At a Glance

  • Jay Gatsby represents the American Dream. Coming from nothing, Gatsby becomes a major in the Army, makes a large fortune as a bootlegger, and eventually gets the girl of his dreams. That his life comes crashing down around him symbolizes the death of the American Dream, which Fitzgerald criticizes for its materialism and superficiality.
  • For Gatsby, the green light on Daisy's dock symbolizes love, hope, and the desire for something that ultimately proves unattainable, as Gatsby dies in his quest to attain the American Dream. This green light becomes a powerful symbol of Gatsby's obsession with an ideal.
  • East Egg and West Egg symbolize the physical and social divide between the old money (as represented by Tom Buchanan) and the new money or nouveau riche (as represented by Jay Gatsby). This divide corresponds to a difference in class, social status, and respectability.

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(Novels for Students)

Point of View
The Great Gatsby is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway, one of the main characters. The technique is similar to that used by British novelist Joseph Conrad one of Fitzgerald's literary influences, and shows how Nick feels about the characters. Superbly chosen by the author, Nick is a romantic, moralist, and judge who gives the reader retrospective flashbacks that fill us in on the life of Gatsby and then flash forward to foreshadow his tragedy. Nick must be the kind of person whom others trust. Nick undergoes a transformation himself because of his observations about experiences surrounding the mysterious figure of Jay Gatsby. Through this first-person (“I”) narrative technique, we also gain insight into the author's perspective. Nick is voicing much of Fitzgerald's own sentiments about life. One is quite simply that “you can never judge a book by its cover” and often times a person's worth is difficult to find at first. Out of the various impressions we have of these characters, we can agree with Nick's final estimation that Gatsby is worth the whole “rotten bunch of them put together.”

As in all of Fitzgerald's stories, the setting is a crucial part of The Great Gatsby. West and East are two opposing poles of values: one is pure and idealistic, and the other is corrupt and materialistic. The Western states, including the Midwest, represent decency and the basic ethical principles of honesty, while the East is full of deceit. The difference between East and West Egg is a similar contrast in cultures. The way the characters line up morally correlates with their geographical choice of lifestyle. The Buchanans began life in the West but gravitated to the East and stayed there. Gatsby did as well, though only to follow Daisy and to watch her house across the bay. His utter simplicity and naivete indicates an idealism that has not been lost. Nick remains the moral center of the book and returns home to the Midwest. To him, the land is “not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that.” He finds that he is unadaptable to life in the East. The memory of the East haunts him once he returns home. Another setting of importance is the wasteland of ash heaps, between New York City and Long Island, where the mechanization of modern life destroys all the past values. Nick's view of the modern world is that God is dead, and man makes a valley of ashes; he corrupts ecology, corrupts the American Dream and desecrates it. The only Godlike image in this deathlike existence are the eyes of Dr. J. L. Eckleburg on a billboard advertising glasses.

Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the form of a satire, a criticism of society's foibles through humor. The elements of satire in the book include the depiction of the nouveau riche (“newly rich”), the sense of vulgarity of the people, the parties intended to draw Daisy over, the grotesque...

(The entire section is 6,140 words.)