Gatsby's major flaw? Discuss Gatsbys fatal flaw and how it leads to destruction.   --would it be his love for Daisy?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gosh, I just LOVE this question!  It is so incredibly cool to read all of the responses and know that each and every one, although totally different, is totally "right" and evidenced by the text!  : )  But I digress . . .

Gatsby's major flaw is his complete and utter obsession with Daisy Buchanan.  In my opinion, every single bad thing that happens in this novel would not have happened if Gatsby didn't become obsessed.  First, Gatsby turned bad:  the bootlegger.  Upon meeting Daisy and fighting in the war, Gatsby made up his mind to earn that money in order to gain Daisy's affections.  There was only one way a poor boy could make that money, so Gatsby turned to a life of crime (so to speak).  Second, Gatsby the strange conversationalist.  Gatsby never seems to fit his skin:  always fidgeting and always backpedaling.  Why is this?   Because Gatsby changed who he was (form poor boy to dandy) in order to gain his obsession:  Daisy.  Even in the case of meeting Nick at his little home, Gatsby's curtness and strange decisions all center around that one obsession.  Third, Gatsby the host of reckless parties.  Whether you're discussing moral or physical harm, Gatsby's parties were the source of it all!  People were injured at them or returning from them.  People were doing all sorts of reckless and sinful types of things at them.  Gatsby's parties:  a perfect example of the dangers of the Roaring Twenties (and why they all came crashing down).  The reason behind these parties?  Gatsby's obsession with Daisy.  Fourth, Myrtle's death.  Myrtle runs to the yellow car thinking Tom was driving.  Why was Tom driving when they first went to town?  Because Daisy decided to drive in the coupe with Gatsby (fueling his obsession and diminishing his anger in regards to Tom wanting to drive his car) as she says, "[Tom,]You take Nick and Jordan.  [Gatsby and I will] follow you in the coupe."  Although Gatsby can't control Myrtle's actions, of course, Gatsby did think it would steady Daisy to drive (despite how unfit she was to do so).  Fifth, Gatsby's own death happened because of his obsession in that Daisy was driving the car.  So as not to upset Daisy (or implicate her in any way), Gatsby takes the blame.  Wilson finds out what car and kills Gatsby.

The only negative things that don't relate to this obsession are Tom's immorality in regards to having a mistress and Wilson's suicide.  And, of course, I can't blame the entire reckless Roaring Twenties on Gatsby either.  Ha!

The irony here is that F. Scott Fitzgerald was flawed with obsession as well, . . . a complete and utter obsession with Zelda Sayre as evidenced by the dedication of this fabulous novel:  "Once Again to Zelda."

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gatsby's fatal flaw was his inability to distinguish between romantic illusion and reality. He lived for his dreams from the time he was a poor farm boy in North Dakota until he was shot to death in his pool in West Egg. When he was a boy, Jimmy Gatz longed for beauty and glamour, for an exciting life of infinite possibilities. He wanted not only to succeed in material terms (for money was always just a means to the end), but also to create a new version of himself that fit his dreams. "Jay Gatsby" existed in his mind and heart long before he met Dan Cody and assumed the name.

Meeting Daisy derailed his initial dream, as she became his dream incarnate, and after that, he was lost in that illusion. Never could he accept Daisy for what she was, even when he saw her again in Nick's cottage and she "tumbled short of his dreams." Nick said that this diminishing of Daisy in Gatsby's eyes was not her fault, but was the result of "the colossal vitality of his illusion."

I have to disagree with Post #3. There was no guilt in Gatsby, and his parties served only one purpose--to lure Daisy into his presence. Once he and Daisy had reunited, the parties stopped abruptly, and Gatsby kept the outside world at bay, so that his and Daisy's privacy would not be disturbed.

The ideas in Post #5 that Gatsby was a creation of his times and a reflection of Fitzgerald himself are, I believe, quite accurate. Jimmy Gatz's life, in the beginning, is the Horatio Alger story, but it becomes corrupted along the way. Unlike Alger's heroes, Jimmy Gatz even goes the wrong direction literally; he goes east, not west. Similarly, Fitzgerald viewed the Twenties as exemplifying the corruption of the original American Dream itself.

There is a tremendous amount of FSF in both Gatsby and Nick Carraway. Critics have noted Fitzgerald's "divided" nature. Like Gatsby, Fitzgerald rejected the circumstances of his own birth and Midwestern youth and longed for a larger, glamorous, romantic life. Like Nick, he believed in the rightness of moral behavior, condemning the excesses in his own behavior even as they destroyed him. Fitzgerald was his own worst enemy and his own worst critic.

tsjoseph eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't think it's his love for Daisy exactly.  Fitzgerald was a bit of a romantic, and love in and of itself rarely seems like a culprit in his works.

Gatsby's downfall seems to be a result of two related traits--his inability to let the past be the past, and his inability to see through and beyond illusions--especially illusions of his own creation.  Gatsby had crafted his own persona and his own love for Daisy.  Fitzgerald writes: "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion."

Later, Gatsby is distressed because Daisy won't disavow the past.  Gatsby believes his life with Daisy should pick up where it had left off.  He fails to understand or even acknowledge the importance of Daisy's experiences during their time apart.  Nick reminds Gatsby that the past can't be repeated...but Gatsby doesn't buy it.  "'Can't repeat the past? he cried increduously.  'Why of course you can!'"

Nick notes that Gatsby talked a lot about the past and that it seemed like "he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself, perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy."

