The Criticism of the Concept of Marriage in The Great Gatsby, a Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In society, marriage is viewed as an necessity among two individuals. Literary works as old as the Bible, both fiction and nonfiction, aim to propagandize the concept of marriage, making it seem like without marriage, life would be unfulfilling. However, what these literary works fail to account for, is the negatives that come with marriage. The convention of marriage is to marry for materialistic needs, and often emotional fulfilment is ignored, for example, marriages between royalty done only to secure power. As time went on however, society became more aware of the irony in marrying one for the sake of materialistic needs, and authors focused on exposing this nature of marriage in many modernist works, such as The Great Gatsby. These novels aimed to criticize the convention of marriage that one should marry someone, even if there is a lack of a true feeling of love. In The Great Gatsby, this marriage plot is used as an instrument of creating a story to show the criticisms of a loveless marriage done for selfish needs. This convention of marriage affects the reading of The Great Gatsby, in that it illustrates the concept that a superficial marriage held for the sake of improving one’s wealth or image but lacks any true love can lead to destruction and a loss of freedom to pursue one’s true desires.
Many characters in The Great Gatsby personify the idea of marrying for the sake of things like money or ego and the negative outcomes that result from doing so. Tom and Gatsby both personify the concept of marrying someone for the sake of improving one’s own image. For example, Tom is a character whose existence is centered around having wealth and being able to flaunt his wealth. That is why he married Daisy, because to him, Daisy would add to his status and image, because she glean[s] like silver, safe and sound above the hot struggles of the poor” (Fitzgerald 150). This description of Daisy sets her apart as being the literal personification of wealth, which is why Tom married her. To him, Daisy is just another asset he can add to his own image. The readers know that Tom’s love for Daisy is not genuine, and follows the theme of marrying for money because even though Tom claims that he “love[s] Daisy…in [his] heart” and “[he will] love her all the time” (Fitzgerald 130), he also says in the same dialogue “once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself” (Fitzgerald 130), implying the numerous affairs he had with other women while being married to Daisy. This shows that there is no real love between him and Daisy, because someone who claims to really love someone else would not be so quick to betray that person. To Tom, marriage is simply for the purpose of being able to show off is wealth. Since he married Daisy for that purpose, he is now “chained” to Daisy, which is why he refused to leave her. Furthermore than being just the personification of wealth, Daisy also personifies destruction and the loss of freedom. Tom’s freedom can be seen as being personified by Myrtle. Myrtle’s sister, Catherine explains that neither Tom nor Myrtle “can stand the person they’re married to” (Fitzgerald 33) and that it is “[Daisy] who is keeping them apart” (Fitzgerald 33). Through this we can see the overall theme that the convention of marrying someone for the sake of enhancing one’s image and self worth can lead to destruction and the loss of freedom because neither Tom and Myrtle can tolerate the person they are supposed to love, which causes them to be unfaithful. However, because they are married, they do not have the freedom to escape that marriage, and they are confined to the metaphorical chains of an unhappy and destructive matrimony. Daisy further continues to destroy Tom’s freedom when she kills Myrtle. While it easily could’ve been any other character in the novel that kills Myrtle, it was essential for Daisy to kill Myrtle because it proves the notion that destruction will follow in superficial marriages. Furthermore, Nick describes Daisy as someone who “smash[es] up things and creatures and then retreat[s] back” (Fitzgerald 179) leaving “other people to clean up the mess” (Fitzgerald 179). While Nick was referring to both Nick and Daisy when he said this, Daisy is the true personification of destruction because not only does she destroy Tom’s freedom, she also destroys Gatsby’s freedom by creating the ripple that ended up leading to the ocean of events that caused Gatsby’s death.
Similar to Tom, Gatsby believed his love for Daisy was pure, and that he loved her for who she was. But the reality is, on a deeper level, Gatsby’s love for Daisy, and desire to marry her follows the same plot that people have a tendency to marry people who add to their wealth of money and image. Tom and Gatsby both represent people who marry for the sake of creating a false image about themselves to better themselves. Although they had different approaches to seizing Daisy, they both seek the same thing, the convention of marriage for the superficial and ego boosting means. This concept is illustrated when Gatsby realizes for himself what lures him to Daisy. Nick says that Daisy has an “indiscreet voice” and Gatsby finishes Nick’s sentence by filling in the blank. He says Daisy’s voice is “full of money”(Fitzgerald 120). And at this moment, Nick realizes that anyone who is drawn to Daisy is simply drawn because she is like a “golden girl” (Fitzgerald 120), implying that she is like a prize to add to one’s feelings of self worth. And to Gatsby, having that sort of validation, that he belonged among the highest class, was satisfied by Daisy. It is because of Daisy that Gatsby created a “glorious future…as Jay Gatsby”. He did this as an effort to give Daisy a false “sense of security” that he was good enough for her. The one way he could truly bring this fantasy to reality would be to have Daisy in life. Therefore, Gatsby became so obsessed with morphing into “Jay Gatsby” from“James Gatsby” that when he realized that he may not be able to have Daisy as Daisy just “loved him too” (Fitzgerald 132), his pretence was shattered and Gatsby was “broken up like glass” (Fitzgerald 148).
Gatsby and Tom both represent the typical notion of marriage seen in a modernist work of fiction, in that marriage is a way to increase one’s wealth and image to society. Seeing the way this convention of marriage plays out in the novel, the readers are able to witness the destruction that follows this kind of marriage. Tom and Gatsby both follow this destructive path and end up leading a life without true fulfilment. Tom loses someone he loves, and through that his freedom, and Gatsby loses his life, and also through that his freedom. Daisy directly caused the loss of Tom’s freedom by killing Myrtle, and indirectly caused the loss of Gatsby’s freedom by being the reason Wilson kills Gatsby. However, how Tom and Gatsby differ is how Gatsby was able to “turn out alright in the end” (Fitzgerald 2). Gatsby was able to turn out alright in the end because Daisy had stopped giving her love to him, and like that she was no longer able to “prey” (Fitzgerald 2) on Gatsby. In the end of the novel, Daisy loses interest in Gatsby, but she is still with Tom. So while Gatsby was afforded the opportunity to reclaim his freedom, and did through his death, Tom was not able to. He stayed with Daisy and “retreated back into…whatever it was that kept them together” (Fitzgerald 179), which would be a marriage that is confined to “their money or their vast carelessness” (Fitzgerald 179). When Tom chose to stay in this marriage, he once again writes off his freedom. But Gatsby was no longer preyed upon by Daisy, even prior to dying, and that enables him to truly become the great Gatsby.
The story and discourse events of The Great Gatsby, along with the characters was able to illustrate to readers the theme of how the marriage plot of marrying someone to can bolster your public image, and not for any true love, can lead to destruction and the loss of freedom. In this novel, the marriage plot is used strategically to create characters who would personify the inevitable destruction that comes from loveless marriages.
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