The Great Gatsby
Role of Narration in The Great Gatsby
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.]
Materialism Portrayed By Cars in The Great Gatsby
“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.
Modernism and The Great Gatsby
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.
Gatsby’s Fall from Greatness
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.
The Great Gatsby and the Decline of the American Dream
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.
The Eulogy of a Dream
The central theme of The Great Gatsby is the decay of the American Dream. Through his incisive analysis and condemnation of 1920s high society, Fitzgerald (in the person of the novel¹s narrator, Nick Carraway) argues that the American Dream no longer signifies the noble pursuit of progress; instead, it has become grossly materialistic and corrupt. Fitzgerald¹s novel is structured as an allegory (a story that conceals another story): the terrible death of Jay Gatsby is, by extension, the death of the American Dream.For Fitzgerald, the true American Dream is characterized by a spirit of perseverance and hope; through these, one can succeed against all odds. This ideal is embodied by the young Gatsby (then James Gatz): he meticulously plans the path by which he will become a great man in his “Hopalong Cassidy” journal and then follows it, to the letter. When Mr Gatz shows the tattered book to Nick, he declares, “‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that’.” The journal exemplifies the continual struggle for self-improvement that once represented the American ideal. In comparing the young James Gatz to the young Benjamin Franklin, Fitzgerald suggests that the American Dream does survive despite the decay of modern society there will always be those guided by an indomitable hope. Modern society, however, has no place for such dreamers: Gatsby¹s passionate desire to win Daisy’s love ultimately remains unrealized, and in fact leads to his destruction. Gatsby is first seen late at night, “standing with his hands in his pockets”; Nick says, only half in jest, that he is “out to determine what share [is] his of our local heavens.” Nick watches Gatsby’s movements and comments: “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and as far as I was from him I could swear he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of the dock.” Gatsby’s dedication to an ethereal ideal elevates him above his shallow, vulgar contemporaries. His longing for Daisy is like that celebrated by the medieval ideal of courtly love, in which a knight worshipped his lady without any hope of being loved in return; his every action was only for her, and he strove to lead a noble life in the hopes of becoming worthy of her. Daisy is Gatsby¹s ideal: we first see him reaching toward the green light that marks her house in East Egg; in the final days of his life, he waits unwearyingly outside Daisy’s house for hours despite the fact that she has already decided to abandon him. Though Gatsby exemplifies the purest elements of the old dream, he cannot help but fail in his pursuit of it, since the woman he loves is a corrupt product of modern society.For Fitzgerald, the American obsession with wealth, power, and privilege is the chief cause of the decay of dreaming. Gatsby earns his money through illegal practices; his ostentatious parties, garish mansion, and lavish clothing are all attempts to win the attention of the cruel and shallow Daisy, who cares only for money. He ceases to throw his parties once he believes that he and Daisy will be reunited. Daisy and Tom Buchanan are the most detestable exemplars of the modern order: they live without hope and without regret, because all they care for is the preservation of their own power and privilege. Daisy is never heard from again after Gatsby’s death, as she wants only to forget him and their relationship. Nick confronts Tom about his responsibility for Gatsby¹s death. Tom lies to George Wilson, telling him that Gatsby was driving the car that struck Myrtle, though Daisy was the driver; he lets George believe that Gatsby was having an affair with Myrtle, when in fact it was Tom himself. Tom scoffs at Nick: “‘I told him [George] the truth… What if I did tell him? That fellow [Gatsby] had it coming to him’.” Tom admits that he is responsible for Gatsby’s murder and Wilson’s suicide, but does not feel guilty; he has never known guilt or shame, since his position as a member of the established elite protects him from punishment. Through Nick, Fitzgerald condemns all of “high society”:”I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw what he had done was, to him, entirely justified… 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… ” Nick realizes that Tom and Daisy represent a class that has attained success at the cost of their own dehumanization. They are a kind of social void a wholly negative force that is capable of spreading only destruction. Toward the end of the novel, Fitzgerald creates a sense of utter hopelessness