What central theme, or thesis, is common between The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

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cathibee | College Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Although set in vastly different cultures at different eras within American history, a common theme can be established when comparing The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Both novels, for example, examine the dichotomy between reality and appearance as well as the conflict between individual and social values.  

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale love each other. This love holds great personal value for them. However, because their relationship is adulterous, it cannot be tolerated by the Puritan society within which they live. Individual values and desires are submerged by the force of the collective, where no concession is made for individual circumstances or the depth of feeling. This creates considerable anguish for both main characters.

In The Great Gatsby, a similar submerging process occurs. Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan are the main focus points of the novel. Like Dimmesdale, Gatsby desires Daisy above all else. Although adulterous relationships are far more tolerable in this society, thee social values of the time, however, plays no lesser role in submerging the individual. Gatsby, for example, pursues the social status brought about by material wealth in order to gain his prize in the form of Daisy. In this pursuit, however, what is truly important to both him and Daisy as individuals are submerged to such an extent that neither finds fulfilment.  

In contrast to Hester and Arthur, Gatsby's and Daisy's love is simply an extension of the psychological and spiritual emptiness created by the elusive ideal of the "American Dream." Their love is as superficial as the dream itself. Any true, deep feeling is well and truly submerged by the social values of the time. Hester and Arthur's love, however, is true. Their society, however, attempts to submerge this love by condemning it in a very public way. 

In both novels, individuals suffer as a result of social values. Arthur and Hester are publicly condemned for their true love. Gatsby and Daisy are both approved and admired public figures. They suffer, however, as a result of being seduced by ultimately empty social values that regard material possession above all else.