Fitzgerald “to curb and express his personal passion” (Lid 171). This remarkable narrative form allows for the reader to see the disillusionment surrounding Fitzgerald’s own times. Carraway’s narration not only allows for clear themes, but also directly reflects society’s views of individuals, consequently establishing a separate, independent theme of class struggle. In the beginning of the novel, Carraway establishes himself as a part of the traditionally advantageous social class. He is an alumnus of Yale University and often mingles with the Nuevo Riche. His sarcastic depiction of the class of people who attend Gatsby’s parties is degrading, and thus parallels society’s conflict between the upwardly mobile class of Nuevo Riche and that of old money (Fitzgerald 61-63). In effect, through Carraway’s perceptions, Fitzgerald exposes the duality of the lifestyles of moneyed America in the 1920s. Foremost, Fitzgerald uses Carraway’s narration analogously to the theme as a whole. R.W. Lid notes, “Fitzgerald’s narrator not merely records the events of the novel, but also embodies the meaning of the experiences he witnesses” (168). Lid alludes to Carraway’s personal moral growth at the end of the novel after Gatsby’s death. As Carraway grows closer to Gatsby through the course of the novel, he begins to accept, and later respect, Gatsby’s dream of attaining Daisy Buchanan. When Gatsby dies, Nick accepts Gatsby’s dream for its innate passion.Carraway explains, “[Gatsby’s dream alluded us [Gatsby and I] then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we [Gatsby and I] will run faster . . .” (Fitzgerald 182). This acceptance of collaboration with Gatsby symbolizes the greatness of the dream itself. Most importantly, however, is the fact that Carraway, while accepting the value of the dream, rejects the deteriorating morals that surround that dream. Carraway condemns Gatsby’s illegal bootlegging, for his reasoning for fleeing the East is that he “want[s] the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever” (2). This longing for moral order allows Fitzgerald to speak through Carraway (Phillips 1) and display the theme of how the American dream, symbolized in Gatsby’s dream of attaining Daisy, has been corrupted by the pursuit of riches. Fitzgerald’s resolution to this corruption parallels Carraway’s moral progression and ultimate decision to reject the immoral society that the valley of ashes symbolizes (Lid 1). In effect, Carraway embodies all of the “greatness” of Gatsby without the moral faults and corruption (Lynn 162). Carraway projects the themes of the disillusionment of the American dream, the duality of moneyed America in the 1920s, and the corruption that such money brings.Albeit Carraway’s own story does not spotlight his personal role, Fitzgerald clearly uses his narrator to evoke a suitable mood, expand characters, and perfectly reveal themes. Carraway provides the reader with an excellent example of how a writer can seize inconsequential characters and make them essential. The Great Gatsby owes a large share of its esteem to the narrative workings of the minor character Nick Carraway.Works CitedDaley, Linda. “Nick, the Flawed Narrator.” “The Great Gatsby” Online Resource. 2002. Online. Available http://gatsby.cjb.net/. 24 March 2002.Donaldson, Scott. “The Trouble with Nick..” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” (1984): n. pag. Rpt. in Readings on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Eds. David Bender, et al. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998. 103-11.Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner’s, 1925.Lid, R.W. “Fitzgerald’s Remarkable Narrative Art.” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1970): n. pag. Rpt. in Readings on: “The Great Gatsby.” Ed. Bruno Leone, et al. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998. 163-71.Lynn, David H. “Creating a Creator.” The Hero’s Tale: Narrators in the Early Modern Novel. (1989): n. pag. Rpt. in Readings on: “The Great Gatsby.” Ed. Bruno Leone, et al. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998. 154-162.]
“But as I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over. Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene (58).”After the first of Gatsby’s parties that Nick attends, Fitzgerald dedicates two pages entirely to a seemingly inconsequential car accident. The reader does not find out the name of the owner, or what really happened, so what it substantial about this part is it’s symbolic value. It is in these two pages that Fitzgerald introduces the notion of cars symbolizing the material carelessness of America before the Depression. Also, by associating certain characters with a certain brand of car, or establishing a parallel between a character and his relationship with cars, Fitzgerald sheds light upon character flaws, especially concerning gross materialism. By using cars as such significant symbols throughout the novel, Fitzgerald points out their manipulation value. Just as the characters in the novel use cars to escape, move, and loudly proclaim their wealth, the author similarly uses this to structure the book. By removing himself as the primary narrator, he is escaping. By his use of flashbacks and by placing scenes out of sequence, the author takes advantage of manipulating the story’s movement. Finally, Fitzgerald uses this novel to loudly proclaim his feelings towards America at the time of the story.Reverting back to