and despair through the introduction of Tom and Daisy’s child, the murder of Gatsby, and Wilson’s suicide. The first hint of the impending tragedy can be found in the person of the Buchanans’ daughter, whom Daisy nauseatingly refers to as “Bles-sed pre-cious.” When the girl is brought into the Buchanans’ salon, Nick observes Gatsby¹s obvious discomfort: “Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small reluctant hand. Afterwards he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don’t think he had ever really believed in its existence before.” Daisy then calls her child an “absolute little dream,” crushing all hopes Gatsby has of truly returning to the past he shares with her. The gross materialism that has taken the place of the American Dream is revealed shortly thereafter, when Nick and Gatsby attempt to discern why Daisy’s voice is so seductive. Gatsby blurts out, “‘Her voice is full of money'”; Nick has a sudden epiphany, which alters his view of society as a whole:”That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money- that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it… High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl…” At this point, all of Daisy is stripped of all her charm and beauty; nothing remains but the coarse lure of wealth. The ideal that Gatsby has been so inexhaustibly pursuing is not love it is money, soulless money, that has been given a deceptively pretty human face. When Gatsby dies, any chance the American Dream has of surviving in the dehumanized modern world dies with him. Nick later conjectures that Gatsby, at the moment of his death, “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.” The hopes and dreams which have strengthened Gatsby and guided him are shattered as he lies bleeding in the pool; he must take leave of a world which no longer has a place for men like him. George Wilson who symbolizes the common man struggling to eke out his own meager success on the modern world¹s harsh terms commits suicide. The deaths of Gatsby and Wilson, both striving toward different versions of the original American dream, mirror the death of that dream itself. At the end of the novel, Nick returns to the Midwest with this disturbing knowledge: the American people must struggle to keep from losing its humanity: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The dream is now utterly lost and can never be resurrected at least not in its original, its purest form. Through the story of a doomed romance, Fitzgerald heralds the tragic decline of American values. Gatsby and the other characters of the novel act as mere vessels for the author’s true story: the American Dream, once a pure and mighty ideal, has been degraded and buried by the dehumanizing lust for money. Nick Carraway is an outsider to his own story: he is an honest man, an observer who bears witness to the calamity. The Great Gatsby is not, in the final analysis, a eulogy for a man named Jay Gatsby; instead, it serves as a eulogy for the idea of America itself.
The significance of the end of Chapter 1 of “The Great Gatsby”
Luminosity and spiritual longing for something that had vanished a long ago are probably the two main characteristics of the last two paragraphs in Chapter 1 of “The Great Gatsby”. The scene takes place shortly after Nick’s return from dinner at Tom and Daisy’s and is set in Nick’s small garden, close to Jay Gatsby’s mansion. It is then that Nick sees Gatsby for the first time, despite of the fact that he had heard so much about him before; that very first meeting is not quite as he expected, as he sees Gatsby from a completely different perspective than most people who would consider Gatsby to be a good acquaintance of theirs. Those last paragraphs illustrate Gatsby’s real nature, as well as how the scene affected Nick’s perception of Gatsby. Yet, in spite of the emotive mood, Nick is only describing the factual situation, not attaching any judgements to it just yet; the readers are the ones supposed to interpret Gatsby’s behaviour.The image that dominates the scene is one of light and the visibly strong contrast between brightness and darkness. At first, the surroundings seem to be darkened by the “deep summer” night, but the references to “pools of light” and in fact, a “bright night” itself, create an image of something quite anachronistic, as if the night was interrupting the power of light rather than the light disturbing the lonely, sombre night. The darkness does indeed seem inadequate, as at this time it is still “loud” and “wings are beating in the trees”, even the “frogs” are “full of life”. The omnipresent noise creates a sort of perplexing mood, as despite of the superficial feeling of brightness, it is difficult to locate the source of the noise, and as nights are often associated with silence, the atmosphere becomes yet more mystical, as if the commotion were a means to conceal a great secret and grant anonymity. Connotations of the night are normally ones that may imply a level of mystery, tranquillity and