Study Guide

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby Themes

Themes

Fitzgerald's ambitions as a writer paralleled those of his spiritual ancestors of the nineteenth century (Melville, Whitman, Thoreau), who rendered in imaginative literature the emergence of America as a nation. Like them, he believed in the capacity of the American people to perpetually rediscover the promise of America. Like them, he recognized that there was a continuous clash between the reality of life in the United States and a mythic vision of what it might be. But he felt that he was writing towards the end of a golden era, while they worked closer to its inception. Still, he felt that he could share their vocation, that he could also be an artist who served as a witness to the struggle and as a kind of conscience who reminded Americans of what they had lost sight of. He saw the obligation of the artist as primarily one of inspiration, helping people to recover their vision and continue the quest.

Fitzgerald was also a thoroughly romantic artist in the most traditional sense; and, for him, women like Daisy represented the deepest seductive power of the Dream as well as its greatest dangers. Even if a man was doomed to destruction in pursuit of the Dream, the undertaking was worth the risk; indeed, for the exceptional man, to fully realize his character, it was essential. Thus, Gatsby's (and possibly America's) greatness was in his ability to put aside the lessons of bitter experience and try to relive the Dream as if it could be recaptured afresh....

(The entire section is 447 words.)

The Great Gatsby Themes

Culture Clash
By juxtaposing characters from the West and East in America in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was making some moral observations about the people who live there. Those in the Midwest—the newly arrived Nick Carraway—were fair, relatively innocent, unsophisticated, while those who lived in the East for some time—Tom and Daisy Buchanan—were unfair, corrupt, and materialistic. The Westerners who moved East, furthermore, brought the violence of the Old West days to their new lives. Fitzgerald romanticizes the Midwest, since it is where the idealistic Jay Gatz was born and to where the morally enlightened Nick returns. It serves metaphorically as a condition of the heart, of going home to a moral existence rooted in basic, conservative values. Further, the houses of East Egg and West Egg represent similar moral differences. The East is where Daisy and Tom live, and the West is where Gatsby and Nick live. Fitzgerald refers to the West as the green breast of a new world, a reflection of a man's dream, an America subsumed in this image. The materialism of the East creates the tragedy of destruction, dishonesty, and fear. No values exist in such an environment.

American Dream
Gatsby represents the American dream of self-made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to make something of one's self despite one's origins. He achieved more than his parents had and felt he was pursuing a perfect dream, Daisy, who for him embodied the elements of success. Gatsby's mentor, Dan Cody, was the ultimate self-made man who influenced Gatsby in his tender, impressionable youth. When Gatsby found he could not win Daisy's love, he pursued the American Dream in the guise of Cody. Inherent in this dream, however, was the possibillty of giving in to temptation and to corrupt get-rich-quick schemes like bootlegging and gambling. Fitzgerald's book mirrors the headiness, ambition, despair, and disillusionment of America in the 1920s: its ideals lost behind the trappings of...

(The entire section is 844 words.)