the car accident at the end of Gatsby’s party, material carelessness proves an important theme. The person assumed responsible for the accident says, “I know very little about driving-next to nothing. It happened, and that’s all I know (59).” When the true culprit emerges from the car, he says, “At first I din’ notice we’d stopped (60).” Despite the audiences insistence that the car could not be driven, the criminal ignores such warning and says, “No harm in trying (60).” Both of these responses communicate carelessness and frivolity. The entire party scene foreshadowed this, describing the guests, as coming and going, “…like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars (42).” Such portrayal of Gatsby’s guests cheapens their intentions and shows how they care only about having a good time among the finest goods. The party fruits provide another foreshadowing of this American carelessness. “Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York?every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves (43).” Just as the guests arrived on schedule every weeknight, they also left the party pulpless and empty. None of the guests really knew Gatsby, yet they showed up week after week to drink his champagne, eat his food, and mingle amongst the wealthy. They gain nothing from the party except superficial conversation and drunkenness. These shallow qualities of the party guests are epitomized at the end of the scene through the use of the car accident.The relationship between the carelessness of this accident as well as the carelessness of Jordan’s driving, gives further insight into Jordan’s character flaws. Jordan’s dishonesty is shown early in the novel by cheating in a golf tournament, and further defects, such as her pretentious and pompous attitude are revealed by her feelings towards driving. The first time Fitzgerald makes this point clear occurs when Jordan says, “When we were on a house party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it…(62)” This dishonesty did not mean very much to Nick, however, and instead he is simply made curious by it. He did pay close attention to Jordan’s driving, which brings to light her rashness. When Nick tries to tell her how terrible she drives, she responds by saying that although she is not careful, other people are. “They’ll keep out of my way…it takes two to make an accident (63).” After Nick fires back with the possibility of meeting someone as careless as she is, Jordan ignorantly replies with, “I hope I never will…I hate careless people (63).” This response completely shows Jordan’s lacking sense of responsibility as well as her sanctimonious perception of herself. Jordan’s logic lacks substance and her self-righteous opinions throw her into the crowd with the rest of the American careless. This accounts for the failure of Nick and Jordan’s relationship. Although the two tried to maintain a romantic relationship, Nick is searching for someone more genuine, someone who does not deny her own imperfections, and Jordan cannot provide him with that.Along with the overall American frivolity of the time, cars are used to almost personify each character. Nick mentions his own car only once throughout the entire novel. It is mentioned eight pages into the book, and on this page, he describes his only possessions when he moved out to the country. “I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.” Taking into consideration the subjects of his description, the sentence denotes a sense of loneliness. He could have not mentioned the dog whatsoever, but instead, he writes that he once had a dog but no longer does. This creates a sense of loss as the immigrant woman speaking to herself creates a sense of loneliness. Nick’s regular human contact consists of his employee who doesn’t even speak his own language. Because of this, one gets the sense that his car must also carry some dreary significance. Its old age and ordinariness conveys Nick’s simplistic yet isolated life, as he innocently begins his narrative. This innocence, and somewhat removal from materialistic America, separates him from all the other characters and accounts for his failure in relationships and ultimately, for him moving back to the mid-west.Nick’s departure from the East is an inevitable choice, as all the characters he meets are shown to be quite dishonest and materialistic. Fitzgerald strategically develops each character by epitomizing them through cars. For example, the first time Myrtle is introduced, it is by an association with her husband and cars. Fitzgerald introduces the couple by writing, “Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars Bought and Sold…(29).” Just as George makes a profession selling what he owns to his patrons, he also gets his wife taken from him by one of his patrons. The fact that George makes repairs seems to make him second best, as if he cannot already own what is best, he must work to try and get it to that point. Just as Myrtle gives all of her love, and all of herself to Tom, George has to work to try and get her to love him. Another interesting twist is that George very much wants to buy Tom’s car from him. When George finds out about Myrtle’s affair, he desperately calls upon Tom to try and make a car deal in order to somehow save his marriage to Myrtle. Tom is responsible for the affair, and sickly agrees to sell his car during George’s desperate plea, as if he is doing something honorable. Such deceiving acts mirror the