How is Gatsby similar to Don Quixote? How do they differ?

A. 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. B. Like Quixote, Gatsby sees more in Daisy than others do.

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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...

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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 Over time, the folly that marks Cervantes's hero has been replaced by a more appreciative stance, as the world Quixote wishes existed seems more compelling than the one in which he finds himself (and in which we find ourselves).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.

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Don Quixote and Jay Gatsby are both idealists who pursue unrealistic dreams. Both are romantics who try to remake the world the way they wish it to be, rather than accepting it the way it is. Both are doomed to suffer and be misunderstood by the "foul dust" of humanity who can't catch their vision.

Don Quixote has read so many romances about medieval knights going about the world doing good deeds that, we are told, it turns his mind, and he decides to refashion himself into a knight errant. In one of the most famous scenes in the novel, he mistakes windmills for giants. Trying to save people from the giants, he tilts at windmills, a hopeless task.

Likewise, Gatsby pursues his dream of wanting to set back time and start over with Daisy where they left off five years ago, as if nothing has happened in between. Like Don Quixote, Gatsby goes to excessive lengths to achieve his dream, buying a mansion across the bay from Daisy's and throwing lavish parties in the hopes one day she will attend. Like Don Quixote, Gatsby is doomed to failure, for, as Nick tries to explain to him, you can't set back time.

A chief difference between Don Quixote and Gatsby is the question of sanity. Cervantes leaves it open ended whether or not Quixote is insane; Gatsby's sanity is, however, never in question.

Both men become heroes because of the compelling and bigger-than-life ways they pursue their doomed dreams.

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This is an interesting comparison! I think that the biggest way in which Gatsby is like Don Quixote is that they are both eternal optimists. Gatsby believes in "The American Dream" - the idea that he can be whoever he wants to be if he works hard. So his life is spent trying to re-invent himself. He lives with a wealthy benefactor, and when he dies, Gatsby goes into the army, gets out, goes to college, and becomes wealthy albeit through dubious means.

Alonso Quixano is also unhappy with his lot in life, so he, too, creates another persona for himself - that of the knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, pursuing his beautiful Dulcinea. Like Gatsby, people take advantage of Don Quixote, but unlike Gatsby who never really seems to lose his innocence in the novel, Don Quixote seems to grow wiser and cynical towards the end of his life. Both men die in the end, never truly achieving what they set out to achieve.

Read more about it here on eNotes.

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