In The Great Gatsby, is Gatsby's quest really all but a search for some kind of transcendent vision, and if so what is that vision?

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A young man with "an extraordinary gift for hope" and idealism, Jay Gatsby is convinced that he can recreate the past through self-invention as an Oxford man and as the Trimalchio of myth. With his lavish parties, and automobile that conjures the tale of Icarus with its "labyrinth of windshieds that mirrored a dozen suns," Gatsby becomes larger than life, the "great Gatsby" as one of magical fame.  This recreation is all an effort to attain the fair maiden, whose voice is full of "aching, grieving beauty" to Gatsby, and Daisy is idealized by him as 

High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl.

But this "transcendent vision," this idealization of Daisy and the delusion that he can manipulate time, while making him great and "better than the whole damn crowd," become but spectres in Gatsby' romantic heart. In Chapter Five Nick reflects,

There must have been moments,... when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

Gatsby's maudlin sentimentality and his idealized vision effect the death of time for him. The man who sees himself as a demi-god--"he was the son of God"--has wasted his potential upon a false dream, a dream that has deteriorated to mere materialism and capital gain. His dream is not the same as the true American dream of self-reliance and self-determination. In the end, Daisy's thrilling voice merely "sounds like money," and Gatsby stands in the moonlight "watching over nothing." The rose decor of Daisy's house, the rose clouds upon which she wishes to place him after admiring his multi-colored shirts, and his love for her become mere vulgarities. In Chapter Eight Fitzgerald writes,

He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

Gatsby's illusionary "blue lawn" to which Nick says he returns in the graveyard, symbolizes his tremendous illusions, his transcendent dream that shatters because it has been built upon an inversion of time and illusions of beauty and cannot go beyond these. It is the false American Dream, one in which Gatsby has served only "a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty" rather than a true improvement of self. Like Dr. Eckleberg, Gatsby finally perceives a world devoid of true value and meaning.

Through these lives, Fitzgerald seems to be telling us that romantic ideals are impossible in early 20th-Century America, that they are a relic of a bygone era. (Enotes)

Thus, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a satire, a cynical criticism of the idealization of the false values of materialism and social position, that which America will not transcend.

 

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