deceit and manipulation the characters in the book all use.Although these characters play important roles in the narrative, Nick’s relationship with Gatsby holds the most importance, and therefore, the association between Gatsby and his car proves very significant. The narrator once nonchalantly mentions that Gatsby owns a Rolls Royce, the first time great attention is given to one of his cars, draws extreme parallels to Gatsby’s personality. Nick’s admiration is exposed through his description of the car. “I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns (68).” The concision of the first two sentences, as well as calling the car “it” in both sentences coveys a sense of entrancement for Nick. He loses himself in the beauty of the car, and for a second, he cannot really talk, except to state the obvious. The color of the car means a great deal since it was normal at that time for factory-made cars to all be black. Therefore, his customized cream-colored car screams of his wealth which in turns symbolizes his materialistic intentions. The adjectives Nick uses also paint a picture of majesty. Words such as, “bright,” “swollen,” “Monstrous,” and “triumphant” all create images of might, splendor, yet also grotesque. Although this would be fine if it was just meant to describe the car, the trouble is that it is soon after this point in the book, that Nick starts to confuse the greatness of Gatsby’s possessions with the greatness of Gatsby himself. Therefore, this entrancement with the car, and the grand adjectives prove to be dangerous, as Gatsby soon completely enthralls Nick. For example, despite all the sings pointing towards Gatsby’s criminal activity, Nick defends him during speculation by his party guests. Also, a similar sense of entrancement occurs at the end of Chapter VI during a conversation between Nick and Gatsby. “For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever (118).” At this point, Gatsby lures Jim into his scheme of achieving Daisy and achieving happiness. The novel soon takes a turn for the worse.The beginning of the end of The Great Gatsby occurs in climax of the book, which begins and ends with cars. Setting up the scene, Tom insists that he drive Gatsby’s “circus wagon” to the city while Gatsby drives Tom’s coupe. This switching of cars parallels the switching of Daisy’s love from first Gatsby to Tom and then the confusion between the two. Tom calling the car a “circus wagon” is a blow towards Gatsby, making it seem as if Gatsby should not be taken seriously. At this point in the book, Tom knows about Gatsby’s involvement with boot-legging, and therefore finds him to be a sham, something that can be laughed at, something simply put on display for entertainment, just as if he was a circus act.After the intense scene revealing the truth of Gatsby’s source of income as well as his affair with Daisy, Tom insists that Daisy leave with Gatsby in Gatsby’s car. In this scene, his car seems to be mimicking their entire affair. Since Tom contemptuously made them leave together, and since he revealed Gatsby’s criminal involvement, the majesty of Gatsby’s car is suddenly seen for its shallowness. It is only appropriate at this point for Gatsby’s car to be the “death car,” since his corruption of the American Dream inevitably leads to failure.Gatsby perverted the idea of success, and in an effort to achieve his dream of reliving the past with Daisy, he lost sight of the importance of honesty and genuine hard work. His distortion of the American Dream can be seen in the distortion of the plot at the end of the story. The fact that Tom told George it was Gatsby driving the car, and that he allows George to believe Gatsby was the one having the affair with Myrtle, the fact that it was really Daisy driving the car, and the fact that it was Tom who insisted Gatsby and Daisy leave the city when they did, shows how warped American life became when one lost sight of honesty. Such integrity is the basis for achieving happiness, so when this is distorted, happiness cannot be accomplished. Therefore Gatsby’s car, which so vividly displayed his wealth and phony happiness, fittingly leads to tragedy. The fact that his own car not only kills Myrtle, but it consequently leads to Gatsby’s own death, shows the destruction of confusing happiness with materialism. This carelessness is developed from beginning to end, and shows Nick’s unavoidable discontent with his life on the East Coast.The repeated appearance of cars in The Great Gatsby significantly symbolizes the materialism of the time, and of the isolated characters in the book. From overall carelessness to individual distorted perceptions of what a car means, Fitzgerald ingeniously portrays America’s obsession with spectacular materialism. As Nick begins his story quite innocently with a simple hidden car of his own, he becomes wrapped up in riding in Gatsby’s grand car, and after the deaths of both Gatsby and Myrtle, he loses some of his innocence, and gains insight. “One night I did hear a material car there…Probably it was some final guest who…didn’t know the party was over (188).” By the end of the book, Nick sees the story for it’s failure and can no longer be a part of the material world and the party he had grown accustomed to living. Nick sells his car, and fittingly heads back to his real home.