Examine textual and contextual connections between Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLIII and an extract from The Great Gatsby.

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One distinct textual connection that can be derived between Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLIII and The Great Gatsby is how both depict love in its most idealized form.  One of the most unique connections between both texts is that when love is idealized in the subjective experience, it is shown to be impervious to external influence and intervention.  In both texts, the potency of love lies in its subjective experience.  

In chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes Gatsby's love for Daisy. In a world where so much is external in terms of appearance and demonstration for others, Gatsby's love for Daisy is highly internal. It is a subjective truth that cannot be denied or negated for it exists within him:

Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the
sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above
the trees--he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there
he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of
wonder.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

In this extract, some basic elements about Gatsby's love for Daisy are evident. There is a yearning in his subjectivity regarding Daisy.  This is seen in his perception of love for Daisy as "the pap of life."  The internal experience of love can be seen in physiological terms, evident in the rapid beating of his heart. Love is shown for Gatsby to provide a means where "unutterable visions" can be realized.  That which remains beyond the reach of words and articulation is understood through his love for her.  This "incarnation was complete" in the mere act of kissing her.  There is a subjective experience in Gatsby's love for Daisy that unifies all disparate elements.  Fitzgerald shows this love as that which makes all wrong into right.

The transformative capacity of love's subjective experience is seen in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet XLIII.  The sonnet speaks openly about how love is felt and experienced in the realm of the subjective.  The imagery that Barrett Browning employs helps to bring out the experience of love from a personalized experience.  Love is synonymous with the "depth and breadth and height" of the soul and its reach. Additionally, the "ideal grace" is illuminated in Barrett Browning's vision of love.  Love is shown to be equated with a transformative force in its comparison to individuals who fight for justice and "strive for right" and is equated with the highest notion of passion and vitality.  Barrett Browning's vision of love shows that when the subjective experience is externalized, it brings out a sense of right and order in the world.

In both visions of love, there are some similar elements.  Fitzgerald's description of Gatsby's yearning for "the pap of life" that is seen in his love for Daisy is mirrored in Barrett Browning's "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach."  Both show the subjective experience to be one of yearning that defines the essence of the individual's humanity.  Another parallel description is seen in the physical experience triggered by the subjective feelings of love.  Barrett Browning articulates this in "I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life."  There is a physicality that is a critical part of love's experience.  This is mirrored in Fitzgerald's description of how Gatsby's heart beat faster in being so close to Daisy, so close to the love of his life.  The idea of love being part of a perfected ideal can also be seen in both descriptions.  Fitzgerald's "tuning fork that had been struck upon a star" and a complete "incarnation" is something that Barrett Browning articulates in Sonnet XLIII when she says, "In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints."  In both of these descriptions, the subjective experience makes right that which is wrong and provides the individual with a moment of grasp in which what is has become what can be.  Both textual and contextual connections regarding love can be seen in the writing of Fitzgerald and Barrett Browning.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,924 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question