The Great Gatsby: Characters
Poor, wealthy, pretty, ugly, innocent, guilty, dishonest, and truthful: No matter what it entails, every novelistic character has specific labels and qualities that the author characterizes them with for explicit purposes. The era of the 1920’s possessed various yet specific types of people. The roaring 20’s consisted of a lower dress line, illegal swapping of alcohol, and most importantly, o strive for “The American Dream.” Although different people had different theories, everyone believed that the perfect life was achievable. Some thought by money and status, others by the past, and still others by apocryphal love and lifestyles.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald condemns the non-ethical approach of the people of the 1920’s for what proves to be an unachievable “American Dream.” Through the development, symbolisms, words, and actions of his various characters, Fitzgerald criticizes and satirizes the absurdity of the society of the 1920’s.
Through the character of Daisy Buchanan, Fitzgerald emphasizes the mendacious, hypocritical lives of the wealthy.
Daisy is often described with great innocence, like a dove, as if she “had just been blown back after a short flight around the house” (Fitzgerald 8). By metaphorically relating Daisy to a dove, an innocent, pure white bird, Fitzgerald uses irony to display the hypocrisy and insincere natures of the upper class. Daisy is often seen in white, a color that represents innocence and wholesomeness, at the beginning of the book. However, a daisy, as a flower, is white on the outside and yellow on the inside. Daisy’s faï¿½ade of a beautiful, innocent woman is broken as she continues an affair with her lover, Gatsby, simply for his money rather than for love.
Then, Daisy’s true inside is shown as a lying, deceitful woman of an aberrational yellow color rather than the pure white she is normally seen in. Fitzgerald also uses parallelism through Daisy to display the re-occurring lack of morale among the wealthy class. Daisy finds herself in the same house with both her husband and her lover. As soon as Tom “left the room, she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down, and kissed him on the lips” (Fitzgerald 116).
Daisy cheats on her husband while in the same house as him, and ceases to feel any remorse. By repeating the conjunction “and,” Fitzgerald emphasizes the repetition of dishonesty throughout the novel as well as the society of the 1920’s. By the end of the book, all of Daisy’s lies as well as her true character are revealed. The car that hit Myrtle was yellow. The driver who hit Myrtle was also represented by yellow. The development of Daisy’s character is crucial to the understanding of Fitzgerald’s tone. Through the preposterousness of Daisy’s lies and duplicity, Fitzgerald clearly displays his abhorrence and abomination for the lack of morals of the wealthy class of the 1920’s.
Fitzgerald utilizes the character and personality of Tom Buchanan in order to personify the pinnacle of selfish, arrogant, and careless behavior of the wealthy during the 1920’s. Tom Buchanan, a prosperous “hulking brute” from Yale, was described similar that of a school bully and a football jock: strong, commanding, and condescending. Fitzgerald shows this quality of Tom, when he takes Myrtle along with Nick to Catherine’s party in New York City. He had felt no worry or shame from showing his infidelity with Myrtle. Once they had arrived to the party, Myrtle, intoxicated that she was, started to chant Daisy’s name despite Tom’s warning. Enraged by Myrtle’s actions, Tom broke her nose with a “short deft movement”. “You’re crazy, Nick. Crazy as hell. I don’t know what’s the matter with you.” (Fitzgerald 185).
Tom hypocritically criticizes Nick, while in the perception of Nick and the reader, Tom himself seems to be the one that is crazy. When Tom exposes Daisy’s rekindled and secret affair with Jay Gatsby, he becomes irate, without regarding the fact they he, too, was cheating with Myrtle. Fitzgerald conveys his message of hypocritical criticism and arrogance of the wealthy through the actions of Tom. “There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away from Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control.” (Fitzgerald 131).
Once Daisy and Myrtle drifted away from Tom’s power, and things do not go accordingly to his plan, Tom burgeons his vileness further, causing the moribund destruction of George Wilson, Myrtle Wilson, and Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald incorporates this into Tom in order to express how the successful moguls and the wealthy citizens of the 1920’s were selfish and reckless in order to get what gratified them, no matter what the means are, whether it is ethical or non-ethical. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money… and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” (Fitzgerald 186). In all, Fitzgerald molded the inconsiderate, hypocritical, self-centered, reckless, and immoral lifestyles of the aristocrats during the 1920’s and weaved in the themes of the hypocrisy of the rich, and selfishness caused by wealth in order to create who we know as “Thomas Buchanan”.
Fitzgerald makes a distinction in his novel between East Eggers and West Eggers, and the way in which they relate to their wealth. Jordan Baker is Fitzgerald’s epitome of East Egg upper crust. Nick describes her in a colorless tone. Her actions seem to pass pointlessly the same way she does through her life. “At any rate Miss Baker’s lip fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly and then quickly tipped her head back again the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright.” (Fitzgerald 13) Jordan is described in an ethereal way. She is depicted in shades of black and white.
