What makes Jay Gatsby an archetypal hero?"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Great Gatsby," is often interpreted as a satire on The American Dream.  As such, the characters of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan seem somewhat glorified with Fitzgerald's imagery that gives them "golden" and "white" hues at times. Jay is the self-made man who seeks wealth and all that wealth will bring to him. He can easily represent a satirical version of the archetypal hero, for like this archetypal hero

  • He leaves his family and lives with others.

Gatsby's parents were poor farmers, whom he never accepted as his parents.  As the narrator, Nick Carraway, declares, "The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.

  • An event leads to adventure or quest

While in military service, Jay meets Daisy and falls in love with her.  Because she is wealthy, Gatsby vows to become rich in order to attain his quest, Daisy, who becomes like his "holy grail" as he pursues her and what she represents.

  • The hero has a special weapon only he can wield.

Gatsby's car is described in mythological imagery:  it is golden and appears to have wings--"With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Astoria"--the "labyrinth of windshields mirrored a dozen suns."  Only Gatsby can drive it, for when Daisy drives it, the car becomes "a death car."

  • The hero must prove himself many times while on adventure.

Gatsby buys his home in West Egg simply to impress Daisy, who has married a very wealthy man. Parties go on continually and many affluent people come to Gatsby's mansion.  When Daisy visits, he shows her his many shirts and other material possessions.  Gatsby must compete against Tom for Daisy's attentions and affection.

  • The hero goes on a journey and experiences an unhealable wound.

The car ride to the apartment in New York is, of course, the fateful journey where enmity occurs between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, the murder of Myrtle Wilson occurs, and Gatsby's vigil over Daisy outside her house leaves him "watching over nothing" as Tom and Daisy conspire together to keep Daisy from being suspected of the murder.  They lead Wilson to believe that Gatsby was the driver of his car when it struck Myrtle.

  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually.

Gatsby, who stands by Daisy when she is in trouble, is abandoned by all; when Wilson shoots him, Gatsby, who has "shouldered his mattress and started for the pool," is found face down in his pool, arms outstretched in a  Christ-like position.  The spirituality of this position is also suggested when Nick tells him previously, "You're worth the whole damn bunch of them!"  Tragically, Gatsby dies, having "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream," a morally corrupt dream of riches.  He is spiritually rewarded by being made the sacrificial victim of this corruption.

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The Great Gatsby

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