contemplation, which therefore means that the night which is being described here is not a typical, everyday one – the image is somehow oxymoronic. It seems that the whole scene is surrounded by flourishing life and hope, illuminated even further by the persistent vision of light, something which in fact gives life and allows humans to survive; the light also makes the descriptions less insipid and gives the setting a sense of divinity or being raised to higher levels of existence, a sense of emotional depth. This in turn arouses suspicion in the reader; it is unclear what is being anticipated, but the whole scene is like an omen for something unforeseen.Another distinctive characteristic of the scene is the overpowering loneliness which both the characters seem to be experiencing. The “abandoned grass roller” on which Nick sits as if to keep the meaningless object company, and the “silhouette of a moving cat” illustrate the sad, profound reality of being alone. The fact that the readers might perceive the two images as worthless, hollow ones only emphasises the sorrow and the sense of abandonment, seeing as the images are being degraded by the readers to the point that their symbolic value is disregarded. Yet they may be an allegory for Nick and Gatsby – the “grass roller” being a solid character that offers support to others to the point of self-sacrifice (in the novel Nick seems to possess that kind of personality) and the “silhouette of a moving cat”, being an allegory for Gatsby and his enigmatic, almost elusive aura; the noun “silhouette” suggests only an outline, nothing specific (after all, Gatsby’s “essence” is never revealed completely) and the adjective “moving” implies a constant change, perhaps even an escape from reality… Despite of the fact that Nick says: “I saw that I was not alone” when Jay Gatsby first appeared, both of them are indeed completely alone emotionally, as if they were missing something significant or as if they were expecting a miracle to occur and alter their empty lives: this is especially true for Gatsby.When he sees that “a figure had emerged from the shadow” of his “neighbour’s mansion”, Nick is convinced that it is the “Great” Gatsby, the man who seemed so well-known in the area. The act of emerging “from the shadow” is portrayed beautifully in the scene, particularly if this is connected to Gatsby’s persona which is certainly an enigmatic one; here, he seems to be linked to darkness, as if that hollow emotion were a deeply engraved part of him. He was “regarding the silver pepper of the stars”; despite of his “darkness”, he seems attracted to the elusive light in the sky, the faraway objects in space that he could never reach. This longing for something unattainable could be a metaphor for his love for Daisy – she seems like one of those stars in the sky, so incredibly captivating, yet hopelessly distant. When watching the stars, Gatsby does not seem like the person he is seen as – sociable, throwing parties and engaging himself in shallow conversations with his guests. Instead, he is now perceived by the readers as a sensitive man, perhaps tired of people and their narrow mentalities; it seems that he only feels comfortable when he is alone, which is supported by his “leisurely movements” and the “secure position of his feet upon the lawn”, as if he could finally rest and stop acting in front of those enchanting stars which resemble Daisy so much.We are also confronted with Nick’s sensitivity and good behaviour in the last two paragraphs of Chapter I. He had a pretext to “call to Gatsby” and even decided he would do so. But when he observed that Gatsby “was content to be alone”, he got a feeling that at this moment he would be seen as an intruder, disturbing Gatsby’s silent contemplation. This is similar to another situation which took place at Daisy’s, when Nick almost “murmured an apology” to Miss Baker simply for having set his eyes on her; through both these events we can see how apologetic and tactful Nick is, perhaps even to the point which would suggest being intimidated by doing something if he is not encouraged or clearly invited to do it. The way in which he behaved might also imply him seeing himself as inferior to or admiring characters who are more confident and bold, who can speak out for themselves (for example Jay Gatsby).