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has been hailed as one of the greatest literary works of Modernism. The Great Gatsby set the tone for the movement that defined American literature in the early decades well into the present day. The characters of The Great Gatsby are a direct reflection of the “lost generation” to which Fitzgerald belonged. In many ways, his characters could be seen as a portrait of the people he associated with, if not somewhat of a self-portrait. Through his individual characters, their personalities, and their crises, Fitzgerald presents a detailed display of Modernism in his classic novel. At the launch of World War I, Americans felt the impact of men going off to battle and women working in factories; lifestyles were beginning to divert from family traditions. People were forced to abandon their traditional values and adapt to the challenges and changes around them, giving birth to Modernism. Modernism does not have one specific definition, but an array of definitions and interpretations. Simply put, Modernism is “an omnibus term for a number of tendencies in the arts which were prominent in the first half of the 20th century” (Drabble 658). According to Hugh Holman, Modernism is “a strong and conscious break with tradition. Modern implies a historical discontinuity, a sense of alienation, of loss, and of despair” (Holman 326). M. H. Abrams states that “[T]he term Modernism is widely used to identify new and distinctive features in the subjects, forms, concepts, and styles of literature and the other arts in the early decades of the present century, but especially after World War I.” Although different writers and critics have assigned Modernism varying definitions, they all agree that at the heart of Modernism is a “deliberate and radical break from the traditional bases not only of Western art, but of Western culture in general” (Abrams). Modernism reflected not just a style of literature, but a new worldview. Around the time of the rise of Modernism, the studies of Sigmund Freud and other psychologists and anthropologists were coming into light and beginning to have an impact on literature. As a result, much of the literature from this period reflects ideas of self awareness and stream of consciousness. In general, modernism believes that “we create the world in the act of perceiving it” (Holman 326). Holman adds that Modernism rejects traditional values and beliefs, embracing the individual, inward, and unconscious as opposed to the social, outward, sub-conscious (Holman 326). From the radical shift of traditional values into a new way of thought and life, the “lost generation” emerged. The Anthology of American Literature reports that this group of self-proclaimed writers found themselves entirely faithless and isolated from a culture they felt no longer made any sense. These sentiments were especially exemplified in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway (McMichael 983). A Glossary of Literary Terms states that writers of the “lost generation” frequently portrayed themselves as being estranged from the accepted conventions that they deliberately defied (Abrams). The characters of The Great Gatsby, though they never admit to it themselves, are classic members of the lost generation. Their lives are empty; they attempt to fill this void with extravagant parties, excessive travelling, and extramarital affairs, and by flaunting their wealth. Consider Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the distant relatives of Nick Carraway. According to Nick, the narrator of the novel, “They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together” (Fitzgerald ch.1) in the true fashion of the wealthy lost generation. Though Tom and Daisy have comfortably settled in East Egg, “I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game” (ch.1). Tom spends his time trying to make something of his life through his constant travels, shameless infidelity, and the reading and arguing of books that reflect his personal worldview. Nick, being an observant and insightful narrator, says of Tom, “Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart” (ch.1). In the modernist tradition, Tom is never content, and always seeking something more. Another key player in The Great Gatsby is Daisy Buchanan. She is the stereotypical wealthy wife of the 1920’s who has little thought or care about anything. Daisy portrays the characteristic Modernist feeling of alienation. She is very isolated in the way that she is stuck in a loveless marriage, has no knowledge or regard of anything that happens outside her upper class circle, and her only friends are as lost as she is. Her sole purpose seems to be to drift to and fro with Tom as a kind of trophy among his other prizes. Although she is a mother, Daisy does not find any kind of meaning in her role as a mother, but uses her daughter as an object to show off. Although Daisy seems to know deep within that her life is empty, in all other respects she seems to be in complete denial. Nick notes that he saw “turbulent emotions possessed her” (ch.1) yet the only thing remotely resembling a confession of her unhappiness is in the following excerpt: “[Y]ou see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,’ she went on in a convinced way. ‘Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.’ Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way…and she laughed with thrilling scorn. ‘Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!’” (ch.1). This small insight into Daisy is probably the clearest example in the novel of the mindset of the lost generation. Daisy has travelled and experienced many things, but it has not made her life at all satisfying. In a section describing Daisy’s past we read that “something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately—and the decision must be made by some force—of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality—that was close at hand” (ch.8). Although Daisy may have initially had some love for Tom, her decision was materially influenced. Jay Gatsby is the best example of the Modernist value that focuses more on individual choices, pulling away from the structured society as a whole. Nick says of Gatsby that he had “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again” (ch.1) Gatsby’s boyhood was spent on his family farm, living a very traditional family lifestyle. However, because he rejects the traditional world he came from and is not accepted into the world he is attracted to, Gatsby finds himself alienated from both of these worlds. The Buchanans have the patterned traditions set forth by their previous generations, but their true happiness is corrupted by the emptiness in their lives. While they try to fill this emptiness with all of the material things money can provide, Gatsby’s life is full of ambition and excitement as he has a goal in reaching his vision of the America Dream. Nick notes that “He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free” (ch.8) and that he was “watching over nothing” (ch.7). Although Gatsby’s optimism is attractive, Nick knows that what Gatsby strives for will never be a reality. Gatsby has become alienated by the traditional life he once knew as well as the modern life he desperately wants to belong to, but Gatsby remains faithful to his illusory American dream. In a very symbolic scene, when Nick sees Gatsby for the first time, Gatsby “stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way…he was trembling” (ch.1). Nick’s closing remarks about Gatsby confirm “his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him” (ch. 9). Gatsby is close enough to Daisy and the life he longs for that he can see it far off, but both Daisy and his dream of being part of her life in her world are far out of reach, and remain that way. Nick Carraway finishes his narrative with closing thoughts on the main characters of The Great Gatsby. Tom and Daisy Buchanan have left hastily left the society of East Egg, escaping the speculation that they had anything to do with Gatsby’s death. Nick coldly says of his former friends, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” (ch.9). Of Gatsby himself, Nick sympathetically writes: “Gatsby turned out all right at the end; 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” (ch.9). At the end of the novel, Nick’s evident frustration with those he had been associated with leaves the lingering feeling of despair, gloom, and ambiguity, in the tradition of true Modernism. The most defining characteristics of Modernism were the authors of the lost generation and the characters they created who were models of the very same sense of purposelessness; “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (ch.9). It is the sentiment of being lost somewhere between the golden past and the impending future that Fitzgerald captures perfectly in The Great Gatsby. The lost generation was caught somewhere between two vastly different times in a nameless void that we now call Modernism. Works CitedAbrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Fortworth: Harcourt, 1999. Drabble, Margaret. Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford, UP, 1985. 658. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby [electronic version]. [email protected],1 June 2007. The University of Adelaide Library. Retrieved February 8, 2008. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/gatsby/Holman, Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. New York, McMillan. 1992. 298-299. McMichael, George, ed. Anthology of American Literature. vol. II Upper Saddle River, N.J. Pearson, 2007. 983-984.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby completes a decline from his carefully crafted image of greatness to his exposed, unsightly, and lonely death. The story of the novel is really the deconstruction of this image, and the various ways in which the true “Jay Gatz” is uncovered. Hailing from a middle-class, rural family, Gatsby seizes his chance to escape his past at a young age. After falling in love with an upper-class girl, Daisy, and not being able to please her with his military status, Gatsby turns to a more corrupt occupation to attain large-scale success. But when he finally gains the monetary status that he thinks will qualify him to satisfy Daisy, the society turns on him. His chase of the American dream is fruitless and leaves him alone. Ultimately it is clear that the dream is corrupt, and that the notion of overcoming the walls of class is a myth. The fall of the great Gatsby documents the corruption of the American society, and the hypocrisies that forbid Gatsby from ever attaining his dream. From the moment we are first introduced to Gatsby, it is clear that he desires control – over his own life, and that of others. His first image is almost God-like; as he stands, overlooking the crowd at one of his profligate parties, Nick observes: …my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes…I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking himself helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased. (50)As Gatsby stands observing the crowd at his party, there is a feeling that he is in charge. Nick detects a separation between Gatsby and the crowd, which he attributes to Gatsby’s superior air. Gatsby enjoys this separation because it gives him a sense of control over his guests; indeed, this may be the only reason that he chooses to have such extravagant gatherings. Additionally, this outward display of his wealth makes him feel more secure of his fiscal position. Gatsby’s beginnings are humble at best, and his rise to the top – along with his pursuit of Daisy – is part of his pursuit of the American dream. When Gatsby gazes out over such a sight, he feels content that he has escaped his lower class. But he can only fool himself for so long, and the more Gatsby tries to assert his position, the clearer it is that he has not eluded his common beginnings. When Gatsby’s past is discovered it weakens his whole position and exposes the corruption of his American dream. Before we learn of Gatsby’s past, Fitzgerald asserts, “Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.” (88). This statement clearly characterizes Gatsby; he is willing to be a slave to a distorted American dream, and to the other corrupt members of society, as long as he believes himself to be of high class. As it turns out, Gatsby makes tremendous sacrifices for this sake. Nick says, “Jay Gatz – that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that had witnessed the beginning of his career…” (98). From an early age the American dream possesses him; and for its sake, he gives up his very identity. Gatsby sees it as a worthy sacrifice for the sake of greatness. But later on, he is exposed. “‘My God, I believe the man’s coming,’” said Tom. “‘Doesn’t he know she doesn’t want him?’” (103). In the social situations that characterize high class, Gatsby is utterly clueless. He unintentionally invites himself to a party where he is not wanted, demonstrating his oblivion. Despite his misgivings about fitting in, the gates of high society have locked him out. Earning a high position based upon hard work is impossible, as demonstrated by Gatsby’s failure. In this way the American dream leads him on a chase of the unattainable. In the culminating scene of the novel, when Gatsby proclaims his love for Daisy in front of her husband, Tom, the two men are both exposed as being completely false; but only Tom is allowed to escape unscathed, because he carries the protection of natural-born money, while Gatsby’s destruction is complete. As the two men fight for Daisy, Tom begins to attack Gatsby, and in doing so reveals his hypocrisy:I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out…Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white. (130)Everyone present knows that Tom is having an illicit affair, so the idea that he would preach about family values is absurd. He has constantly shown no respect for the institution of marriage, and was even missing at his own daughter’s birth. And yet, Tom is the winner because he takes Daisy home. Although there is absolutely no difference between Gatsby and Tom, Gatsby’s position is built upon a frail foundation while Tom’s rests solidly on class. The American society has no tolerance for people like Gatsby, and it embraces men like Tom, whose words “bite physically into [him]” (132). Gatsby leaves without Daisy, and as a failure. Gatsby’s destruction by the American dream is fortified by the tragic image of his funeral – only his father and Nick attend. Despite his best efforts, Nick cannot convince anyone else to come. It seems that any and all of those who knew Gatsby only valued their relationships for their own personal gain, and that they don’t really care about him. Gatsby’s false claim to high class means that people use him for their own gain. Although he thought that fulfilling the American dream would bring him happiness, it strips him of friends, love, and ultimately of life. Fitzgerald’s critique of the dream is complete when we realize that it allows despicable individuals like Tom to thrive, in spite of the way Gatsby is punished. The “foul dust” of mankind that prays on Gatsby is responsible for his fall, and causes us to question the very basis of a dream that is so fundamentally American.
F. Scott Fitzgerald explores the decline of the American Dream in one of his most famous novels, The Great Gatsby. Although this book only takes place over a few months, it represents the entire time period of the 1920s, in which society, mainly on the East Coast, sees the decay of the American Dream. What once was the idea of hard work and prosperity becomes perverted idealism and pathetic optimism. In this novel, Gatsby and other characters represent the corrupt American Dream. When Gatsby’s real past has been revealed, it seems as though he embodies the American Dream. Once a young fisherman and clam digger, he becomes a self-made wealthy man through hard work, despite being the son of unsuccessful parents. Nick states, “His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people- his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all” (104). The fact that Gatsby has achieved more than his parents is one definition of the American Dream. He also has a mentor, Dan Cody, who influences Gatsby at a young age. Cody himself is a self-made millionaire. As Nick explains, “Cody was fifty years old then, a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since