Examining Hamlet and The Great Gatsby
According to Roger Lewis, “The acquisition of money and love are both part of the same dream, the will to return to the quintessential unity that exists only at birth and at death” (41). In both William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, the protagonists are willing to sacrifice all that they have in order to achieve their unrealistic objectives and ambitions, resulting in their tragic demises. While there are many themes and concepts relevant to both Hamlet and The Great Gatsby, their parallels regarding their aspirations stand out for further evaluation.
The concept of sacrificing all that a person has, not limiting to their own life, is ever present in these works. Both Hamlet and Gatsby make evident that they are willing and are capable of sacrificing all that is themselves to possibly reach their ultimate goal.
Throughout William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark is set on his goal of achieving vengeance and justice for his father’s murder, without the realization that his obstinate aspirations eventually lead to his own downfall.
Unlike many other characters, Hamlet is very analytical; he makes very calculated and thoughtful moves before he acts, ultimately leading him to his death. “Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect” (Freud, Sigmund). This is furthermore supported when Hamlet is given a golden opportunity to attain vengeance for his father, but does not kill Claudius, the king of Denmark, for Hamlet mistakenly assumes that Claudius is praying. Hamlet: Now might I do it pat. Now he is a-praying. And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven. And so am I revenged, That would be scanned. A villain kills my father, and, for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send, To heaven. Oh, this is hire and salary, not revenge. (Hamlet, III, iii, 74-80)
Hamlet misses an opportune chance to complete his mission, one to which he would have no opposition, but loses his chance due to his over-excessive thought process. On the other hand, Jay Gatsby is a person who appears to be motivated by only his urges and emotions; no other forces drive him more than his ultimate love lust. “Gatsby does not appear as a man of ordinary disposition acting under the direction of ordinary, explicable impulses. He appears instead as one under the spell of some enchantment” (Langman, F.H.). In other words, Gatsby himself was driven by a mighty inner need to reattain his once lost love.
Through this, we see that Gatsby was not controlled by anything but his heart; his heart controlled his actions and thought process, and had completely consumed his entire life since his breakup with Daisy. Gatsby was willing to adjust himself to what Daisy seemed to desire at that moment. 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. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs. (Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 112)
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby has made it his life mission to donate all of his possible energy and resources to attempt to acquire his love once lost. According to Carla Verderame, “The novel concerns itself with the struggles of reinventing oneself to attain the dreams and pleasures of one’s youth. In Gatsby’s case, the effort goes terribly awry.” Gatsby, throughout the novel, strives to retrieve his long lost love; he is willing to conform himself to whatever means he must conform to in order to achieve his end desired goal. “The poor boy who becomes a millionaire by extra-legal activities endeavors to recapture Daisy Buchanan by means of his newly acquired wealth. This ostentatious, mysterious character becomes the exemplar of the American dream and its flaws” (Bruccoli, Matthew J.).
Jay Gatsby spends years of his life involved in illegal activity in order to accumulate enough wealth to be able to throw many parties, all for a possible chance to see his love once lost, Daisy. In this, both Jay Gatsby and Prince Hamlet are willing to sacrifice all that they have, not limited to themselves, in order to achieve their unrealistic goals. In comparison, Hamlet is content with altering his life and his current relationships, all for the sake of being closer to his ultimate goal, vengeance for his father. “Hamlet lacks faith in G-d and himself. Consequently he must define his existence in terms of others… He would like to become what the Greek Tragic hero is, a creature of situation. Hence his inability to act, for he can only ‘act’”, i.e., play at possibilities” (Auden, W.H)
Hamlet is willing to act mad, ruining all of his relationships, not limited to his romantic life, for a futile opportunity to get close enough to Claudius to kill him. Although both Jay Gatsby and Prince Hamlet are willing to sacrifice all for their aspirations, Gatsby puts on a false front, while Hamlet covers his; Gatsby pulls a facade as though he had been wealthy throughout his entire life, while Hamlet feigns insanity.
Gatsby has attempted to pull a facade of him having always been wealthy, thus allowing him to be part of Daisy’s circle. Gatsby claims to have inherited his vast sum, hiding that he had actually self accumulated it over the years. By pretending to be wealthy to belong in an elite class, he is hoping for the opportunity and chance to have the ability of mixing in with Daisy, his lost love. “Past the last door to the last room and Gatsby’s facade is still up; he is still marshaling, even in his bedroom ‘many colored disarray’, literally pilling up: there is no end to his ‘soft rich heap’…But despite all the wealth they embody, they remain piles of things” (Lhamon Jr, W.T., 58).
Though Jay Gatsby indubitably pretends he fits into the elite rich’s circle, he did not belong there in the least. Gatsby goes so far as to change his name, the one part of a being that will always be himself infinitely. He had gone so far as to change his name and identity as though it could be almost impossible to separate the fake facade from the real being.
