Summary – An overall criticism of the American Dream, Fitzgerald’s fine work seeks to paint a vivid image of the dissonance that exists between wealth whilst also pointing out the fakery and pomposity that runs rampant in society. The character of Jay Gatsby perfectly personifies the nature of the world, where appearances are everything and desire often lures the longing. Overall, The Great Gatsby decries the American dream and knocks the greedy and superficial state of society.
Themes – Splendour and it’s False Facade
A major part of the novel orbits around the parties of Gatsby, events that are often incredibly lavish and unfathomably decadent. Fitzgerald cleverly uses the character of Nick Carraway to narrate his story. It is a clever move because Nick is somewhat relatable, if not wholly reliable. Nick isn’t the mysterious Gatsby or the domineering Tom. By choosing to tell this tale from the eyes of a regular chap, the story is forced to centre on the lavishness of these parties. Nick, though not completely alien to the idea of wealth and decadence, is still amazed by the soirées and the sickening luxury.
Gatsby is an intriguing character because of his wealth. Whichever way one cuts the matter, without his money, Jay wouldn’t have the ability to create intrigue. Perhaps this first spells out the ludicrous nature of wealth, where most of society looks at the wealthy as if they are these infallible and incomprehensible gods. Gatsby’s parties feel like parodies of the culture of goofiness. All of the higher society’s vices and indulgences are held within one house of one man. To continue, we find out that Gatsby’s wealth originates from his bootlegging actions, something that is untoward.
From this, we have two very different images and ideas. Firstly, we have the facade of wealth which is found in the parties of Gatsby, the fine clothes, the lovely meals, and so on. Secondly, we have the dirty, both physically and morally, means of producing such wealth. We now see the strange relationship between what wealth can buy and how wealth is made. It is this stark contrast that sums up society, where people are happy to be distracted by the dazzling lights and bouncy music whilst ignoring the morally criticisable actions to make those lights and that music.
Themes- Desire and the American Dream
We discover that Gatsby’s motivation for hosting such soirées is to meet Daisy, a woman with whom he holds an infatuation. Already, we can yet again denounce the concept of wealth, as all of this lavishness and ostentation turns out to be a mere ploy. This swiftly depicts the dishonest and rather silly nature of money. In order to attract Daisy, Gatsby must show off his wealth and impress her. It isn’t at all romantic or indicative of love.
Instead, we see that such love is left in the dust, so to speak, for mere posturing and impressing. Not only do we see the superficiality of wealth, we also see the superficiality of love. However, to then view through the lens of the ‘American Dream’, we can garner a few more notions that instead lambast the whole of modern American society. Many people in the modern American world view the acquiring of wealth and money as the heart of the American dream. Fitzgerald makes jest of the matter by showing someone who should have achieved this dream (Gatsby) still being plagued by desire. To an outside, Jay has achieved the American dream and has surmounted the pile. To those privy, Jay merely uses his wealth to pursue his greater desire, that being Daisy.
One could say that Fitzgerald is arguing that love is more important than wealth, but is equally viable to claim that he is criticising desire in general. Gatsby’s desire eventually gets him killed and, thus, we can view it as his fatal flaw, his hamartia. Fitzgerald could be, instead, arguing that desire will never be fulfilled or sated and that being content is preferable.
Symbols – The Green Light
The green light, in the story, is the light of Tom’s jetty. Jay appears to watch it ritually from the end of his. Firstly, such a light is symbolic of hope. Gatsby looks across the water to the very physical location of the object of his desire, Daisy, and see this light as representative of that infatuation. Just like the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ Gatsby looks upon this light as if it were the only light in his life. Despite all of the flashy illuminations of his parties, he distances himself to observe this lone green light. This already introduced us to the futility of hope and desire.
Jay cannot see the luxuries he already has as he is constantly fixated upon this future probability. To continue, we can read a substantial amount into the choice of colour. Green is often related to jealousy, the ‘green-eyed monster’ as seen in Othello. Such jealousy relates to Gatsby as Daisy is in a union with Tom Buchanan. This jealousy angle implies that desire originates from the very human need to want something that others have. Green is also linked to ideas of nature and life.
Fitzgerald implies from this that, to Gatsby at least, life only exists in the future. This links well with the concept that desire in such a sense blinds one to the fruits of the present. Gatsby cannot appreciate what he has for he is constantly pondering the future.
Symbols – The Eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg
A constant within the book is the image of a pair of eyes, adorned with spectacles, looking down upon the valley of ashes from a billboard. The obvious reading into this is of a great judging character, potentially that being god or some other deity. It is aided by the relationship this image has with the aforementioned valley of ashes. Perhaps god looks down upon his creations and, instead of seeing the fancy manors and modern skyscrapers, he sees a pitiful pile of ashes worthy of nothing more than a judgemental glare.
Devices – Unreliable Narrator
Nick quite often refers to himself in terms of his honesty, remarking that he ‘is one of the few honest men [he] knows’. Such a comment immediately makes one question the honesty. It is strange to comment on one’s own truthfulness, therefore it alarms one to ponder whether Nick holds an altered perception of self. To continue, even if Nick were to be truthful and honest, it is still a confinement claim to make that his obsession and nigh-on infatuation with Gatsby clearly shifts and taints his recollection of events.
Because of Nick’s romanticised view of Jay, we are forced to believe that he is all-good and sensible in his actions. A dilemma occurs for us readers when we learn of Gatsby’s more criminal activities and adultery. We know that Jay makes his money, or at least the vast majority of it, from bootlegging, an activity often paired in history with the mob. To state that Gatsby has struck rich off of such an endeavour implies that he must have done morally questionable things.
However, Nick blinds himself with this same romance and continues to paint the idealised image of Gatsby doing all he can for love and for Daisy.
The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock may serve to indicate that Gatsby’s hopes and desires are unattainable. To look upon the light as this ‘minute’ object that lies beyond the water, which has a shape too faint to discern, could offer a few other readings. To begin, the fact that it ‘might have been the end of a dock’ implies an uncertainty. This uncertainty suggests the nature of such hope and desire; it is never what one expects. Gatsby observes the light and sees what he wants to see: his fantasies.
Nick looks upon it in a more general way, as he himself does not possess the same feelings. This implies that such hope is mere fantasy. This foreshadows that Gatsby won’t find what he desires as he cannot know his fate. If the light represents one’s future, it’s vague shape is related to the idea that the future is impossible to predict.
Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy but unfashionable area populated by the new rich, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections and who are prone to garish displays of wealth. Nick’s next-door neighbour in West Egg is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic Gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday night.
Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg—he was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island home to the established upper class. Nick drives out to East Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhile classmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Nick also learns a bit about Daisy and Tom’s marriage: Jordan tells him that Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a grey industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tom keeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose.
As the summer progresses, Nick eventually garners an invitation to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. He encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, a surprisingly young man who affects an English accent, has a remarkable smile, and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone, and, through Jordan, Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbour. Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse to see him if she knows that he still loves her. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy re-establish their connection. Their love rekindled, they begin an affair.
After a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such undisguised passion that Tom realizes Gatsby is in love with her. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is deeply outraged by the thought that his wife could be unfaithful to him. He forces the group to drive into New York City, where he confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand, and he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal—his fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.
When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes, however, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. They rush back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but that Gatsby intends to take the blame. The next day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, who has leapt to the conclusion that the driver of the car that killed Myrtle must have been her lover, finds Gatsby in the pool at his mansion and shoots him dead. He then fatally shoots himself.
Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest to escape the disgust he feels for the people surrounding Gatsby’s life and for the emptiness and moral decay of life among the wealthy on the East Coast. Nick reflects that just as Gatsby’s dream of Daisy was corrupted by money and dishonesty, the American dream of happiness and individualism has disintegrated into the mere pursuit of wealth. Though Gatsby’s power to transform his dreams into reality is what makes him ‘great,’ Nick reflects that the era of dreaming—both Gatsby’s dream and the American dream—is over.
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