Ambition in The Great Gatsby And in Macbeth
According to Aristotle, a Tragic hero is an exceptional being who possesses hamartia, a tragic flaw, which leads the hero to make fatal mistakes causing the hero to suffer which then ultimately leads to their own downfall.
Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, predominantly examines the wealthy young man, Jay Gatsby, and his obsession for Daisy Buchanan, the golden girl of his dreams. Fitzgerald illustrates the Roaring Twenties which encompasses the American dream. The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare takes place in Scotland in the 17th Century. Shakespeare describes Macbeth, the King of Scotland, and his ambition to strive for power. Although both, the novel and the play portray different time periods, the themes of the literature works relate to one another.
Fitzgerald and Shakespeare both characterize and distinguish Jay Gatsby and Macbeth as tragic heroes because of their vaulting ambition towards their dreams and identify their change in fortune from happiness to misery led by their hubris. Jay Gatsby and Macbeth are similar because their tragic flaw is their ambition. Gatsby’s dream is to reunite with Daisy, his lost love and is willing to do anything to attain this dream. While Macbeth’s dream is to become king and is determined to do anything to achieve it.
Gatsby’s motive in life is to achieve the American dream, which for him consists of wealth, power, and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy refuses to marry Gatsby because he did not have any money nor any status within society. Upon being rejected by her, Gatsby seeks to reinvent himself as a rich man of high status in an attempt to court Daisy’s approval. Gatsby achieves this through the means of illegal activities, such as bootlegging, to attain wealth to attract Daisy’s attention. He is described as a criminal that is involved in an underground bootlegging industry who “bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores… in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter” (Fitzgerald 133). Gatsby did this so he could get closer to Daisy because he knew that she would not accept him as a poor man. Gatsby also tries to get Daisy’s attention by throwing lavish parties in the hopes that she might show up. Extravagant parties and other pretentious displays of money and power are ways for him to show off his high status and a way for making others think he is just like any other rich man. When Gatsby obtained his riches through illegal activities, he started surrounding himself with the luxurious lifestyle he never had before and which his love demanded of him. He hoped Daisy would find her way back into his life by creating the lifestyle Daisy is accustomed to. He seeks for Daisy’s attention alone. During a conversation between Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend, and Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor, Jordan says that the only reason Gatsby bought his house is “so that Daisy would be just across the bay” (Fitzgerald 78). Jordan’s declaration assures that Gatsby’s reasons for buying a house is so he can be close to Daisy. This confirms that Gatsby is so determined on being with Daisy, that even though she is a married woman, he still wants to pursue her by being in close proximity to her.
Jay Gatsby’s obsession for his superficial love for Daisy exposes his motives as it signifies the great American dream for him. When Gatsby is alone in the night in front of his house, he tries “reaching into the distance,” reaching for the “single green light” (Fitzgerald 21) at the end of Daisy’s dock. The green light represents his dreams of reuniting with Daisy and trying to win back her love. Obtaining fortune by becoming a bootlegger and throwing sumptuous parties are ways Gatsby attempts to woo Daisy, as he would put everything on the line for her. Furthermore, to attain Daisy, Gatsby goes to an extent by taking a blame for her. While in New York, Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, switch cars with Gatsby on the way home. Daisy drives the car while Gatsby sits in the passenger seat. Earlier, Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, saw Tom driving the same car. Assuming it was his, she ran out to the street in attempt to stop the car. Daisy could not control the car, resulting in the death of Myrtle. Gatsby became so obsessed with the notion of the American dream and the notion of being with Daisy, he is willing to take the blame upon himself. When Nick asks if it, “‘Was Daisy driving?” Gatsby replies, “Yes… but of course, I’ll say I was”‘ (Fitzgerald 137). Gatsby takes the blame, so Daisy does not get in trouble. His ambition to attain Daisy is so great, he saves her so she does not face consequences and also for her to see how willing Gatsby is to protect her. He is so fixated on having Daisy, he does not even comprehend what occurred. For example when Myrtle was killed, Gatsby only “spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered’ (Fitzgerald 137). This evidently shows that he is more concerned about his feelings for Daisy than the fact Myrtle has just been killed. Jay Gatsby’s obsession was his love for Daisy. The love and ambition drives his persistent pursuit for Daisy’s attention on his tactics to ‘win’ her back from her husband, Tom. It is clear that Gatsby will do anything to achieve the American dream to win Daisy over with his materialistic possessions and status. Gatsby is so eager to attain this ambition that he is ready to risk anything and everything for Daisy. He has aspirations of being opulent, and by throwing parties every week and taking the blame for Myrtle’s death all show how Gatsby would do anything to acquire Daisy.