“They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the room.” (Fitzgerald 12) Jordan’s white dresses and subtle demeanor group her along with the East Egg established wealth. She appears bored and almost offended by the gaudy newly rich such as Gatsby. “You live in West Egg,” she remarked contemptuously.” Jordan blatantly displays her distaste for the new rich. Jordan speaks with Nick condescendingly only at the notion that he lives in West Egg, the island of the garish new rich. “It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply I was casually sorry, and then I forgot.” (Fitzgerald 63) Nick overlooks Jordan’s dishonesty as if it was a slight slip of the tongue. He lets it go the way he would from his cousin Daisy. Both girls embody the old aristocracy of the time.
Jordan Baker is seemingly the most obvious example how appearances may be deceiving. Jordan constantly lies, the first thing Nick remembers about her is that she cheated in her very first golf tournament. Golf, her only active redeeming quality, is just another way for Jordan to deceive everyone around her; bored to tears and cynical as she is.
Fitzgerald forms the characters of Myrtle and George Wilson in The Great Gatsby to symbolize both adultery in the 1920s and sterility and barrenness. Their placement in the Valley of Ashes is described as “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” (page 23) This description gives the setting and characters that occupy the Valley of Ashes a faint and dusty depiction.
The use of the words “dim,” “bare,” and “spiritless,” (page 25) to describe George Wilson and his place of work contributes to the muted, empty, and detached personality traits of George Wilson. The description of Myrtle Wilson “…walking through her husband as if he were a ghost,” (page 26) is one of the ways Fitzgerald slowly starts to describe the relationship between Myrtle and George Wilson by comparing George to a ghost and stating that Myrtle walked right through him. This act of Myrtle describes the indistinct and hazy relationship between her and her husband. The fact that Myrtle cheats on George with Tom Buchanan reflects one of Fitzgerald’s themes of destructive love. After the death of Myrtle, when George kills Jay Gatsby and himself, Fitzgerald uses these tragedies to reflect the emptiness of the Valley of Ashes and the emptiness of the Wilsons’ hearts.
Fitzgerald uses the character Jay Gatsby to show the contrast between what the American dream looks like and how it affects those who attain it. Jay started out as a small town boy from North Dakota by the name James Gatz but this did not last long. This small town boy eventually becomes the Great Gatsby. Nick talks about how he gets there “An instinct toward his future glory had led him.” Fitzgerald uses this to show how that even though he started out in a humble environment there was something setting him aside from others that made sure he became great. When we first see Gatsby, he is rich with extravagant parties and lots of “friends” thusly showing Fitzgerald’s ideal of the American dream. This is immediately shown as a falsehood as none of the people at the extravagant parties know who he is.
Fitzgerald creates the parallel between Gatsby and his party goers simply by almost constantly separating them from one another. Gatsby is shown to have these parties so that on an off chance Daisy will one day walk through his doors by almost pure chance. When Daisy rejects his attempt to show off his house the narrator states “as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.” Fitzgerald uses this comparison to show that Gatsby was finally done with his materialistic ways simply to become closer to Daisy. Gatsby eventually shows he true colors and his only ambition saying “Can’t repeat the past’ he cried incredulously’ Why of course you can.” Fitzgerald uses this to show where Gatsby’s motives lie and what he is trying to do. Fitzgerald creates Jay Gatsby as simply the hollow shell of a man who has given up everything for a woman who does not want him.
Nick is a very important character to consider when drawing conclusions about all the others, due to the fact that it is his perspective and observations that we gather our evidence from. Fitzgerald is known for symbolic characters and Nick seems to be most sensible or realistic character. He isn’t rich or poor, doesn’t seem to do anything horrendously immoral, and appears to be more insightful and thoughtful than the other characters, and yet, just when we think he may be the one decent person in the book, his morality and honesty, which he claimed he had, is doubtful. On the first page of the book, he already declares some of his attributes; his thoughtfulness before criticizing others.
And in chapter 3, he says “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” (39) However, after Gatsby is dead and he meets Jordan again, she asks him what happened to being honest and straightforward, a characteristic he was proud of. His response, “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor” (177), as well as the fact that his encounter with Tom who said Gatsby “threw dust” (178) into Nick’s eyes as well as Daisy’s throws doubt on his reliability as a narrator. His final insight into Tom’s childishness reveals the grand possibility that everyone had thought that their actions were justifiable in their own minds.
From these characters, it is clear that self-deception, lack of morals, hypocrisy, and inability to consider or understand others were qualities rampant in the 1920’s. In this era, the ends justified the means and, as long as a person didn’t get hurt, it didn’t matter what everyone else did. And, yet, despite all of this, there is something sympathetic about these characters. In the end, no matter how horrible the means, the ends were never achieved and there is no comfort in knowing that people will change their ways. The Great Gatsby opens our eyes to the tragedy of the American Dream as well as the minds that can justify absolutely anything to get it.
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