Essays and Criticism
Three Themes in The Great Gatsby
Whilst The Great Gatsby explores a number of themes, none is more prevalent than that of the corruption of the American dream. The American dream is the concept that, in America, any person can be successful as long he or she is prepared to work hard and use his natural gifts.
Gatsby appears to be the embodiment of this dream—he has risen from being a poor farm boy with no prospects to being rich, having a big house, servants, and a large social circle attending his numerous functions. He has achieved all this in only a few short years, having returned from the war penniless.
On the surface, Fitgerald appears to be suggesting that, whilst wealth and all its trappings are attainable, status and position are not. Whilst Gatsby has money and possessions, he is unable to find happiness. Those who come to his home do not genuinely like Gatsby—they come for the parties, the food, the drink and the company, not for Gatsby. Furthermore, they seem to despise Gatsby, taking every opportunity to gossip about him. Many come and go without even taking the time to meet and few ever thank him for his hospitality. Even Daisy appears unable to cope with the reality of Gatsby’s lower class background. Gatsby is never truly one of the elite—his dream is just a façade.
However, Fitzgerald explores much more than the failure of the American dream—he is more deeply concerned with its total corruption. Gatsby has not achieved his wealth through honest hard work, but through bootlegging and crime. His money is not simply ‘new’ money—it is dirty money, earned through dishonesty and crime. His wealthy lifestyle is little more than a façade, as is the whole person Jay Gatsby. Gatsby has been created from the dreams of the boy James Gatz. It is not only Gatsby who is corrupt. Nick repeatedly says that he is the only honest person he knows. The story is full of lying and cheating. Even Nick is involved in this deception, helping Gatsby and Daisy in their deceit and later concealing the truth about Myrtle’s death. The society in which the novel takes place is one of moral decadence. Whether their money is inherited or earned, its inhabitant are morally decadent, living life in quest of cheap thrills and with no seeming moral purpose to their lives. Any person who attempts to move up through the social classes becomes corrupt in the process. In Gatsby’s case this corruption involves illegal activities, for Myrtle...
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Major and Minor Characters in The Great Gatsby
Daisy was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, a daughter of Louisville society and Nick Carraway’s cousin. Like the flower for which she is named, Daisy is delicate and lovely. She also shows a certain weakness that simultaneously attracts men to her and causes her to be easily swayed. Daisy’s weakness influences the major points of the story, and she is responsible, if not intentionally, for the novel’s tragic ending.
Daisy first met Jay Gatsby in 1917, when he was stationed at Camp Taylor in Louisville. The two fell in love quickly, and Daisy promised to remain loyal to Gatsby when he shipped out to join the fighting. Two years later, she married Tom Buchanon because he bought her an expensive necklace, with the promise of a life of similar extravagance. Daisy is definitely distracted by wealth and power, and despite her husband’s unfaithfulness, she insists she still loves him because of his influence.
Gatsby is another matter entirely. Although she left him because he couldn’t provide for her the way Tom could, she retained some glimmer of emotional connection to him. When Gatsby finally professes his love over tea, she responds positively. But is she renewing an old love, or manipulating Gatsby? The novel doesn’t give us any clear idea.
Daisy is described in glowing terms in the novel, although her value seems to be connected to monetary value. In chapter 7, for example, Nick and Gatsby have the following famous exchange:
“She's got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It's full of —” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it.… High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl.… (120)
Daisy is an ideal, and Fitzgerald gives her the qualities to not only live up to that ideal but to also bring it crashing down around her. Daisy’s myth is as big as Gatsby’s, at least in Gatsby’s mind; like him, she took the necessary opportunities to make herself what she wanted to be. Tom takes good care of her financially and is even jealous when he realizes, in chapter 7, that Gatsby is in love with his wife. Later, Nick clears up at least part of the mystery Daisy...
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Critique of American Upper Class Values
The Great Gatsby is known as the quintessential novel of the Jazz age. It accurately portrays the lifestyle of the rich during the booming 1920s. Readers live vicariously through the lavish parties and on the elegant estates. Romantics relate to Gatsby’s unrelenting commitment to Daisy, the love of his life. But beneath all the decadence and romance, The Great Gatsby is a severe criticism of American upper class values.