Both Gatsby and Macbeth spend their lives chasing an impossible dream because of their ambition. Macbeth is shown to have great ambition as he longs for power, after finding out about his prophecies of becoming king. Macbeth proposes horrible ideas, for example, the murder of Duncan, King of Scotland. Macbeth is fully aware of what is morally right and wrong, yet he chooses his desires over his honor. The three witches greet Macbeth by hailing him and tell him his prophecies. They state that from the stance he currently is in, he will soon become the Thane of Cawdor and later King of hereafter. This is the start of where his ambitions to gain power and status develop. Macbeth chooses to see what he wants to see and ignores the rest. His mindset is put forth in attaining the position of many thrones, even if the prophecies may lead him to a destructive way. Macbeth tells himself, “Two truths are told/ As happy prologues to swelling act/ Of the imperial theme” (Shakespeare 1.3.127-129). The two truths: Thane of Cawdor and Glamis, are the positions Macbeth already obtains, and the imperial theme is the promise of more positions and thrones in the future. This reveals Macbeth’s aspirations as he wants to become king and gain full dominance. This foreshadows that it is possible to be king since two of the truth have come into reality.
It seems that once Macbeth gets the taste of power and strength that comes from being king, he cannot see anything else as he is obsessed in securing his kingship. This is similar to Gatsby because when Daisy rejects Gatsby, he does not see anything but her. He moves across the bay from her and starts doing illegal activities to gain the wealth and status to attract Daisy in hopes she would go back to him. Gatsby became so obsessed with his American dream, Daisy, that he based his whole life around her. Moreover, Macbeth takes the prophecy and its matters into his own hands by committing murder to achieve his desires. Macbeth and his wife, schemed to kill the King of Scotland, in their own home, and betray the trust the king has put in Macbeth. He tells his wife, Lady Macbeth that he is “settled and bend up/ Each corporal agent to this terrible feat,/ Away, and mock the time with the fairest show,/ False face must hide what the false face heart doth know” (Shakespeare 1.7.78-82). Macbeth’s allusion to his strength and power gives an idea that he is prepared to kill King Duncan. He approves of his wife’s plot as he is ready to do whatever it takes to fulfill his goals to become king. Macbeth’s motive for killing King Duncan clearly shows vaulting ambition as he begins to trade humanity for the sake of his aspirations. The evil side of Macbeth is present when he is willing to kill King Duncan just to take the crown. The ambition is the tragic flaw of Macbeth which later leads to his downfall because Macduff, Thane of Fife kills him, even though he did not entirely deserve to die. This is similar to Gatsby because he wanted to obtain Daisy, and he would do anything for her, including taking the blame for Myrtle’s death, for which George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, killed him for. Gatsby did not seem to care about anything but Daisy, as he did not even care for the death of a woman. This lead Gatsby to spend his life chasing a dream that is impossible, which ultimately leads to his death.
Like Gatsby, Macbeth did not see anything but his desires: power, status, and the throne. To him, those were the things that mattered to him the most as he spent his whole life trying to fulfill and protect his desires. He sacrifices everything to achieve his ambition; his close friend, Lady Macbeth, and in the end his own life. His hopes for power caused the reversal of fortune from a noble person to a man that was driven by ambition, who eventually died trying to keep his titles. Both Gatsby and Macbeth experience change of their fortune from happiness to misery led by their hubris and ambition.The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Macbeth by William Shakespeare both express a character that is a Tragic Hero because of their aspirations and downfalls. Gatsby and Macbeth display many characteristics of a Tragic Hero, as they both have an ambition for their dreams. Although Jay Gatsby and Macbeth are driven by distinct desires and come from different time periods, their goals encompassed every idea and pushed themselves beyond their limits. Gatsby and Macbeth did not care who would suffer for their actions or who would pay for their mistakes. They were both caught up on fulfilling their goals due to their hope and dreams, they lost themselves in the process. Climbing one’s way towards a goal is essential, but being fixated and obsessed on a can may lead to affliction.
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