“He stretched out his arms toward the dark water” – this portrait of a man making a gesture so irrational and abstract is strangely captivating. At first, we know nothing of the “single green light” shining from “far away”, but that is probably the most momentous element of the whole scene. On a physical level, Gatsby seems to be reaching out towards the green light in the distance, as if he wanted to capture it (which is naturally impossible); the “dark water”acts as an antithesis to the light, causing it to appear more saturated and vivid, which further emphasises the profound meaning of that “green light”. But on a deeper level, one can see how moving that gesture is in reality. Gatsby is stretching out his arms in an embrace, as if he wanted all of that “minute” light to himself and could not satisfy himself with only a small, elusive fragment that he imagines to be getting. One interpretation of this could be that Gatsby is desperately looking for support or at least some faith, something he could hold on to in life, hence the “green light”, seeing as the colour green often connotes rebirth and hope. What strikes me about this is the way Gatsby is clinging on to something virtually non-existent: the light is evidently only a visual phenomenon and the only kind of hope it could give to someone is vain, temporary hope. Perhaps the concept of escapism is suitable in this context – Gatsby seems to not completely accept his own reality, as if he himself was an anachronism and belonged to a different life. The green light visible in the distance might let him leave his own self momentarily and lose himself in a world of illusion, dictated by the game of lights on that “deep summer night”. Even though Gatsby’s behaviour might now seem meaningful, in my opinion there is a much sadder, deeper meaning. I believe that the light being embraced by Gatsby is a metaphorical representation of Daisy, a woman whom he still profoundly loves, even though now this love may have become platonic in nature. Deducing facts about Daisy from earlier descriptions of her, we can compare her quite easily to the light that Gatsby is embracing: whenever Nick described her presence in the room, the room seemed filled with positivity and beauty, Daisy herself being a metaphorical light which creates an optimistic, bright atmosphere – Nick writes that she had a “glowing face”, that a “stirring warmth flowed from her”, that she had “bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth”, all these phrases describing Daisy as an extremely charming woman who seemed to shine like a diamond. Therefore, Fitzgerald managed to create a beautifully suitable metaphor for her – the sense of hope contained in the “green light” even alludes to the hope and happiness that she could bring to Gatsby’s life. Following this interpretation, by attempting to embrace the light, Gatsby was in fact embracing an imaginary picture of Daisy, believing that she is pure light. Her gentleness and daintiness resemble the fragility of the light.There are some clear similarities between Daisy and Gatsby, visible as soon as in Chapter I: they both cling on to things which are not reliable at all. While Gatsby is hanging on to the light, Daisy seems to be addicted to words, her own and the ones that others utter. Another quality of theirs is that they are both actors in front of other people – they make themselves look strong and confident, but in reality they are only weak and seem to not be able to cope with life; their essence is concealed behind fake appearances and superficial behaviours. These peculiar insecurities almost suggest that perhaps they are destined for each other: seeing as they are both vulnerable, sensitive characters, they would surely discover their real selves together.Gatsby’s sudden disappearance from his lawn is unexpected for Nick: “he had vanished”, he writes, as if Gatsby were a ghost or illusion, vanishing softly, unnoticed. The use of the word “vanished” creates an even more enigmatic and secretive atmosphere around him, as if he really was a “silhouette of a moving cat” or a madman trying to embrace light. His disappearance was as unforeseen as his appearance. Then Nick “was alone again in the unquiet darkness”. The adjective “unquiet” used in this context seems to refer to the emotional meaning of the word, rather than physical (“noise”). Because of the vagueness of the scene, Nick is left confused, his thoughts are “unquiet” and he seems to be experiencing mental chaos. Somehow Gatsby’s short appearance did have an effect on Nick’s state of mind, forcing him to change his views.In conclusion, stories about Gatsby and the way others view him made him seem inaccessible, grand and pretentious, yet this scene shows him as a vulnerable man, more personal and human-like. In a way, this is disillusionment for Nick (as well as the readers), as at that point he should have stopped idealizing Gatsby, because his weaknesses were exposed and it was evident that Gatsby is not the man that others have portrayed – that is the new, realistic impression we get. Yet this does not mean that Gatsby’s personality is revealed; quite the opposite, he now becomes even more enigmatic as we can see that there is a part of him which cannot be understood easily. Light plays a vivid role in this scene, as it illustrates that revelation and creates a more dramatic mood, highlighting the significance of each event. The atmosphere and symbolism are possibly the most beautiful elements of the scene – the night seems to represent reality, whereas the light symbolises illusion. When the two are imagined simultaneously, especially with the sense of abandonment and loneliness, a magnificent portrait is painted – one of silent tragedy.
