What are three major themes of The Great Gatsby?
1. The vain pursuit of the American Dream: Fitzgerald depicts the vain pursuit of the American Dream by illustrating the corruption of Gatsby's soul in exchange for wealth and status. While Gatsby could be said to have attained the American Dream through his vast wealth, he compromises his morals, corrupts his soul, loses his identity, and dies a lonely man. Gatsby fails to develop meaningful, fulfilling relationships with others and enters the bootlegging business to amass his wealth. In the process, Gatsby alters his identity, attempts to marry a superficial woman, and fails to form any genuine relationships outside of his friendship with Nick Carraway.
2. Inability to recreate the past: Gatsby attempts to recreate his past with Daisy by entering her life five years after their initial relationship. Daisy has moved on, has married Tom Buchanan, and has a child. Gatsby struggles to accept the fact that he cannot recreate the past and is hurt to learn that Daisy once loved Tom. The fact that Gatsby fails to persuade Daisy into leaving Tom emphasizes the idea that one cannot recreate the past.
3: Appearances versus reality: Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald presents the shallowness and superficial nature of the upper class. The wealthy citizens of East Egg and West Egg continually appear to live happy, content, perfect lives. Behind their facade, the wealthy characters live dysfunctional, unhappy, chaotic lives. Gatsby completely alters his identity and appears to hail from an aristocratic family. Tom and Daisy cheat on each other, and Jordan Baker is a notorious liar. Overall, Fitzgerald exposes the ugly nature of the upper class and analyzes how their appearances often mask the reality of their situations.
Moral decay/decadence, dishonesty/illusion, and dreaming are each major themes of this novel.
The wealthy class depicted in the novel demonstrates a repeated neglect of morality and of any feelings of sympathy.
The wealthy class is morally corrupt in The Great Gatsby...There are no spiritual values in a place where money reigns...(eNotes)
Far from paying a price for wrong-doing (with their various affairs, the killing of Myrtle Wilson, the abuse of Myrtle and George, the criminal behavior they may carry out, etc.) the wealthy class seems to presume that money has replaced all moral currency and all honor.
Duplicity and deceit are rampant as well in the novel. Jordan Baker is a cheater in her sport. Gatsby is a made-up person, essentially. Tom and Daisy each have affairs. There is also a falseness of self-presentation that adds to the duplicity of behavior.
Despite the moral failings and tendencies to lie found among the people depicted in the novel, they all maintain an ability to dream. This is especially true of Gatsby who, to the end, never loses his penchant for believing in the dream image he has set before himself.
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.… Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.… And one fine morning—"