How does The Great Gatsby show that everyone gets what they deserve?How does The Great Gatsby show that everyone gets what they deserve?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Considering the novel as tragedy, the role of fate in The Great Gatsby does bring characters to their deserved ends.  Since the major characters of Fitzgerald's novel are all morally decadent, their tragic endings reflect this decadence. 

Jay Gatsby's death, for instance, is untimely, but merciful, as in death he conforms to an ideal of himself.  For, he is the sacrificial victim, who leaves behind his sordidness in the person of Wolfscheim and his idealism in the person of his father, Mr. Gatz. Gatsby's ideals are what have blinded him to reality.  Like Phaeton in mythology, who harnessed his chariot to the sun in his ambition and was killed, Gatsby strives with his yellow car, and all that it symbolizes, to capture Daisy, and fails, likewise. 

While Tom and Daisy do not suffer from the law for their crimes, they must suffer on together and live out lives in a marriage predicated upon lies and moral corruption.  Daisy, who cannot renounce time, is condemned to being "foolish" and bearing Tom's indiscretions.  He must live a life of emptiness.  Tom and Daisy must continue on as Nick expresses it at the novel's end,

...beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly, into the past.

Mrytle, who is also morally corrupt, ignores her husband and covets material wealth.  While she is a victim of the villainous Tom, Mrytle's immoral behavior and cruelty to her husband costs her life.

The amoral Jordan Baker is uncaring about others, using them and lying about things to them.  Her fate is brought about by this amorality, however, and she is truly hurt by Nick's "throwing her over," and she felt "a little dizzy" at being alone.  She talks with Nick over the phone:

" you remember....You said a bad driver ws only safe until she met another bad driver?  Well, I met another bad driver, didn't I?  I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess.

In the end, all the major characters must navigate the present between the relationships of the past with the future.  Nick thought of himself as a careful driver, but Jordan informs him he was "another bad driver," and she was "careless" to make a wrong guess about him.  Their relationship suffers as a result.  Likewise, the relationships of the other characters, Daisy and Tom, Daisy and Jay Gatsby, Myrtle and Tom, Myrtle and George Wilson--all end with the "bad driving" of the characters.




Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have the agree with the previous thoughts.  I think the most effective part of the novel is precisely the notion that not everyone does get what is deserved.  Tom Buchanan is a prime example of this.  He is beyond insensitive, racist, unfaithful to his wife, and a textbook example of an individual who uses people as means to ends as opposed to ends in of themselves.  Yet, he doesn't receive any punishment of any kind for his transgressions.  Jordan Baker is extremely manipulative and self serving, willing to show kindness to anyone who can host a good party and then display in-authenticity and duplicitious nature by engaging in harmful gossip.  In seeking to find her way to the next good party, she is willing to step on anyone in her way.  She certainly does not receive any type of sanction or punishment for her behavior.  Gatsby's "sins" are minor in comparing these individuals, yet he is shot and finds his affections spurned.  There seems to be little, if any, of the idea that individuals get what they deserve.  To quote Clint Eastwood from "Unforgiven," "deserve's got nothing to do with it."

hadley818 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lots of good posts! Fitzgerald's most corrupt characters don't get what they deserve and they are able to continue their lives and leave their wreckage behind. Tom and Daisy are described as indifferent to others:


They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made

This quote sums up the mentality of a society that is only concerned with pursuing fun and accumulating wealth. Nick is also careless, since he witnesses several immoral acts (Tom's affair and Jay's cover-up of Myrtle's death) and does nothing. At the end, Nick is able to flee the east and return to the mid-west, also leaving the wreckage behind.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Personally, I do not think that it does.  For example, I think that Tom Buchanan is by far a worse person than Gatsby and would have deserved to die more than he.

But if I had to argue that it does show this, I would say that Gatsby dies because the life that he wanted is lost to him.  He will not be able to get Daisy and so he might as well be dead.  So he dies because he has chosen to pursue a life that is impossible.

I think that Daisy gets Tom because she is so shallow.  If she is going to have such a superficial reason for loving or rejecting love (money), she deserves to be with someone who does not really love her and is not good to her.  To me, those are the two most plausible examples of people getting what they deserve.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the above posts in that not all the characters get what they deserve (on top of the fact that I'm not prepared to say that character deserve to die for things that they've done wrong in their life).  To me, Tom is the most despicable character in the book, and if his only "punishment" is to spend the rest of his life with Daisy, well I don't think that's so bad, relatively speaking.  Myrtle, on the other hand, is nearly as despicable as Tom, but she ends up squashed in the road.  They don't get dealt an even hand at all.

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The Great Gatsby

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