The Bildungsroman Form in The Great Gatsby
Maturation and personal evolution of main characters typify the bildungsroman, a distinct novelistic form. The growth of characters Tom Buchanan, George Wilson, Jay Gatsby make F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and important example of the bildungsroman form. Tom Buchanan matures from being a carefree, unfaithful husband to one who realizes the depth of his relationship and concern for his wife. In the opening of the novel, Tom is described as being a “freelance,” shameless man: “His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her and, leaving her at a table, sauntered about, chatting with whomsoever he knew” (24). Buchanan refers to his mistress as “my girl” (29), rather than referring to his wife as his lady. Only when Buchanan discovers that Daisy has her own relationship with another man – Gatsby – does he recognize the significance of his actions. After finding Daisy and Gatsby kissing in his own home, Buchanan finally acknowledges the pain he has felt: “And if you think I didn’t have my share of suffering – look here, when I went to give up that flat… I sat down and cried like a baby… by God it was awful” (179). Buchanan has clearly deepened.Like Buchanan’s, George Wilson’s evolution has to do with increasing awareness about what is happening with his wife. In the beginning, Wilson is unable – or unwilling – to acknowledge the obvious clues of his wife’s disloyalty: “I know…I’m one of these trusting fellas and I don’t think any harm to nobody” (158). Both his wife and his friend Tom take advantage of him. When asked about Wilson, Tom says: “Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York…he’s so dumb he doesn’t even know he’s alive” (26). When he learns the truth, Wilson is shattered; he even becomes physically sick. Even so, he is determined to move west to take action against his wife’s wrongdoings: “I just got wised up to something funny the last two days…that’s why I want to get away” (124). Wilson’s decision to move demonstrates his transition from blindness to strength and independence – he is no longer his wife’s man, but his own.Finally, Jay Gatsby undergoes a dramatic change as his dreams of reliving the past are broken and replaced by reality. As a poor boy from North Dakota, James Gatz was determined to make it big and distance himself from a poor farming life. During his military service in World War I, Gatsby falls in love with a woman named Daisy. He states: “I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport…Well, there I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute” (150). However, James was unable to maintain the relationship because of his financial instability: “He had certainly taken her under false pretenses….he let her believe that he was fully able to take care of her…as a matter of fact, he had no such facilities” (149). From this point on, Gatsby is determined to succeed and win back Daisy. He transitions to manhood through his acquaintance with Dan Cody, who teaches Jay the inner workings of “business arrangements” – i.e. the bootlegging that makes Jay a fortune. Gatsby purchases a palace directly across from the residence of his lost love and, with the help of Nick and Jordan, finally meets Daisy again. Although their reunion is memorable, Fitzgerald’s use of the broken clock not only symbolizes Gatsby’s mission to bring back lost time but also foreshadows his eventual failure. Also symbolic is the contrast between West Egg and East Egg. Nick describes the Eggs as being almost completely opposite from each other except for the fact that they are physically similar. This is significant because it displays the “incompatibility” of Gatsby and Daisy as Jay, who lives in West Egg, desires Daisy, who lives in East Egg. Throughout the novel, Gatsby is so engulfed in his fantasy that he refuses to believe the presumption that Daisy and Tom were in love. He demonstrates his denial at the Plaza Hotel, for instance, stating in reference to the love between Tom and Daisy that “In any case…it was just personal” (152). Through all of these occurrences and his failed attempts to relive the past he so desired, Gatsby finally goes through a momentous character change moments before his death. Nick states, “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true, he must have felt that he had lost the old world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” (161). In the end, James Gatz finally realizes the even he, with all of his material wealth, cannot relive what is already lost. Three of Fitzgerald’s main characters undergo dramatic changes as they find the seriousness that makes them men. Fitzgerald’s classic work is thus an important example of the bildungsroman form.
