How is ambition and obsession shown in The Great Gatsby?

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In The Great Gatsby, ambition and obsession are shown as having the power to corrupt and destroy. Gatsby's obsession with Daisy Buchanan causes him considerable heartache and inadvertently leads to his own death. That obsession was closely related to his overwhelming ambition, never to be fulfilled: to be...

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In The Great Gatsby, ambition and obsession are shown as having the power to corrupt and destroy. Gatsby's obsession with Daisy Buchanan causes him considerable heartache and inadvertently leads to his own death. That obsession was closely related to his overwhelming ambition, never to be fulfilled: to be accepted by the social elite of East Egg.

Much the same could be said of Myrtle Wilson. She wants to escape her humdrum, poverty-stricken life in the Valley of Ashes and rub shoulders with wealthy sophisticates like Tom Buchanan. She yearns for a taste of the high life that she can never get while she's still married to a struggling garage-owner down on his luck.

Poor deluded Myrtle has got it into her head that she's in with a real chance of being the next Mrs. Buchanan. (This is what ambition and obsession can do to someone's mind). In reality she has no hope at all. It's perfectly obvious to everyone but herself that Tom regards her as nothing more than a sexual plaything, someone to be exploited and abused before being callously disregarded after the novelty wears off.

As with Gatsby, Myrtle's tragic end is only tangentially related to ambition and obsession, but they are still related all the same. If she hadn't been so determined to get out of the Valley of Ashes and be with Tom Buchanan, she wouldn't have run right out into the middle of the road like she did when she thought she saw him coming.

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Fitzgerald primarily explores the concepts of ambition and obsession through the character of Jay Gatsby and the lengths he is willing to go to marry Daisy Buchanan. Jay Gatsby hails from humble beginnings and completely reinvents himself in an attempt to win Daisy's heart. He compromises his morals by forming a relationship with the shady Meyer Wolfshiem and amasses a fortune in the illegal bootlegging industry. In addition to becoming a successful bootlegger, Gatsby also creates the persona of a consummate gentleman, who hails from a wealthy family. Jay Gatsby presents himself as an affluent, educated man and a prominent member of the elite.

In an attempt to win Daisy's heart, Jay Gatsby proceeds to buy a mansion in the West Egg directly across the bay from Daisy's home and hosts elaborate parties in hopes that she will one day attend and reconnect with him. Jay Gatsby's obsession with Daisy and dream of marrying her is symbolically represented by the green light at the end of her dock. Since Gatsby's quest for Daisy is broadly associated with the American dream, the green light also symbolizes the more generalized ideal Americans hold of amassing wealth and climbing the social ladder.

Despite Jay Gatsby's incredible efforts to win Daisy's heart, he is unable to do so, and Daisy chooses to remain with Tom Buchanan. While Gatsby's accomplishments are impressive and noteworthy, Fitzgerald illustrates the negative effects of ambition and obsession. Gatsby compromised his morals by committing illegal acts, and his obsession with Daisy blinded him to the reality of the situation. Although Gatsby is a flawed individual, he is portrayed in a positive light because his genuine, sincere love for Daisy motivated him to attain the American Dream. Overall, Fitzgerald brilliantly explores the positives and negatives associated with ambition and obsession by analyzing Jay Gatsby's legacy.

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The whole book from one perspective is about obsession. If we ask why Jay Gatsby did what he did, we can say that he did everything for Daisy. He did whatever it took to become rich, even if he had to pursue unsavory means to gain riches. He reinvented his persona to become what he thought Daisy would love. His dress and manner of speaking and acting were all affectations. He also threw great parties that were beyond extravagant in the hopes of catching her attention or even getting a glimpse of her. Finally, Jay takes the blame for Daisy when Daisy hit Myrtle in a car accident.

We can, of course, say that all of this was motivated by love, but it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that Jay would not succeed. The harder he worked to gain Daisy, the more he lost her. Obsession and ambition made Jay blind. He could not see what was clear to others. From another perspective, we can say that Jay was the best man in the book, because at least his obsession and ambition were devoted to something noble - the love of Daisy. 

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All of Jay Gatsby's hopes and dreams are depicted for readers through the critical eyes of Nick Carroway.  Nick admires the purity, intensity, resilience, and strength of Gatsby's obsession with Daisy and the materialistic, acquisitive ambition required to win Daisy.  To possess Daisy and her Old Money world, Gatsby is willing to remake his own identity, work ceaselessly and illegally with the likes of Meyer Wolfshiem, take the fall for a hit-and-run accident, stand guard all night outside of her house, and wait obsessively for a call that every reader knows will never come.  In Nick's opinion, the sacrifices that Gatsby makes for his ambition of claiming Daisy border on obsession; however, through Nick, the novel hints that even the most intense and absurd obsessions contain admirable and rare glimpses into the human capacity for persistence, hope, imagination, and love.

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