Show the different approaches to life and death or good and evil illustrated in the book The Great Gatsby.

Expert Answers
lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Life and death in The Great Gatsby can best be illustrated through the death of Myrtle. There are several approaches to this. Wilson is devastated because his wife has been murdered. His approach to death is intensely personal. His reaction is to seek revenge, and this ultimately leads him to kill Gatsby. However, he then commits suicide which shows that he does not want to live with having killed Gatsby nor with the loss of Myrtle. Gatsby, on the other hand, has killed before (presumably in the war although the rumors that fly make it seem more like a murder). His reaction is distanced. He seeks only to protect Daisy (as she was the one who actually killed Myrtle), so he allows Daisy to leave the scene of the accident and then he gets rid of the evidence (the car) to protect her. Tom's reaction, aside from some feigned attempt at tears over losing his mistress when he speaks with Nick at the end, is one of sweeping away the negativity through liberal application of money (the new house). He is also willing to sell out Gatsby to Wilson and feels that Gatsby got what he deserved. As Fitzgerald writes - they are "careless people" - referring to Daisy and Tom. Daisy as well is willing to pretend that it never happened and wipe away the stain with money. The only person with a real perspective on death is Meyer Wolfsheim who understands that the way we treat people when they are alive is what matters, not what we do for them after they die. However, it is also clear that few people cared that Gatsby was dead because most of the party-goers were like Tom and Daisy, more interested in money and fun than in human life.

Much of these same character traits represent the good and evil in the novel as well. It is all a matter of moral perspective. Is Daisy's denial of her "crime" (even if an accident, she left the scene) evil? Is her affair with Gatsby evil? Is Tom's affair with Myrtle evil? The relative evil of these actions depends upon where the reader falls on the moral continuum. What about Meyer Wolfsheim? He is obviously a member of the "underworld" that existed in the 1920s. His actions are not legal, but many of his motives seem to be good. So, where does that leave him? Much in the same state as Gatsby who had good intentions, but whose actions were not always good. Even Nick, an outside observer, might be considered "evil" in that he knew the truth about Myrtle's death but kept silent. He places himself on a higher level than Tom and Daisy at the end, in a position of moral superiority, but there is a real question of the degree to which he is actually morally superior in light of his silence.



Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question