In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a modern "Byronic Hero" in Jay Gatsby who is, like his predecessor, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."
Like Byron, Gatsby is a "common man" rebel who seems to sacrifice himself, rather stubbornly, for his romantic ideals. Gatsby goes against the East Coast, established rich values of the Yale boys like Tom Buchanan. Instead, Gastby is a self-made man who champions middle-class values, military service, and unscrupulous means of acquiring wealth.
Like Byron, Gatsby is a man of mystery: he rarely attends his own parties; he has no family, no past; his origins (place of birth) are unknown. Gatsby has taken on a persona in order to reinvent himself, just like the poet Byron does in his poetry. Both seem to be playing the role of a their own romantic alter-egos. This role-playing is both an act of denial and a stroke of individuality.
Like Byron, Gatsby is a soldier who fought in a war but was, ironically, wounded by love more than combat. Byron fought for Greece in their war of independence, and Gatsby fought for the U.S. in World War I. Both exiled themselves from home in order to fight, and they both tried to return home and reclaim a past love that was forever changed. These wounds of love are both the cause of their passionate loves and tragic deaths.
The archetype, or character type, of the Byronic hero was initially explored and developed by the famous 19th-century English Romantic poet Lord Byron.
Such a hero shares many similarities with the orthodox Romantic hero. They both have a rebellious streak and fight against conventional thinking. They typically have personalities that are not heroic in the ordinary sense of the word. Byronic heroes, however, are usually more psychologically and emotionally complex than traditional Romantic heroes.
Byronic heroes can be identified by their absolute rejection of customary heroic virtues and values and by their amazing intelligence and cunning, powerful feelings of affection and hatred, impulsiveness, strong sensual desires, moodiness, cynicism, dark humor, and morbid sensibilities. These heroes also come across as being extraordinarily different and dress and style themselves in a manner that accentuates their distinct identity.
Jay Gatsby displays many of these qualities. He is not a conventional hero, because he does not perform deeds that are ordinarily deemed heroic. What makes him a hero in Nick Carraway's eyes is the fact that he does not relinquish his dream and goes to extreme lengths to realize his ideal. He is in search of his own holy grail: to be reunited with his one and only true love, Daisy Buchanan.
Furthermore, unlike a customary hero, Jay finds an unconventional way in which to succeed. In his quest for wealth and status, he links up with the criminal underworld, where he encounters and befriends seedy characters such as Meyer Wolfsheim. He uses these methods so that he may impress Daisy and draw her to him. A conventional hero would commit him or herself to only doing good in order to achieve a goal.
Like a Byronic hero, Jay displays extremely powerful feelings of affection for Daisy. He will not allow anything to stand in his path to win her back. The fact that she is married and has a child are obstacles he chooses to ignore. He is so passionate about being with Daisy and regaining her affection that he gets upset when Nick tells him that "you can't repeat the past." He emphatically denies this fact and says, "Of course you can." He believes that the past can be recreated and that he and Daisy will be as they once were.
Jay is also reckless because he puts himself in danger. He does not only indulge in criminal ventures but also starts having having an affair with Daisy. He exposes himself to persecution and vengeance in both instances. Jay does, in fact, become a victim of his own naivety when he is eventually murdered by Myrtle Wilson's husband. He never considered the possibility that anyone would stop him from getting what he wanted.
As a Byronic hero, Jay Gatsby also stands out from the rest. He lives in a grotesquely large mansion, wears expensive shirts, drives a car with an unusual color, and throws huge parties at his mansion. He is also the epicenter of gossip and intrigue. It is poignantly tragic and ironic that our unconventional hero, in the end, does not die such an unusual death.