Fitzgerald uses the book’s central conflict between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby to illustrate his critique. Tom is the incarnation of the upper class, Gatsby the nouveau riche. The contrast between them demonstrates the differences between the values of their respective classes. In this essay we will examine the upper class myths of lineage, institutional education, manners, and wealth. One by one, Fitzgerald strips away the illusion of superiority to reveal the ugly truth behind the glittering façade of the rich.
Myth #1: The Importance of Lineage
For the “old” (inherited) money crowd, family lineage is often the first, and perhaps most important, indicator of class rank. This theme runs through the entire novel. Tom’s old Chicago family is “enormously wealthy.” In fact, “his position” was what attracted Daisy to him. And he adamantly argues his racial superiority during the opening scene. But his lineage does not translate into anything worthwhile. The Buchanans never see their families. The core of their own family, their marriage, is a shambles—Tom cheats and Daisy’s miserable. And their daughter seems irrelevant to their lives.
Gatsby, one the other hand, is of unknown background. Rumors circulate that he is related to everyone from the Kaiser to Satan. Eventually we learn that Gatsby comes from a humble, midwestern family. He grew up poor. Ironically, the Gatsby (or Gatz) family provides the only examples of familial love. We learn that Gatsby bought his father a house, and his father cannot hide his emotion, his affection, and his admiration for his son in the final chapter.
Myth #2: The Importance of Institutional Education
Institutional education—where you go to school—holds an important place in class structure. Nick points out that he, his father, and Tom Buchanan attended New Haven, the discreet name for Yale, an institution that ranked with Harvard and Princeton as the school...
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Fitzgerald's Use of the Color Green
It is arguable that Jay Gatsby values two things above all others—love (particularly his love for Daisy Buchanon) and money (the means by which he hopes to win Daisy’s heart). The two motivations converge in Fitzgerald’s use of the color green, a symbol that represents both love and money as well as Gatsby’s ultimate goal—a spring-like renewal that would put his past behind him and plant the seeds for a future with Daisy. Fitzgerald shows green in its many incarnations, from the promise of a new bud to the decay of a stagnant pond, as Gatsby’s dream progresses from a dim light in the distance to the reality of lovely illusions left in ruins.
Our first glimpse of green in the novel comes in the first chapter, as Nick stumbles upon Gatsby with his arms outstretched toward “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (21). The light marks the end of the Buchanons’ pier, and the beginning of Gatsby’s green hope. He stands, stares and reaches out to the light as if reaching out to Daisy herself. At this point, even with all the money and power at his disposal, he can’t directly address the object of his affection; the light represents what could have been and what could be.
By chapter 4, green takes the recognizable form of money, or at least the things money can buy. As described by Nick, the car is cream-colored and bright. The upholstery, however, the car’s center and the point at which is connects with the people inside, is a deep green, “a sort of green leather conservatory” (64). What better than a “green leather conservatory” for watching stars, particularly the bright green star across the bay? Even Gatsby’s car is a reminder of Daisy, and of her place in his universe. He buys the car to impress her if he can, and the green leather interior is a nod to decadent consumption as well as a symbol of the evolution Gatsby must undergo to make his dream a reality.
The color green’s connection to nature, growth and renewal first appears in chapter 5 as Nick prepares for Gatsby and Daisy’s rendezvous at his house. Gatsby not only sends flowers to impress Daisy, he has a “greenhouse” shipped in (84). The word “greenhouse” suggests incubation, like the love Gatsby has let incubate as he built his fortune. Having convinced Daisy to meet with him, Gatsby wants her surrounded with fresh greenery to symbolize the renewed love he hopes their...
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Romance and Cynicism in The Great Gatsby
On one level, The Great Gatsby is a romantic novel, or at least romance-driven. The central story of Jay Gatsby’s undying hope for the love for Daisy Buchanon, offers a romantic ideal, and the couple’s brief affair almost reads like a fairytale romance.