Money! Money! Money!
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, as Jay Gatsby delves into his pursuit of wealth and need for materialism, his hopes and aspirations become shattered in a world of unobtainable and unreachable possibilities. While Jay Gatsby confidently believes that material excess will ultimately bring about love, admiration, and prosperity, the audience understands that the possession of material objects does not always lead to the possession of these intangible virtues. As Jay Gatsby dedicates himself to winning over Daisy Buchanan and falls in love with her aura of luxury, Gatsby becomes overwhelmed with an unremitting desire for money and pleasure that eventually triggers his downfall. He has one purpose in life: to attract Daisy with his ornate house on West Egg and with his overflowing sum of money. But there is a danger for Gatsby in this redeeming purposefulness. When he buys his fantastic house, he thinks he is buying a dream, not simply purchasing property (Lewis 51). Obsessing over the certain attraction that links Daisy with Gatsby, muttering the words, “Her voice is full of money” (120), Gatsby emphasizes his growing belief that money, indeed, will entice Daisy. What Gatsby, with surprising consciousness, states is that Daisy’s charm is allied to the attraction of wealth (Lewis 50); he regards materialism as fine bait to lure Daisy into his arms. When Nick Carraway reveals to the audience that, “He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (91), Carraway stresses Gatsby’s intense desire to please Daisy and stresses Gatsby’s firm conviction that material objects always construct paths toward love. He drifts into obsession, into possession of the energy required to assemble the money and material things – the house, cars, shirts, and shoes – to aspire to the possession of Daisy (McCormick 32). Unfortunately, the means by which Gatsby expresses his feelings for Daisy – even though those feelings are sincere – is by showing off his possessions (Lewis 45). He does not realize that money does not solve the problems of the world (especially when Daisy is not even concerned with the likes of money) and that material objects do not amount to love and happiness. As Gatsby struggles to charm Daisy with an atmosphere of material excess, Gatsby’s hopes and aspirations slowly dwindle because the same materialistic interests and dreams that dominate Gatsby do not control Daisy. With opulent parties thrown every week at the magnificent mansion of West Egg, Jay Gatsby demonstrates his chase for materialism and his desire to please others before himself. Gatsby worries more about satisfying the demands of his guests than about fulfilling his own wishes. During most of his extravagant parties, Gatsby sits alone, secluded from his visitors, unhappy without hearing the sound of Daisy’s voice. He constantly yearns to please others without first thinking of himself. When Lucille declares to Jordan with enthusiasm, “I like to come. I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address – inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it” (43), Lucille highlights Gatsby’s ulterior motives to impress others with objects of materialism. With his thoughtful hospitality, Jay Gatsby (although he may not agree) secures himself a hold on many peoples’ memories – and yearns respect and admiration from all those dwelling throughout the ritzy Long Island. Even when Nick Carraway enlightens the audience of Gatsby’s immense appeal with the words, “Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby’s guests, who were clustered around him. I wanted to explain that I’d hunted for him early in the evening….” (52), Carraway stresses the guests’ fascination with the ever-so-popular Mr. Gatsby. As a crowd of guests surrounds Gatsby, the reader tends to wonder whether Gatsby actually can accomplish his dream of happiness when he, himself, is not truly happy. If a man such as Gatsby is surrounded by his own flashy world of materialism yet is not linked