While delving so deep into a lie and false pretense, one can presume that likely at a point the two merged, creating a sort of equilibrium state, as though there had genuinely existed a ‘Jay Gatsby.’ “[Gatsby’s] parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people- his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God… he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.” (Fitzgerald, F. Scott)
In contrast, Hamlet has dissembled his true noble self in order to feign madness to draw Claudius near. Hamlet is far superior than any other characters in Hamlet, intellectually and with a potent inner strength. He embodies many incredible capabilities and abilities; Hamlet can be considered a paradoxical character, being both witty and cautious, kind but stern, etc. “[Hamlet] is endowed with the finest sense of propriety, susceptible of noble ambition, and open in the highest degree to an enthusiastic admiration of that excellence in others of which he himself is deficient.
He acts the part of madness with unrivaled power” (Schlegel, August Wilhelm Von). Hamlet is inherently a noble and imperial being, therefore, for him to dissemble himself and conceal it enables him to feign his insanity, for insanity is much less noble than nobility. Hamlet appears to be a strong character, both physically and mentally. He is a very elegant thinker, who is by far more intellectual than his peers. “The character of Hamlet stands quite by itself. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment” (Hazlitt, William). Hamlet is a very unique character in regards to his highly mature and noble sophistication.
While it seems that Gatsby was not deserving of his vastly enourmous wealth along with the status that accompanied it throughout the book, on the contrary it is possible that he might in fact had been. One could argue that in reality he was a nobel character, deserving of his status in elite circles . Whether or not Gatsby had indeed inherited his sum or had invested legally or illegally, he truly did acquire an enormous sum of cash. Gatsby had come into life with almost nothing to his name, and had left it with enormous wealth.
He was an honored individual who served his country and truly can be referred to as the epitome of the American Dream throughout his life. Gatsby ‘represented everything,’ Nick says, for which he feels “an unaffected scorn.” Even when he tells Gatsby, on their last meeting, that he’s ‘worth the whole damn bunch put together,’ Nick continues to disapprove of him on a social level. Gatsby has redeeming qualities, however… Parts of his fantastic story turn out to be true. He had been a war hero, and has the medal from Montenegro to prove it. He had actually attended Oxford—for five months, as a postwar reward for military service, and produces a photograph in evidence. Above all, there was nothing phony or insincere about his dream of Daisy (Donaldson, Scott).
That being said, it is important to also reanalyze Hamlet’s position; Hamlet could well possibly have not been concealing his true self, but rather trying to develop his plan cognitively. Although the question remains if he had truly become consumed by his ‘madness charade‘ or if it had been an act all along, William Shakespeare gives no indication in his work. “Hamlet, a very unconventional hero whose eloquence and endless deliberation on why he cannot consummate the revenge his father desires underscores his essential rhetorical role in the play. While Hamlet so eloquently describes his feelings, the question remains as to whether he actually feels them” (Bloom, Harold). Although it may appear that he had lost himself, if not beginning with his escapade concerning his old girlfriend then with his seemingly drivel conversations, it is highly likely that Hamlet had just been playing a part. This is seen when Hamlet is able to not only save his own life from the decree put forth by his uncle, but to complete his mission in the end as well.
While there are many germane ideas present in both literary works, their parallels to each-other regarding their willingness to achieve their aspirations are regarded as a main point to be extracted for further assessments. Both protagonists were willing to do about anything, including altering their destinies, in order to achieve some aspiration of theirs, regardless of how unrealistic it may be. According to Khalil Gilbran, “To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” (97) This being said, both Gatsby and Hamlet are intricate characters with much to delve and dissect on; though they both died tragic deaths, their deaths were not in vain for their legacies continue onward.
Auden, W.H. Hamlet. qtd in Lectures on Shakespeare” ed. Arthur Kirsch. New Jersey: Princton University Press, 2000 Bloom, Harold, ed. “Background to Hamlet.” Hamlet, Bloom’s Guides. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2003. Bruccoli, Matthew J. New Essays on The Great Gatsby. Cambridge: Cambridgeshire, 1985. Donaldson, Scott. Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald qtd. on “On Gatsby and the Historical Antecedents for Gatsby.” Bloom, Harold, ed. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2006. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretations of Dreams. qtd. as “Hamlet’s Deepest Impulses” Harold Bloom, ed. Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Bloom’s Major Dramatists. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print. Gilbran, Khalil. qtd in A Toolbox for Humanity ed Lloyd Albert Johnson. Victoria, Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2003. Hazlitt, William.Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays qtd. as “Hamlet’s Power of Action” in Harold Bloom, ed. Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Bloom’s Major Dramatists. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999. Lewis, Roger. Money, love, and aspiration. qtd. in “New Essays on the Great Gatsby” ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. 1985 Lhamon Jr, W.T. Style and Shape in the Great Gatsby.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerals, Cambridge. ed. Scott Donaldson Bostom: Hall, 1984 Schlegel, August Wilhelm Von. Hamlet’s flaws. qtd. in Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Bloom’s Major Dramatists. Harold Bloom, ed. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. Verderame, Carla. The Great Gatsby. McClinton-Temple, Jennifer ed. Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011.
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