Seventy-five. The transactions in Montana copper that made him many times a millionaire found him physically robust…”(105). Living on Cody’s expensive yacht, Gatsby becomes accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle of the rich and dedicates himself to become a wealthy, successful man. Gatsby’s dream, however, becomes corrupt. He uses “get-rich-quick” schemes and throws outlandish and over-the-top parties to get the attention of his love, Daisy. It is even intimated that he sells grain alcohol over the counter. Tom states, “I found out what your ‘drug stores’ were. He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him and I wasn’t far wrong” (141). Gatsby simply replies, “What about it?” (141). Gatsby also is connected with other illegal activities and gambling. Gatsby wants Daisy so badly that he once was willing to give up his noble dreams for money and material possessions. His idealism, however, becomes perverted. The desire for personal happiness and individualism is no longer the American Dream; it has been consumed by materials and pleasures. Gatsby drives around in his Rolls-Royce, shows off his many expensive shirts, and lives in an obscenely huge mansion, but all of these objects are completely unnecessary and obviously do not make him happy. Nick describes the time when Gatsby shows off his shirts:“He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table. While we admired he brought out more and the soft rich heap mounted higher.” “I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall,” Gatsby says (97).Gatsby is simply flaunting his wealth in an attempt to attract Daisy. The parties that Gatsby throws are completely “empty”. Many people show up to these parties, but all of them do it for themselves and their meaningless pursuits of pleasure. Nick explains the parties that Gatsby has. He says, “…the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors…The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names” (44).These people are fake, greedy, and hollow. They do not really care about Gatsby or each other, but rather come just because they can. Again, they are pursuing material possessions and cheap pleasure. In fact, they do not even show up to Gatsby’s funeral. Nick and Owl Eyes discuss this at Gatsby’s grave. “I couldn’t get to the house.” [Owl Eyes states] “Neither could anybody else.” “Go on! Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds. The poor son-of-a-bitch.”Their idealisms are perverted, and their actions are immoral. The parties that Gatsby throws only worsen these morals and idealisms. Morality is not the only value that has gone astray in this novel. Gatsby’s optimism is corrupt as well. He has the unobtainable goal of winning Daisy over. He puts her on a pedestal and idealizes her, even though she is not worthy of Gatsby’s attention. The object of Gatsby’s dream (Daisy) is unworthy, just like the objects of the corrupted American Dream (pleasure and money) are unworthy. Nick tries to explain this to him by saying, “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (162). Because Gatsby cannot earn Daisy’s love, he is forced to earn all of his money illegally in order to impress her. Yet because of their different social statuses, he cannot reach this goal. Social status is another example of the dream’s corruption. Residents on West Egg, including Gatsby, cannot win the affection of the residents of East Egg. Even though people living in West Egg have made their own money themselves and worked hard to do so, they have not gained the respect of East Egg, whose residents have old money. Gatsby thinks that he can break the barrier between the two classes, but in reality, it is impossible. He tries to bring back the past, when his dream had value. He says, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (116). Gatsby dedicates his whole life to this illusion of a dream, and when he finally realizes it is impossible, there is nothing left to do but die. Nick narrates, “He had paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…” (169). His dream is impossible and cannot bring happiness to him, and, therefore, is an illusion. Gatsby is not the only character in this book to represent the perversion of the American Dream. His partner and accomplice, Meyer Wolfsheim, is involved in all sorts of illegal activities in order to gain his wealth. Gatsby says, “He’s a gambler. He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919” (78). Jordan Baker is another example. Nick says, “There was a row that nearly reached the newspapers- a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round” (62). Both of these characters have done illegal and unfair things to gain their accomplishments. This is certainly not a part of the traditional view of the American Dream, where hard work will accomplish anything. When most people first read The Great Gatsby, they think it is a love story between Gatsby and Daisy. After more thought and reading, it becomes clear that Fitzgerald is trying to convey a larger message. It is that in the 1920s, the traditional American Dream was taken over by the extreme desire for money and pleasure. The American dream had become a perverted idealism and a pathetic optimism. People during this time ambitiously chased unobtainable goals, and many were left in despair. There is much more to the “Jazz Age” than flapper girls and illegal alcohol. Americans started to see the decay of the American Dream.