Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Google's dictionary, this is the definition of an idealist:

A person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations.

What, then, are Gatsby's ideals? Certainly Daisy is at the top of his list. In reality, Daisy is a married woman and a mother. She enjoys the life of high society, and Tom has provided this for her. Most compellingly, Daisy has already proven to Gatsby that she cannot be loyal to him. While waiting for him to return from war, Daisy made some practical decisions of her own:

She wanted her life shaped now, immediatelyand the decision must be made by some forceof love, of money, of unquestionable practicalitythat was close at hand.

In spite of already being rejected once, and in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Daisy has created the life of her desires (though an imperfect one by any standards), Gatsby sets out to win her heart. In order to earn enough money to impress Daisy, Gatsby dips into illegal means of income. He purchases a mansion, hosts lavish parties every weekend, and uses Nick as a means of getting closer to the girl of his dreams.

But that's all Daisy isa dream. Gatsby is blind to the reality of the situation, which is that Daisy was never truly his to claim. She has moved on without him, and this is so eloquently captured in the scene after Myrtle's death when Nick catches a glimpse of Tom and Daisy inside their home together:

Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together...

Interestingly, it's not Gatsby himself who witnesses this intimate scene, symbolizing again his blindness to Daisy's reality.

Gatsby has equated his loss of Daisy to being totally dependent on his earlier lack of fortune. In his idealistic perception, if he could just overcome this hurdle, Daisy would return to him. Unfortunately, simply acquiring wealth isn't the sole barrier between Gatsby and the girl he lost years before, and he ultimately loses his own life because he cannot see that Daisy will never be his.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gatsby is an idealist because, based on a brief romance with Daisy Buchanan, he builds an ideal picture of her as the only woman in the world for him. He dreams of her and longs for her as he stands on the grounds of his estate, looking across the bay to the green light at the end of her pier. He builds his life around reconnecting with her and starting over with her as if the five intervening years have not occurred.

What Nick loves about Gatsby is the audacity and grandeur of his dreaming. Nick likens it to the ideals of the earliest sailors seeing the "green breast" of a new world and dreaming about setting back the clock, starting everything over in this new land—and this time getting it right.

Gatsby doesn't just dream of his ideal; he goes after it. He thinks it is possible to create the life he wants. That is what an idealist does, and if an idealist is doomed to failure, it is, after all, the dream that counts.

Gatsby's idealism elevates him to greatness in Nick's mind, infusing him with a heightened sensitivity to the possibilities of life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jay Gatsby is the quintessential idealist who desperately holds onto the delusional belief that Daisy Buchanan will leave her husband, daughter, and life of luxury behind to marry him. Jay Gatsby's genuine belief that he could marry a woman of Daisy's social status and caliber illustrates his idealistic tendencies. Gatsby unknowingly objectifies Daisy and associates her with wealth, prestige, and the American Dream. Gatsby's idealism prevents him from accurately perceiving Daisy as a flawed human being who would never jeopardize her secure life of luxury to be married to a notorious bootlegger.

Gatsby's idealistic personality is also revealed in his belief that he can recreate the past. He fails to consider Daisy's romance with Tom and completely dismisses the fact that she has a daughter, which is evidence of her meaningful relationship with him. Tragically, Jay Gatsby continues to pursue Daisy. What makes Jay Gatsby the prototypical idealist is his refusal to accept the reality of Daisy's situation and realize that he cannot recreate the past. Gatsby is hopelessly optimistic and will not allow himself to give up on attaining the woman of his dreams, even after it is evident that she has no interest in leaving Tom for him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The perils of idealism manifest symbolically in this novel. Jay Gatsby’s character is the essence of idealism. Despite everything, he still yearns for a dream life with a dream woman. He puts Daisy Buchanan on a pedestal, and as a result, loses his ability to see with clarity. Gatsby’s “love” for Daisy is not necessarily true love; it is infatuation based on objectification. She becomes the symbol of everything he wants, rather than the complex human being she really is. Because of his tendency to romanticize, Gatsby cannot see Daisy’s selfishness. He puts on rose-colored glasses and cannot see clearly.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial