Comparing Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to Cervantes's Don Quixote offers a fascinating opportunity to take these stories in fruitful directions. Both figures see differently than others. Fueled by an essentially Romantic or quest-based perspective on life, these heroes engage in poignantly impossible yet beautiful fantasies based on a world that...
Comparing Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to Cervantes's Don Quixote offers a fascinating opportunity to take these stories in fruitful directions. Both figures see differently than others. Fueled by an essentially Romantic or quest-based perspective on life, these heroes engage in poignantly impossible yet beautiful fantasies based on a world that does not exist.
In their immediate context, both books were seen as satirical portraits. Cervantes's Quixote would have been recognized as an Early Modern man lost in a Medieval world. Addled by reading Medieval romances, the world of fiction has replaced his grasp of reality. Barmaids are damsels, windmills are giants, and he alone is called upon to right wrongs. Over time, the folly that marks Cervantes's hero has been replaced by a more appreciative stance, as the world Quixote wishes existed seems more compelling than the one in which he finds himself (and in which we find ourselves). Quixote seeks honor, courage, simple acts of justice, and a world in which identifying good from evil is easy. He lives in a world in which these abstractions are more complicated and in which the people he encounters are less two-dimensional. Quixote's friends worry about his sanity and feel he lacks the power of perception to manage his own life. Over time, this novel has grown in respect as the immediate folly of admiring the Medieval code fades and the romantic visions and impulse to seek a better world captivate modern readers' imaginations. The musical Man of La Mancha has cemented Quixote's story as one in which a visionary hero seeks, as a signature song declares, "To Dream the Impossible Dream."
The Great Gatsby was originally not a well-selling novel, as it also seems to have been too satirical too soon for the Jazz Age it critiqued. Only after WWII, when copies were sent to troops overseas, did the novel gain the great popularity it now enjoys. Even then, however, the way it was perceived was different and less romantic than it is now. Early on, the story (aided by the first film version) was considered more a crime novel. Over time, however, the story of Gatsby's great quest for Daisy has become the more significant element. Like Quixote, Gatsby sees more in Daisy than others. To most, she is a privileged and shallow woman; to Gatsby, she is the ideal form of desire. Gatsby romanticizes Daisy every bit as much as Quixote does Dulcinea, and the power of his vision seems to temporarily transform her in other's (or at least Nick's and the readers) eyes. Just as Gatsby is said to make a kind of perceptive adjustment in the tea party episode, Nick and the readers need to toggle between what is plausible and what is desirable in Daisy, the woman whose kiss could cause "his mind [to] never romp again like the mind of God" (Ch 6). This kiss is described as an "incarnation," meaning that all the spiritual dreaminess or wonder that animated Gatsby's quest for the American Dream would be embodied in this one woman.