In The Great Gatsby, how can Gatsby, the man who represents moral failure, make us not only sympathize with him but also see him as a great person?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Most readers develop sympathy and understanding for Gatsby because Fitzgerald makes Gatsby a sympathetic character through Nick's view of the events surrounding Gatsby's life and death. In the beginning of the novel, we are told through Nick's narration that Gatsby will be the one person in his story who did not earn Nick's contempt:

No--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.

The word "preyed" suggests that Nick views Gatsby as having been a victim, and therefore worthy of sympathy. 

It is Gatsby's "colossal dream" and his faithfulness to it that earns Nick's respect. Gatsby commits crimes, that is true, but if motivation has merit, his purpose, at least, was not contemptible. Gatsby builds a fortune to bring love back into his life and to literally repeat the past. Gatsby is "great" not because he acquires wealth and all its trappings, but because he remains absolutely faithful to his love for Daisy and his dream of having her love him, too, once again. Gatsby's innocent romanticism makes him appealing because it makes him absolutely vulnerable to those who are, ironically, far less honest than he. When contrasted with the deceit, selfishness, and amorality of the Buchanans, Gatsby gains our sympathy, just as he gained Nick's.

dneshan's profile pic

dneshan | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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For the most part, we, the readers, feel the way that we do about Gatsby because of the way that Nick Carroway presents him to us; this is true with most to all of the characters in the novel.  Gatsby is presented as a person who wants to achieve the American Dream, and, more than anything, wants to reunite with a lost love.  These two facts about Gatsby make the reader feel for him from the very beginning.  It is not until after the reader begins to feel sympathy for Gatsby that we find out the truth about him and see his more evil side when he fights with Tom toward the end of the novel.  Nick presents Gatsby in a way that makes him see bigger than life itself, as if the world, or at least Long Island, would not exist if it was not for Gatsby.  It is for these reasons that the readers feel sympathy for a character who represents such moral corruption and failure

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