The secondary relationship between Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker takes on a “Boy Meets Girl” quality—Nick is fascinated by Jordan, and he certainly catches her attention. On the surface, Gatsby and Nick seek a perfect love; in Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age world, both men’s desires are hopelessly bound up in the cynicism fostered by the rapid changes taking place in American society. As such, both men’s romances are doomed to fail in the face of cynicism.
From the moment he meets a young Daisy Fay, Jay Gatsby is in love. The only glimpse the author gives us of the couple’s interaction is through the voice of Jordan Baker, who sees Daisy and Gatsby sitting together in Daisy’s car: “The officer looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at some time, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since” (75; ch. 4)
We get no details of the romance between the two, but there must have been quite a romance; Jordan relates Daisy’s insistence on going to New York to “say good-by to a soldier” (75; ch. 4), alienating her family and leaving her trapped at home. Also, Jordan helps a very drunk Daisy sober up before her wedding after a letter (presumably from Gatsby) causes her to “‘change’ her mine’” (76; ch. 4).
Flash-forward to the green light on Daisy’s dock; even five years of distance and a soggy, unanswered letter haven’t cooled Gatsby’s love for Daisy, or his desire to be worthy of her love. But as genuine as Gatsby’s desire may be, he takes shortcuts to get to the top and earn Daisy’s attention. Fitzgerald layers his main character’s supposedly pure love with cynicism toward the world and toward his own potential. This cynicism threatens to taint Gatsby’s love even as he fights to acquire his lovely prize.
Gatsby becomes a criminal and concocts an elaborate cover, hiding in plain sight at his regular, lavish parties. The parties also provide an elaborate lure for Daisy, who now lives just across the Sound. Gatsby has no faith in his ability to win Daisy on the strength of their younger love; the cynicism of the...
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Fitzgerald's Distinctly American Style of Writing
One of the simplest yet most profound reasons The Great Gatsby is considered an American classic is its use of language, more particularly the emerging “American Idiom.” Writers of the 20s and beyond sought to find a way of using English that was more than simply a rehash of the great British writers, a style of writing that was distinctly American. Fitzgerald not only tapped into the “American Idiom,” influencing writers to come, but elevated the language above street slang and regional distinctions into a truly artistic form that reflects the high and low of American society. The beginning and ending passages of the novel clearly illustrate the way Fitzgerald creates a uniquely American expression from the basic building blocks of the English language.
The beginning of the novel sets the bar immediately, as Fitzgerald speaks with Nick’s voice, a “typical Midwesterner” with, one would assume, a typically Midwestern accent:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”
He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. (1-2)
One of the first features that stands out in this passage is Nick’s almost conversational tone. Fitzgerald freely uses contractions and independent clauses...
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The Jazz Age
The Great Gatsby’s most obvious reference to “The Jazz Age” revolution taking place in American Arts in the 1920s occurs in the party scene in chapter 3:
“Ladies and gentlemen,” [the orchestra leader] cried. “At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff’s latest work … Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World.” (Fitzgerald 49)
Gatsby’s request for a work that defies tradition, and certainly defeats the purpose of having a full symphony-sized orchestra on the grounds, is in fitting with his character. He himself has defied tradition, becoming a “self-made man” regardless of his methods; is it any wonder his choice of music would reflect both the “newness” of his money and the means by which he came to it?
The spirit of recreation and renewed vision echoes through the art of the period, particularly in its music. It makes sense that such music would provide a background for Gatsby’s story. Like Jay Gatsby, composers and musicians of the 1920s charted new territory for themselves, changing the American musical landscape as drastically as Gatsby’s transition from the starkness of North Dakota farmland to the glitz of a West Egg mansion.
Fitzgerald experienced a similar transition just spending time around the burgeoning New York Jazz Scene, according to Arnold Shaw: “Riding down Fifth Avenue one day in the 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald ‘bawled’ because, he later said, ‘I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again’” (Shaw 3). He and his wife Zelda were fixtures in Jazz Age social circles, and Fitzgerald was well-qualified to talk about not only the new music of the time but also the decadence that often accompanied it.