with the woman of his dreams, can a man really live contently in a mansion all alone, constantly impressing others but not himself? Jay Gatsby’s world of materialism slowly causes the American Dream to disintegrate as he constantly flaunts his plethora of wealth and material belongings. When Gatsby eagerly questions his friends in Long Island, inquiring with confidence, “My house looks well, doesn’t it? See how the whole front of it catches the light” (89) and “[This luxurious coupÃ©] is pretty, isn’t it, old sport” (69), Jay Gatsby displays the tragic aspirations of a man who worships status and superiority over building friendships and equality. His obsessive desire for money and pleasure surpasses more noble incentives – his fruitless values cause the American dream to decay in Gatsby’s globe of materialism. For most people of the early twentieth century, the American dream consisted of owning a simple house, a working car, and household appliances in order to maintain a peaceful and prosperous life; for Gatsby, however, the American dream consists of owning a massive mansion, a luxurious car, and material objects that are suitable only for gods such as Zeus. When Nick Carraway announces his own materialistic views, noting that, “I was glad that the sight of Gatsby’s splendid car was included in their somber holiday (69), Carraway’s motives become corrupt during a time when blacks outside of Long Island are just trying to find a simple house which they can afford, while white Long Islanders are not fully satisfied with their acquisition of millions of dollars. The critic Kenneth Tynan presents the audience with his own theory, “Gatsby represents all their aspirations. He represents a nation at the peak of its pride and self-confidence, tainted by corruption by still reaching for the stars. He stands for everything that is uniquely and glamorously American. Gatsby exists as the ideal and exemplary American hero” (Tynan 41). Yet how can Gatsby possess heroic qualities when he resorts to criminal intentions to conquer his self-centered American dream? Barry Edward Gross puts it best when he states that, “In this sacrifice of the self, Gatsby is the greatest loser. He has paid the highest price possible for living too long with a single dream – he has surrendered his material existence to an immaterial vision and once that vision is shattered it is too late for him to reclaim his material identity. In the end [Gatsby] inhabits a material, unreal world: unreal because Gatsby’s only reality has existed on a mythic, immaterial plane” (Gross 25). In conclusion, Gatsby’s intense search for materialism lands him at the bottom of a ditch where he is unable to climb his way to the top and reach his dreams. There exists a tragic nature of love and money that only the audience can fully understand; Gatsby wrongly assumes that the possession of material objects will automatically lead to the possession of love. Gatsby’s extraordinary house, his lavish parties, and his superior status are all means to lure Daisy into his arms, yet his possessions and characteristics are both as intangible and as monstrously tangible as his dream (Callahan 37). The American dream also becomes distorted because Gatsby’s selfish and materialistic intentions overlook the conditions of poor blacks who were just struggling to survive at the time. Throughout The Great Gatsby, Gatsby uses money and material objects to achieve social aspirations and love; he tries (unsuccessfully) to win a place in Daisy’s heart by flaunting his money in order to buy his dream. However, as Jay Gatsby delves into his pursuit of materialism, his dreams and desires become crushed in a world of unobtainable and unreachable possibilities. Works CitedMajor Literary Characters: Gatsby. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea. 1991. Lewis, Roger. “Money, Love and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby.” New Essays on The Great Gatsby, 1985. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1985, 41-57.
