In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, who is the villian?
I think a case could be made that Gatsby himself is the villain--although F. Scott Fitzgerald may not have intended it that way. After all, this is a story about one man trying to steal another man's wife. Nick Carraway seems like a weak character. He exists mainly to defend Gatsby and to make the reader see Gatsby as a colorful, romantic figure. This was probably Fitzgerald's main reason for deciding to write his novel from the point of view of a minor character. Such narrative devices usually exist in order to tell the reader what to think and feel. Without Nick Carraway giving a romantic spin to...
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I have gone back and forth yesterday and today about this question on email with the eds. desk. I still cannot get to the question with the mechanical ability to answer it in this pane. I restate the question here with my answer.
Question: What is the importance of setting to other elements of The Great Gatsby ? i.e. themes, characterization
Answer: by Jon Steiger
The Great Gatsby may be the finest example of the use of symbolism as a literary technique in American literature, and a reason why this novel endures as perhaps the closest any novel has come to achieving the illusionary achievement of The Great American Novel. The very setting of the geographic localities where the plot of The Great Gatsby plays out are symbols of the book’s overarching theme of the conflicts between good and evil, hubris and humility, greed and unselfishness, and hope and despair.
The primary setting for the story is a real place on the Northshore of Long Island about 20 miles east of New York City to which the author attaches the fictional names of East Egg and West Egg. These two affluent hamlets are juxtaposed on opposite shores of the bay that separates the actual communities of Great Neck and Port Washington, which were the cultural precursors of “the Hamptons” as we know them today. The characters represent the rich and famous of the 1920 (the summer of 1922 to be exact) and East Egg and West Egg are represented as the respective hamlets of “old money” and “new money.” The new money characters are mostly transplanted westerners in pursuit of their aspirations, and the old money characters are mostly descendants of established East Coast families who are squandering their fortunes in a hedonistic pursuit of decadence. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald, himself a Midwesterner who came East as a young man to seek fame and fortune as a celebrity author, tells this story in the first-person perspective of Nick Caraway, a young man from Chicago who has come East to seek wealth on Wall Street. The female antagonist, and one of the Twentieth Century's greatest femme fatales, is Daisey, Nick’s cousin from Chicago who migrated to the East years before the beginning of the story where she married into the old money Buchannan family. Daisey is well along in her moral descent by the time she is joined by Nick at the beginning of the story. Nick becomes a go-between reuniting the novel’s eponymous character, Jay Gatsby, with his one true love, Daisy.
East Egg and West Egg protrude out into the bay that separates them like two imperfectly shaped oval eggs, if viewed from above by seagulls. Even the seagulls would see the Eggs as forlorn eyes staring back at them.
Not only is the geographical setting integral to the symbolic tapestry Fitzgerald weaves, but so are the physical artifacts of the settings. The plot line travels back and forth between Manhattan and the Eggs, with critical stops and passages through the midpoint, which Fitzgerald describes as a wasteland covered in industrial ash and barely inhabited except for some derelict buildings. Among the wasteland’s collapsing infrastructure are the billboard size “eyes of Dr. Eckleburg” affixed to a former optometrist’s office that represent by their “persistent stare” the disapproving eyes of a chagrined, moral deity. On the positive side, is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, a symbol of hope, albeit elusive and waning hope, to fulfill the dream that Gatsby will never achieve.
The novel ends with arguably the four finest paragraphs written in the English language. Again, the setting is paramount to the scene, through the eyes of a thoroughly disillusioned and brooding Nick Caraway, trying to imagine “Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light as the end of Daisey’s dock” as compared to the optimistic vision of the first Dutch sailors who came upon this setting and espied the New World centuries earlier. The book concludes:
"[Gatsby] had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning—— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
FOR FURTHER READING AND CONTEMPLATION:
For the greatest paragraph ever written in the English language, see Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/bixby.htm [Typed and printed versions of this letter are usually four paragraphs, but the handwritten original is properly one paragraph.
EDITOR’S NOTE: F. Scott Fitzgerald was a notoriously bad speller (he attended Princeton University but did not graduate, although not on account of his spelling), but his editor Maxwell A Perkins at Charles Scribner's Sons was not. According to Fitzgerald, Perkins, Webster’s Dictionary, and me, orgastic is properly spelled, although the Microsoft Spell Checker does not agree.