It's Gatsby's illusions, I think--of time, people, and even the nature of love--that are his real problems.  The interior rules he has created do not match reality, and he's ultimately doomed by that.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The idea in Post #7 that Gatsby reflects FSF when he involved with Zelda and eventually became disillusioned seems true to me. In the novel, Gatsby meets Daisy in the same way Fitzgerald met Zelda; that is very autobiographical. And like Gatsby, Fitzgerald needed money to win Zelda. When he published This Side of Paradise, he became an overnight sensation, the money rolled in, and she married him immediately, after having put him off because he was poor. Their life then became the well known roller coaster that has been explored by so many critics. Fitzgerald said later that if he and Zelda had been able to go back to the beginning and do things over (relive the past), perhaps their story would have had a happy ending.

Jimmy Gatz is very reflective of Fitzgerald when he was growing up. Like Jimmy, FSF was ashamed of his family. When he was a little boy, he would tell people, including his neighbors, that he had been left on the Fitzgeralds' doorstep in a basket. He was especially embarrassed by his mother, who was quite odd in many ways. As he grew up, FSF had the same glamorous, romantic dreams that plagued Jimmy Gatz. He was always restless, always reaching for a beautiful and rich life.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I too, must disagree with Post #3, because Gatsby has nothing for which he feels guilty.  He does not see great wealth as a negative; in fact, he believes that if he can be wealthy enough and present himself as "cultured" he will be able to fit in with Old Money Society.

Post #6 is spot on. Gatsby truly believes that if he can go back and not simply repeat the past but change it, he will be able to obtain his dream.  Unfortunately, Gatsby's dream has been corrupted by society, and the title character does not even realize it.

If you have to narrow down Gatsby's flaw to one word, I think that "naivety" works well because Gatsby wholeheartedly believes that he will one day be accepted by what he sees as the best of society, and the reader knows that that is impossible.

Again, in keeping with Post #6, Gatsby seems to represent Fitzgerald before he became disillusioned with his culture, when he thought that he could win the love of Zelda and everything would be perfect. Nick embodies a wiser, more cynical version of the author.


dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gatsby's greatest flaw was rooted in his belief that if he 'sold' his soul to 'Materialistic Wealth' he would be able to alter his very being in order to 'Be' what was acceptable. Gatsby believed the life he was born into was not worth much because it lacked respect. Fitzgerald makes a strong commentary here in Gatsby's character suggesting that a man's respect and worth was not based upon his deeds but by how much money he had. The reader cannot help but feel that there was a time where Gatsby was an honorable man. However his love for Daisy, a woman who was the product of materialistic wealth would compel him to achieve materialistic wealth, regardless of what it would do to his soul.  Gatsby's greatest flaw is his inability to see that the wealth of a man can never be defined in dollars and cents. Unfortunately, for Gatsby he doesn't live to understand that flaw.. However his one true friend Nick Carraway and the father he denied publically for the sake of wealth and status  understood it all along. It really is a tragic story....

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In keeping with the similarities between characters in the novel and Fitzgerald, I find it so sad that Fitzgerald actually becomeslike Tom Buchanan, someone who obviously represented much of what FSF despised.  In fact, after Zelda's psychological issues began and shewas placed in a sanatorium, Fitzgerald had at least one affair, and a mistress was with him when he died. I could easily see Tom Buchanan dying in much the same way, and Daisy fits the mold of someone who would encounter psychological issues of her own. I'm sure that when FSF created one of the most despicable literary characters in American Literature that he had no idea that he might one day exemplify many of that character's traits.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great discussion and wonderful posts.  All of them are very, very valid.    I cannot help but feel that in Gatsby, Fitzgerald is indicting the materialist and consumer culture of the 1920.  The Jazz Age is a period where the dizzying highs of social popularity and indulgence seemed to mask the hollowness and sense of nothingness that existed.  Indeed, I think he creates Gatsby in this mold.  With that in mind, Gatsby's largest flaw is that he is hopelessly of his time period and not separate from it.  From his own experience, I think Fitzgerald understood this from personal and sad points of view.

david7698 | Student

Gatsby's tragic flaw is his naivety that he can go back in time and be with Daisy despite not being of the same 'old money' social class. When Gatsby returns to her with the wealth he believes can win back Daisy, it is not enough. Gatsby has failed to realize that the american dream does not exist because american society has become materialistic and class orientated which prevents Gatsby from advancing to Daisy's class due to him being 'new money'.

Wiggin42 | Student

Gatsby's fatal flaw is his obsession with the past. He says "Can't change the past? Why, of course you can!" and that really says it all. He goes on his mad bootlegging scheme to win Daisy's love. In reality, the passion he shared with Daisy is over and he needs to move on; just as Daisy has. 

lilloyola013 | Student

Gatsby's greatest flaw was guilt.  By believing he had a guilty conscious, he hosted elaborate parties, not just to impress Daisy, but also to feel less burdened by all of his wealth that he amassed.

Gatsby didn't feel guilty in the novel because he didn't do anything worth feeling guilty. Maybe I would have understood that if you would have explained it more. He didn't seem to feel burdened by his wealth either ecause in multiple sections of the book he flaunts his wealth and uses it to his advantage. He also spent most of his earlier life trying to get as rich as possible for Daisy so I percieve that he liked being rich and he embraces his wealth. I feel that Gatsby's greatest flaw was concupiscence (if I spelled that correctly). This means "unbridled desire" and Gatsby definitley had unbridled desire because he would go to any extent to get Daisy and that was his unbridled desire.

alex80 | Student

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epollock | Student

Gatsby's greatest flaw was guilt.  By believing he had a guilty conscious, he hosted elaborate parties, not just to impress Daisy, but also to feel less burdened by all of his wealth that he amassed.

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The Great Gatsby

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