What are similarities between Othello and The Great Gatsby? 

Expert Answers
jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One very obvious similarity is that they are both outsiders in their respective societies. They are both very prominent and successful but not fully embraced. They are seen as something apart from the norms established by their respective societies. Othello is a Moor who has risen to the rank of a powerful military officer in Venice. However, from the first act, his racial difference (notions of racial difference were just being established in Elizabethan times, as a result of encounters during the Age of Exploration) is a point of contention. Iago goes to Brabantio, Desdemona's father, to notify him that "an old black ram is tupping your white ewe." He warns Brabantio, too, that, if he does not stop the union, he will have mixed-breed grandchildren.

In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby (born, James Gatz) is a poor, Midwestern boy who served in World War I, attended school at Oxford shortly after his service, then returned to the United States to make a fortune in bootlegging. His business affairs are vague, but Fitzgerald mentions that Gatsby is involved with underworld figures, and, in the context of the time, bootlegging was the fastest and surest way to acquire a fortune, as well as being the purview of mobsters. Notice, too, the correlation in both the play and the novel with success and military service.

It is significant to note that Gatsby’s surname, Gatz, could be Jewish, and he may have changed his name to better fit in. Considering the context of the time, being Jewish would have automatically eliminated him from the circles that he wished to enter. Like Othello, he becomes one of the best-known people in town, but is also mysterious. As a result, people construct myths around him. The same is true with Othello; Desdemona even does this. She admits that one of the things that attracted her to her husband was his stories about the far-flung lands from which he had traveled, filled with people who seem monstrous to her. Shakespeare suggests that Othello fabricated some of these stories, if not all of them, just as Gatsby fabricates his image. However, with Gatsby, his image is understood less as a result of what he tells people than it is by what he does not tell. The party-goers, and the first-time reader, are left to imagine who Gatsby might be. On the other hand, we know far more about Othello. His Moorish background has a location and a cultural context that the reader understands.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one striking similarity between both works is the construction of the main character.  That which is not real provides the essential fuel for both Gatsby and Othello.  Gatsby's being is driven by a belief that is not real.  His dream of Daisy is built on a "fairy's wing." It is not rooted in reality.  It is driven by the aspirations in his mind.  That which is not real is what drives Gatsby.  In much the same way, Othello is animated by Iago's lies.  The deception that Iago weaves is what drives Othello to believe the very worst about Desdemona and Cassio.  Othello's fuel to uncover Desdemona's unfaithfulness is what motivates him and compels him.  In both conditions, the protagonist of each narrative is fueled by a construction of reality that is not real.

This condition helps to illuminate another similarity between both protagonists.  There is a refusal to confront reality in both Gatsby and Othello.  For both men, an honest discussion, an open discourse, and a sober view of reality could help to avert the tragic conditions of each.  Both men refuse to examine reality and embrace a condition that is either Romantic or conditional.  Othello and Gatsby have so many attributes and demonstrate so much that is good.  Yet, their inability to discuss their own lives and pursuits in an open and honest manner is what consigns them to failure and doom.