Discuss how, in The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s dream of attaining Daisy’s affection can be seen as symbolic. How has his pursuit affected him?  Be sure to discuss specifics and what deeper...

  • Discuss how, in The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s dream of attaining Daisy’s affection can be seen as symbolic. How has his pursuit affected him?  Be sure to discuss specifics and what deeper idea(s) they represent.


Expert Answers
andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A symbol can be defined as a thing, person or situation which stands for, or signifies, something else. It may be the representation of another person, thing, idea or situation. Gatsby's dream of attaining Daisy is symbolic of the desire to attain the unattainable. As Nick Carraway himself explains in the novel, Daisy became Jay Gatsby's "holy grail."

The grail itself is a symbol of eternal life and happiness. Whoever finds it will experience everlasting joy. This much sought-after object has never been found, even though millions have been spent in searching for it. Many believe that its existence is only a legend. This is exactly what Jay is searching for. Attaining Daisy would ensure his lifelong happiness.

In order to achieve this ideal, Jay does everything he possibly can. Having been born into poverty has made his dream much harder to achieve. However, he does succeed in attaining what he believes are the qualifying criteria to ensure the realisation of his ideal. He becomes enormously wealthy, albeit by way of illegal activities. For example, he becomes involved with characters from the underworld, such as Meyer Wolfsheim, and opens a number of drugstores to conduct an illicit bootlegging business.    

Furthermore, he becomes involved in selling fake or junk bonds which are highly profitable. This ensures the creation of his enormous wealth, which further enables him to build an impressive mansion and buy extremely expensive items such as a lavish car and expensive clothes. It also provides him with the means to throw huge, over-the-top parties every week, in the hope that these will pique Daisy's interest and that she may turn up. He will then get an opportunity to approach her and recreate the past.

When Nick Carraway tells him that he cannot reclaim the past, Jay becomes very upset and insists that 'of course you can.' Nick, however, knows that Jay's dream is an impossible one and it is kept alive by an undefinable, resolute and invincible hope that Jay nurses and nourishes throughout the novel. Nick admires him for this hope.   

Even the reality of his and Daisy's situations does not deter Jay from seeking his ideal. She is married to the enormously wealthy Tom Buchanan, who comes from old money, and she has a child as well. He ignores these facts, and when he and Daisy start a clandestine affair, he is enormously happy. His grail is within his grasp.

Unfortunately, when reality hits home during his confrontation with Tom Buchanan in New York, Jay does not know how to accept it, especially when Daisy tells him that she had loved Tom too. It is as if everything has come crashing down, and he starts talking almost incoherently, but Daisy drifts farther and farther away from him. She is not prepared to leave behind her life of privilege and luxury, no matter what.

Tom Buchanan knows that he has won the battle for Daisy and he confidently allows her to travel with Jay, knowing that nothing his adversary can say or do will take his wife away from him. It is this brief journey that spells the end of Jay Gatsby, for, during their trip home, Daisy drives his car and accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson. In the end, Jay is killed by the vengeful Mr Wilson, who is led to believe, by the malicious Tom, that Jay is responsible for his wife's untimely demise.

Jay Gatsby's unfortunate tale makes us aware of the risks in indulging a fanciful and fantastical ideal. One can dream, but within that dream, one must also be realistic and pragmatic. Jay refused to accept reality and foolishly blundered on, and, in the end, his dream was forced to die even before he did.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question