The African American Dream
Social class plays a dominant role in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In fact the title character is living proof that the American dream really exists. Readers recognize the importance Fitzgerald places on social class throughout the novel, but for the purpose of this essay, I will examine how Fitzgerald links social class with race through his portrayal of African American characters in the novel. The notion of the African-American dream would have been a fairly new one in the 1920s, but since the black characters in the novel are paired with Jay Gatsby, it is plausible to think that they would triumph and suffer in the same way Gatsby did as a result of their newly found achievements. This theme can be traced through the actions of Tom Buchanan and in the two scenes that black characters are present in the novel.The Great Gatsby in set in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of artistic explosion within the black community, so racial issues are bound to be present in the novel. Tom Buchanan voices his opinion about those people outside of the white race. By referring to The Rise of the Colored Empires and stating its ideas – “if we don’t look out the white race will be. . .utterly submerged”(13) – Tom alerts readers to the tensions between blacks and whites. He also remarks: “It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things” (14), indicating that he believes whites need to stay in control of social happenings to ensure the morality and wealth of the future.Fitzgerald wants readers to view Tom as a farcical character, because even the other characters don’t take him seriously. Daisy winks at Nick and Jordan several times during Tom’s ranting about race relations, signaling to readers that Tom’s views are not the ones Fitzgerald wants readers to subscribe to. Daisy’s gestures behind her husband’s back also indicate that she does not agree with his opinions. Daisy whispers to Nick and Jordan: “We’ve got to beat them down” (14), talking about the “colored” race. However, she is “winking ferociously” (14) as she is talking. Daisy realizes that her husband’s views are dated, especially for a man living in the East during the Harlem Renaissance. She speaks sarcastically later in the chapter about her “white girlhood” (20) with Jordan and about the Nordic race with Nick. Daisy knows that her husband’s greatest fears have already been realized and she does not agree with his ridiculous, though “scientific” argument.The relationship between race and social class is further played out in two scenes that portray middle or upper-class blacks. When Nick and Gatsby see a limousine with three black passengers and a white chauffeur, Fitzgerald is telling readers that times are changing. This is an extreme example of role reversals within both race and social class. Since these characters possess both an expensive car and a hired white driver, readers can assume that they are affluent. During this scene Nick thinks: “Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over that bridge” (70) and the limo suggests that anything already has happened. So, times are not really changing; they already have changed. Sixty years after the abolition of slavery, blacks can afford to ride in (or perhaps own) a limousine and hire a white driver.So, instead of identifying with Tom Buchanan, Fitzgerald implies that readers can identify with Gatsby (or even Daisy, Jordan, or Nick), a man who plays jazz music at his parties, and his implied view of black culture. Jazz music originated in the African American communities before seeping its way into white upper class homes. Jay Gatsby is linked to the black characters in the limousine because they all are representative examples of people who are living the American dream. They also represent the idea of “new” money and the idea of having to work one’s way to the top. However, readers only get a small glimpse of the blacks in the limo. Since they are paired with Gatsby in their affluence, readers can draw the conclusion that blacks who rise into the upper social classes might be susceptible to the same kinds of problems that eventually lead to Gatsby’s downfall. This logic can be applied to all people and races: when people are equal to one another, they have the same chances at success as they do at failure.The second scene in the novel in which a black man appears is equally, if not more, striking than the first. After Myrtle has been killed, “[a] pale well-dressed negro stepped near”(143) to identify the car. Again, since this man is well-dressed, readers are led to believe that he is probably well off financially. However, what makes this scene striking is his audacity to step up and identify the car so specifically without being solicited. Although slavery has been abolished and there is a cultural boom in Harlem, this novel was written and set long before the Civil Rights Movement. This man shows great courage at a time when there was strong racial tension. Not only does he identify the car without being asked, he also goes on to talk with the police and fill out a statement.Although these actions do not seem extreme to the modern day reader, they could be considered daring for the time period. Again these actions can be equated to Gatsby, because he is a risk taker as well. He moved away from his family to earn his wealth and find the American dream. His movement can be paralleled to the movement of blacks from the South to the North.The notion of social class is an inarguable theme dominant in the pages of The Great Gatsby. Although the theme of race is less recognizable and seemingly subordinate to that of social class, it is present as well as important. When these two themes are examined in relation to one another, The Great Gatsby can be read as a novel not only about the “American dream,” but the African American dream as well.