Critic Alfred Chase says that although there had been previous mythic heroes in American stories, Gatsby is the first to act within a realistic social milieu. How do Gatsby's mythic dimensions...

Critic Alfred Chase says that although there had been previous mythic heroes in American stories, Gatsby is the first to act within a realistic social milieu. How do Gatsby's mythic dimensions contrast with the realistic society in The Great Gatsby?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Four of Fitzgerald's masterpiece, after Jordan Baker relates the history of Jay Gatsby and "I'm the Sheik of Araby" plays in the background, Nick Carraway narrates,

He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.

Here is the American Dream materialized: A young officer returns from war, acquires wealth and seeks to be near his love. Haunted by time, Gatsby arranges to meet Daisy at Nick's bungalow, and he attempts to reclaim the past with her as he takes the woman with gleaming brass buttons on her dress into the sunlight that shines upon the facade of his mansion. They traverse "Marie Antoinette music rooms and Restoration salons." Upstairs, the bathroom has a "toilet seat of pure dull gold." Amidst all this splendor, Gatsby pulls out his many-colored shirts and throws them upon his bed as Daisy buries her head in them, crying, "They're such beautiful shirts."

Further, in Chapter Seven, Nick narrates that the man who has created an idea of himself and begun a "career" as Trimalchio, the Roman of myth who gave lavish parties, the man who drives an automobile of a dozen windshields that reflect the sun and "fenders spread like wings," suggestive of Icarus, closes his house to the public so that he can protect Daisy's reputation when she is there with what Nick calls her "indiscreet voice." Gatsby acknowledges "Her voice is full of money."

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhautible charm that rose and fell in it....High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl.

Tragically, Gatsby's dream of repeating the past with Daisy is illusionary, built upon "a fairy's wing"; his vision his taundry, withered by the acquisition of money by any means necessary. His "grail," too, is an illusion because reclaiming love with Daisy is hopeless. For, she is obsessed with materialism, having sold herself to Tom Buchanan for a string of expensive pearls. Her voice "full of money" and her eyes wet with tears over colored shirts, Daisy, the superficial illusion, tells Gatsby he reminds her of an advertisement.

Gatsby's idealism cannot survive the insurmountable obstacle of American immoral materialism. He is "better than all the rest" as he remains loyal to Daisy, even watching over her in the yard outside her window after the death of Mrytle Wilson; he possesses "an extraordinary gift of hope," but his sentimentalism cannot give support a dream shattered by reality. Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the"shallow people," retreat into their money and leave Gatsby standing in the moonlight, "watching over nothing." The materialism of the East creates the dishonesty, fear, and destruction of Gatsby's dreams and his mythic qualities, for his dreams are "breathed away."

He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is...A new world...where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about" 

As a social historian, F. Scott Fitzgerald breathes life into the Jazz Age in his novel with his mythic Gatsby, but this mythic life is terminal in such an age of miracles, excess, and illusion.

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The Great Gatsby

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