Prior to the 1920s, mainstream American music mostly consisted of folk tunes—nothing less tame than Scott Joplin’s Ragtime piano pieces. The emphasis was on everyday people learning to play for themselves and their families and friends at home. By the twenties, the humble (and recent) tradition of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen had begun to filter through the “hot towns” of Chicago and Kansas City, producing a potent music not everyone could play. The relatively new phonograph and radio allowed previously regional music like the blues to be heard nationwide,...
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The Theme of Time in The Great Gatsby
Time is one of the most pervasive themes in The Great Gatsby, weaving between characters and situations, slowing and speeding the action until the entire novel seems almost dreamlike. Fitzgerald not only manipulates time in the novel, he refers to time repeatedly to reinforce the idea that time is a driving force not only for the 1920s, a period of great change, but for America itself. We will see Fitzgerald also turns a critical eye to the American concept of time, in effect warning us all to avoid becoming trapped in time.
Fitzgerald strongly connects time in the novel with location, as if time were an entire setting in itself. Fitzgerald tips his hand early; after Nick provides a description of himself and what we assume are his motives in coming to New York, he makes an immediately important time reference: “Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans” (5; ch. 1)
Nick wants to relate the “history” of the summer, not its events, its characters, or “just” a story. This is to be a history, events frozen in time and examined and re-examined. Nick sets the stage for the novel’s treatment of time—despite the often frivolous characters and situations, this story bears more than a superficial reading. The Eggs gain enough historical importance to rival New York City itself. Fitzgerald shrinks his focus to a geographical area while simultaneously expanding its meaning in time.
The past plays a major role, perhaps the most major role, in the concept of time presented in Gatsby. Tom was a “Big Man on Campus” in the past, while Gatsby was both a poor farm boy and Daisy’s lover; Daisy was a flighty socialite with no family to tie her down; all of them were naïve Midwesterners whose lives, they now believe, were far better in a past they can’t help but romanticize. It is precisely this romanticizing of the past that enables Fitzgerald to write such a powerful novel—in allowing his characters to wallow around in their pasts, he reminds later generations of readers that neither the 20s nor his books should be romanticized. They should be taken for what they are, and made relative to the present day. The (possibly unintentional) consequence of this attitude is an audience that extends...
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Jordan Baker, a Soldier in the Culture War
From a modern-day perspective, The Great Gatsby’s Jordan Baker seems a bit ordinary—a typical modern woman. To the novel’s original audience, however, Jordan’s behavior and attitude place her one step away from scandal. In 1926, many parts of the United States were relatively unaffected by the changes occurring in large urban centers like New York City; Fitzgerald’s main characters are displaced “Midwesterners” for precisely this reason. Publication of The Great Gatsby brought the changes in the air in the twenties to the rest of the nation, through their own eyes. Jordan represents one of the most extreme examples of these changes—the proto-feminist known as a flapper.
“Women’s Suffrage,” as early women’s movements were known, had been around since the nineteenth century. When the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed in 1920, activists moved into other arenas to fight for full recognition by American society. One of the arenas was the social arena. Flappers could hardly be called “activists,” as their activities and attitudes were more mainstream than politically radical. In changing fashion and the way a woman’s morality was perceived, flappers had more influence on society than their more radical sisters.
Birkbeck College of London feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey has studied flappers as depicted in 1920s silent films. According to her, flappers were “shocking to the conventional and conformist” and “an integral part of the culture wars” of the decade. Characterized by short haircuts, short skirts, and feathers in their hair, flappers nevertheless “raised serious questions about women living independently, about sex and the right to be able to control your own body” (Mulvey). Jordan Baker is very similar to silent films’ “It Girl,” Clara Bow, and may have been based on her.
When Nick first meets Jordan, he knows she is different:
She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.… I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.…
Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly.… Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a...
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George and Myrtle Wilson
George and Myrtle Wilson are generally considered minor characters in The Great Gatsby, as they have less “screen time” than any of the major characters. However, both characters are pivotal to the events of the novel; without them, the major characters’ interactions would read like a soap opera, and not a very interesting one. The Wilsons add an additional layer of substance by placing the major characters into perspective, by showing the lows to which both the upper and lower classes can sink.
Myrtle Wilson immediately distinguishes herself from both Daisy and Jordan, at least through Nick’s eyes: “She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering” (25; ch. 2).
If Daisy personifies upper-class delicacy and Jordan represents the detached, hedonistic flapper, Myrtle is the lower-class Earth Mother, soft and alluring—forbidden fruit for an elitist like Tom Buchanan. She offers Tom entry into a world he would otherwise be unable to enter, a world that is far more real than his own, and he offers her a fantasy in return, as evidence by the apartment in New York.
It is Tom, though, who acts in a “lower class” fashion in the apartment, bloodying Myrtle’s nose for even mentioning Daisy’s name. He, in effect, switches classes because his carefully-constructed fantasy world is threatened by the intrusion of the real. Myrtle is a catalyst, influencing Tom’s actions even when she is absent because of her allure and her audacity, qualities that would be completely foreign to his wife.
Myrtle’s death is the climax of the novel, in the sense that her death triggers the events that lead to the novel’s conclusion with lives changed, ruined, and ended. Tom reacts by disavowing all knowledge of her existence and lying about the hit-and-run driver’s true identity, Daisy by deferring to her husband, and Jordan by simply disappearing. Nick reacts with horror, but it is a horror mingled with the detachment of a good man who has been jaded by his proximity to the other characters.
George Wilson reacts by committing the only intentionally cruel act depicted in the novel—he kills Gatsby,...
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The Paradoxical Role of Women
Women play a paradoxical role in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel dominated by the eponymous hero and the enigmatic narrator, Nick Carraway. With the background of Gatsby’s continual and lavish parties, women seem to have been transformed into “flappers,” supposedly the incarnation of independence following World War I.
After all, Daisy Fay, obviously modeled on Fitzgerald’s free-spirited wife, Zelda Sayre, is hardly portrayed as the proper southern belle. Her friend, Jordan Baker, seems openly sarcastic when speaking of their “white girlhood”—referring to their youth spent in Louisville, Kentucky. As Fitzgerald conveys through a series of flashbacks, Daisy has been flirtatious, even at one point discovered packing her bag to travel alone to New York City in order to say good bye to a sailor. But her rather scandalous behavior does not sully her at all in the eyes of the smitten Gatsby. Indeed, as Nick comments , “It excited him … that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes.” (149; ch. 8)
Jordan Baker, whom some critics regard as little more than a device to bring Nick Carraway into the plot, is neither married nor engaged and apparently lives largely on her own except for a shadowy aunt who serves as a titular chaperone. Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, might pontificate that their house guest should have more supervision, but Daisy ridicules her husband’s comment.
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The American Dream
The ideal of the American Dream is based on the fantasy that an individual can achieve success regardless of family history, race, or religion simply by working hard enough. Frequently, “success” is equated with the fortune that the independent, self-reliant individual can win. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald examines and critiques Jay Gatsby’s particular vision of the 1920s American Dream. Though Fitzgerald himself is associated with the excesses of the “Roaring Twenties,” he is also an astute social critic whose novel does more to detail society’s failure to fulfill its potential than it does to glamorize the “Jazz Age.”
As a self-proclaimed “tale of the West,” the novel explores questions about America and the varieties of the American Dream. In this respect, The Great Gatsby is perhaps that legendary opus, the “Great American Novel”—following in the footsteps of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. As a novel that has much to say about faith, belief, and illusion, it merits being considered alongside works like T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which explores the “hollowness” lying below the surface of modern life. It is possible to regard Gatsby as an archetypal tragic figure, the epitome of idealism and innocence who strives for order, purpose and meaning in a chaotic world....
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A Modernist Masterwork
The Great Gatsby, the first truly Modernist novel to find success in the United States, set the tone for the movement that defined American literature well into the present day. In Modernism Fitzgerald found a way to define his world that would have been impossible in the nineteenth-century Victorian style that still dominated American writing. In his style, portrayal of American morality and treatment of his characters, Fitzgerald left the Victorian era behind, creating a Modernist masterwork that still serves as a model for American fiction.
