I need to write a critical response on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and the topic is the interplay between how individuals perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. I have some ideas about how Gatsby is pretending to be someone who he is not, but I need some help with other ideas.
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Nick Carraway begins the novel by talking about himself. He perceives himself to be trustworthy and honest. He is "inclined to reserve all judgments" and is therefore open-minded and not judgmental. He is also more ethical than most:
Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
These descriptions set up Nick as a reliable narrator. But also, within the context of the novel, the other characters trust him. Tom, although he has no shame and doesn't feel the need to hide his infidelity, introduces Nick to his mistress. Gatsby eventually divulges his secret past (James Gatz) to Nick. And Nick is the one trusted to set up the initial meeting (reunion) between Gatsby and Daisy. Interestingly, they see Nick as someone paradoxically naive and wise, someone who is honest but will keep a secret (which contains a necessary dishonesty dressed as loyalty). Nick is honest and loyal; he even ends Chapter 2 with this idea:
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.
So, Nick has a high opinion of himself, and for the most part he is justified. But he does arrange to have a married woman have an affair with his friend (Gatsby) who is involved in gambling and other illegal activities. Nick perceives himself to be honest and trustworthy; however, he does rationalize, allowing him to engage in more dishonest behaviors. (He, and maybe most readers, justify the meeting between Gatsby and Daisy because of Tom's attitude and his own affair with Myrtle.)
So, Nick who perceives himself as the honest Midwesterner in a city of duplicitous people, does stoop to some dishonest behavior himself. In the end, he justifies his favoritism for Gatsby by claiming that he's better than all the others. For Nick, Gatsby is at least motivated by genuine romanticism and passion. Tom, on the other hand, is motivated by power and prestige.
Then there are all of Gatsby's party guests who pose and perceive themselves as Gatsby's friends. However, they barely know him and resort to (sometimes outlandish) gossip in describing him to others. Gatsby sees them for what they are (at least at his parties); as social leeches, latching on to someone with money in order to drift superficially along in high society circles. Gatsby is generally okay with all of this because his own persona and wealth are only a means to an end: to get closer to Daisy. Gatsby still perceives himself as this knight from humble beginnings, not the wealthy socialite that everyone else sees.
Tom perceives and portrays himself as a member of a superior race (note his racist comments in the first chapter) and of a superior economic/cultural class. Nick, Daisy, and eventually Gatsby all see this bigotry for what it is.
George Wilson perceives himself as a pathetic, down-on-his-luck blue collar worker. And that is how everyone else perceives him. He has a faint glimmer of hope in getting Myrtle to move away with him, but it is faint. And in the end, it is nonexistent as Myrtle no longer wants anything to do with him.
Myrtle perceives herself in a way similar to Tom's self-perception. The only difference is that Myrtle is married into a poor (financial) situation. She glories in being with Tom and having their parties with "important people." She thinks she is better than her husband (and is more cruel to him than anyone else). Nick sees that she is shallow and superficial, and might have been a better fit for Tom in that respect.
Daisy is more sympathetic. Like Myrtle, she feels stuck. She married Tom for financial security (and love, as she reluctantly admits later in the novel). Daisy is financially secure, luxuriously so. But her husband cheats on her (and she knows it). She is a bit self-pitying at times, genuinely romantic (with Gatsby), and sometimes superficial; this is how she is perceived by others. She must perceive herself in dynamic ways as well: as lucky, unlucky, privileged, and unfortunate.
Jay Gatsby portrays himself very differently than the person he actually is. By throwing extravagant parties for his wealthy neighbors, people view him as a man who has everything he could ever want, yet inside he desires much more. He desires to be loved and wanted by Daisy and to have her all to himself. The people attending his parties see Gatsby as a young man, full of life who loves to entertain people and have a good time. Unfortunately, he is actually very lonely and yearns for the love of one woman.
Daisy deceives Gatsby by convincing him that she loves him and will leave her husband for him, but she truly only cares about being taken care of by a wealthy powerful man like Tom. She also allows Gatsby to take the blame for killing Myrtle instead of owning up to it herself. If she truly loved Gatsby she wouldn't let him take the fall for the murder. A young wife to an unfaithful man, Daisy portrays innocence, but later in the novel she reveals her hidden cynicism by murdering Myrtle.
Tom is also deceitful when he portrays himself as a kind and caring man by helping George Wilson, but he actually had ill intentions. He convinces Wilson that Gatsby was the murderer and lover of Myrtle. Portraying himself as a good hearted man, in reality Tom has a dark side.
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