Flawed characters in literary textsThe most interesting characters in texts are the flawed ones. They help us understand ourselves as humans, but also the ideas of the text. Discuss the above with...

Flawed characters in literary texts

The most interesting characters in texts are the flawed ones. They help us understand ourselves as humans, but also the ideas of the text.

Discuss the above with reference to Macbeth and/or The Great Gatsby, possibly pointing out the reaction encouraged from the audience, the values promoted through the characters, the themes and ideas revealed and the construction of characters and how they alter throughout the text.


I think in Macbeth, one of his major flaws of ambition leads us to consider us as humans, and to what extent we will go to, to achieve our ultimate goals, whether that be a position or a relationship with a person.

Similarly in Gatsby, the corruption of the American dream could be seen as human greed, relating with ambition.

What do you guys think, with any of the other points outlined?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The essential flaw in Gatsby's character was one of romantic immaturity. He could not distinguish between illusion and reality, and he could not accept that some things in life we are simply denied, for whatever reason. Langston Huges wrote "Hold fast to dreams," but The Great Gatsby makes us ask at what point must dreams be abandoned and reality addressed in order to live an authentic life--or even survive?

Gatsby's romantic dreams did not originate with Daisy Buchanan. As a boy in North Dakota he rejected his own identity and longed for a larger life, one filled with beauty and glamour. In the tradition of the American Dream, as young Jimmy Gatz he worked hard and tried to improve himself in order to succeed. After running away from home, however, his impatience prevailed and his dream consumed him. In Louisville, when Daisy became the physical incarnation of Gatsby's dream, he was lost and his fate was sealed; reality trumps illusion every time.

The thematic parallels in the novel contribute to its greatness, and the coda at the novel's conclusion unite them so beautifully in Nick's reverie on the beach. Jimmy Gatz's dream was corrupted, and the American Dream itself, according to Fitzgerald, has become corrupt. Was it, too, just an illusion? The novel makes us wonder.

lensor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of Macbeth epitomizes the corrupting influence of power.  When he hears the prophesies from the three witches, he is enthralled by the prospects of power and fame.  Ambition overcomes reason and passion suppresses ethics: Macbeth is compelled by the desire for power and fame, and he wants to realize his fate.  In his unrelenting quest for the thone of Scotland, he murders several people.  Ultimately, he dies at the hand of Macduff.  Macbeth is, in fact, a victim of his flawed character.

Gatsby's motivations are different.  More than power, he craves acceptance.  He follows a regiment that allowed him to acquire wealth and to assume a prominent position in society.  From this position within the "have's," Gatsby is able to make contact with the object of his adoration: Daisy Buchanan.  His love for her and his need to be with her drive him to make decisions that will, in the end, lead to his death.  Just as Macbeth was a victim of his own ruthless ambition, so was Gatsby a victim of his unrealistic dreams and his inability to view people realistically.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ernest Hemingway wrote that the sense of the tragic is in the minds of all thinking men.  And, why not?  For, life, indeed, has its tragic ending for all of us. 

There is some foible in human nature that somehow leads people into another dimension of thought after one has acquired powers through science, wealth, or politics.  How often history has recorded the fall of once great men, who have become meglomaniacs, gone "over the edge" and lost their groundings: the Caesars, Napoleon Bonaparte, Richard Nixon.

As the recordings of the human experience, literature points to this flaw in man's nature.  In Hugo's masterpiece Claude Frollo, who delves too far in alchemy, loses his moral focus; likewise, Victor Frankenstein oversteps human limitations. And, so, too, does Macbeth in his "vaulting ambition" and Jay Gatsby in his tenacious dream.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree--the conflict and flaws in characters make the issues real for all of us, since none of us is without flaw and conflict.  These problems make the characters come to life, and is why we sit back and consider if we would have done the same thing or if going in a different direction would be more wise.  In Macbeth, most readers realize that the witches told him he would be King...he didn't have to go out and murder people to make it happen.  True, in order to have it NOW, murder was necessary...however, he would have possibly had a longer, happier, more respected kingship had he waited for Fate to decide when Macbeth should be on the throne. 

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Again looking at Gatsby, he is so capable of manipulating people and the circumstances around him to get what he wants, just look at the incredible fortune he had amassed and the way that everyone fawned over him...  But he couldn't see that Daisy was doing the exact same thing only using her beauty and the fact that men desired her as her tool.

The fact that such a skilled operator couldn't recognize another operator is pretty disappointing, but again, it helps the reader identify with him and enjoy the story.

lynn30k eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you are right. In my opinion, flawed characters are always more interesting--who wants to read about perfect people?

For Gatsby, though, I think another flaw that has to be discussed is his inability to separate what he thinks Daisy is, and who she really is. All of his greed and desire to get rich through any (illegal) means goes back to wanting to win a woman who is really not worth any of it.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that Macbeth is a flawed character and that makes him all the more interesting. I guess one of the reasons for this is that we identify with flawed characters, being flawed people ourselves - or is it just me! I guess with Macbeth we recognise the potential of allowing ambition to overule our sense and judgment, leading us down a violent path and overreaching ourselves in the same way that Macbeth did.

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think another of Gatsby's flaws is that he has completely bought into the mythology of his own false persona. Not only does he manipulate people, the law, and even morality is his quest for what he wants, but he seems to believe he can manipulate time and history as well. Facts and reality be damned, Gatsby seems to believe he can create some sort of parallel universe to realize his dreams.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having a literary character with no flaw would be like having a short story, novel, movie, with not conflict. The flawed characters proves to be dynamic (or as my kids like to call them fat) and help drive the piece of literature. Their growth and change (and growth might not always be a positive direction) helps the reader relate and remain involved in the literature.