The gritty realism of William James and his contemporaries, and even the light-hearted tone of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, was too limited to allow Fitzgerald to portray the Jazz Age, a period in which dark fantasy reigned. Modernism offered a broader palette, a self-consciously surreal landscape in which life is viewed more metaphorically than meticulously detailed. Only through this lens could a central theme of the novel emerge:
Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. (4-5; ch. 1)
The eggs are more a product of Nick’s imagination than a realistic geographical description; by mixing...
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Major Characters, Time, Ambiguity and Tragedy
Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby became an immediate classic and propelled its young author to a fame he never again equalled. The novel captured the spirit of the "Jazz Age," a post-World War I era in upper-class America that Fitzgerald himself gave this name to, and the flamboyance of the author and his wife Zelda as they moved about Europe with other American expatriate writers (such as Ernest Hemingway). However, Gatsby expresses more than the exuberance of the times. It depicts the restlessness of what Gertrude Stein (another expatriate modernist writer) called a "lost generation." Recalling T. S. Eliot's landmark poem "The Wasteland" (1922), then, Gatsby also has its own "valley of ashes" or wasteland where men move about obscurely in the dust, and this imagery of decay, death, and corruption pervades the novel and "infects" the story and its hero too. Because the novel is not just about one man, James Gatz or Jay Gatsby, but about aspects of the human condition of an era, and themes that transcend time altogether, it is the stuff of myth. Gatsby's attempts to attain an ideal of himself and then to put this ideal to the service of another ideal, romantic love, are attempts to rise above corruption in all its forms. It is this quality in him that Nick Carraway, the novel's narrator, attempts to portray, and in so doing the...
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The Greatness of Gatsby
[The Great Gatsby's] fundamental achievement is a triumph of language.
I do not speak merely of the "flowers," the famous passages: Nick's description of Gatsby yearning toward the green light on Daisy's dock, Gatsby's remark that the Buchanans' love is "only personal," the book's last page. Throughout, The Great Gatsby has the precision and splendor of a lyric poem, yet well-wrought prose is merely one of its triumphs. Fitzgerald's distinction in this novel is to have made language celebrate itself. Among other things, The Great Gatsby is about the power of art.
This celebration of literary art is inseparable from the novel's second great achievement—its management of point of view, the creation of Nick. With his persona, Fitzgerald obtained more than objectivity and concentration of effect. Nick describes more than the experience which he witnesses; he describes the act and consequences of telling about it. The persona is—as critics have been seeing—a character, but he is more than that: he is a character engaged in a significant action.
Nick is writing a book. He is recording Gatsby's experience; in the act of recording Gatsby's experience he discovers himself.
Though his prose has all along been creating for us Gatsby's "romantic readiness," almost until the very end Nick insists that he deplores Gatsby's "appalling sentimentality." This is not a reasoned judgment. Nick disapproves because...
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A Note on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is certainly more than an impression of the Jazz Age, more than a novel of manners. Serious critics have by no means settled upon what that "more" might be, but one hypothesis recurs quite regularly. It is the view that Fitzgerald was writing about the superannuation of traditional American belief, the obsolescence of accepted folklore. The Great Gatsby is about many things, but it is inescapably a general critique of the "American dream" and also of the "agrarian myth"—a powerful demonstration of their invalidity for Americans of Fitzgerald's generation and after.
The American dream consisted of the belief (sometimes thought of as a promise) that people of talent in this land of opportunity and plenty could reasonably aspire to material success if they adhered to a fairly well-defined set of behavioral rules—rules set forth in a relatively comprehensive form as long ago as the eighteenth century by Benjamin Franklin. In addition, Americans easily assumed that spiritual satisfaction would automatically accompany material success. The dream was to be realized in an agrarian civilization, a way of life presumed better—far better—than the urban alternative. Thomas Jefferson firmly established the myth of the garden—the concept of agrarian virtue and the urban vice—in American minds. During the turbulent era of westward expansion the...
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