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The Great Gatsby-General Theme Essay, Research Paper
Down through the centuries people have made progress. From the wheel to the
assembly line to computers, people have found more efficient ways to do their work. People discovered through the use of technology they could do things they hadn t donebefore. Mass production and assembly lines reduced the need for manual labor. Outside the home, they worked less they discovered they had more time for recreationand to travel, socialize, volunteer, and relax. Because people found more and more leisure time, they began to go out to eat at elaborate restaurants, host big parties, and acquire more possessions from daily shopping sprees. As they relaxed more, they broadened themselves; they became inquisitive about the world. With more desires and spending the economy began to strengthen. As people began to acquire more possessions, they began to higher the standard of living. However, there is another side. A higher standard of living reinforces people s increasing desires; it creates
chaos. Thrown aside are the morals and ethics that once existed. People want to have all of the luxuries that are available; they become self-centered and spoiled. Because the true American Dream is an illusion, it s no wonder there is so much continued discontent (Nelson). In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald illuminates this theme through the use of conflict, imagery, and character.
Failing to realize the destructiveness of time, Gatsby tries to live in a world where past, present and future are all one (Stavola 131). Surprisingly, Gatsby spends most of his adult life trying to recapture the past. Imprisoned in his present, Gatsby belongs even more to the past than to the future (Bewley 22). He can t accept that the past is gone and done with: Can t repeat the past? . . . Why of course you can (Fitzgerald 116). So strong is this belief that Gatsby demands Daisy to . . . help him to do the impossible; obliterate time and repeat the past (Stavola 140). When Tom is at
the Plaza Hotel with the others, Gatsby says to Daisy: Just tell him [Tom] the truth that you never loved him. . . . (Fitzgerald 139). Gatsby isn t the only one torn between the past and the future. Daisy likewise longs to return to her past with Gatsby but is blocked by her struggles toward the future and in the present. Nick too believes that the past can be recreated. But soon he learns as many of the others so painfully come to understand, You can t repeat the past (Fitzgerald 116). Unhappy with their lives, the characters dwell between a dead past and an inconceivable future.
Another conflict in the novel is the one between the American East and West. Tom and Daisy Buchanan live in East Egg, a socially prominent and modern society in which people behave carelessly. People of East Egg maintain . . . snobbery of those who have arrived at least one generation earlier (Rowe 93). Fitzgerald describes Buchanan s spacious home as an .. .elaborate . . . . Georgian Colonial Mansion overlooking the bay (11). Across the water in West Egg, . . . the less fashionable of the two (Fitzgerald 9), . . . whose wealth is fluid income that might cease to flow (Cowley 71) is where Nick and Gatsby live. Both Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby are westerners . . . . uncomfortable in the East (Eble 96) and are situated here to represent their closeness to western values idealism and romanticism. Nick comes East to West Egg because he is restless (Fitzgerald 7), seeks adventure, and wants to try his fortune (Lehan 13). In the East he feels like a . . . pathfinder, an original settler (Fitzgerald 8). As Way writes: Nick Carraway imagines that he will find among the sophisticated Eastern rich, the high point of American civilization (91). For Gatsby,
the Western frontier is closed so he must go east to pursue his dream a pursuit of an ideal and a frontier equivalent found in the New York underworld (Bewley 13). Dissatisfaction causes the characters to shift between the west and the east.
The most significant conflict in The Great Gatsby is the one between illusion andreality. The illusions seem to be more real than reality itself. Gatsby is an embodiment of that conflict between illusion and reality at the heart of American life (Bewley 34). In order for Gatsby to have Daisy, he creates a fictitious background: like his ancestors, he has been educated at Oxford (Fitzgerald 69). He rejects his real name, James Gatz, and invents a new, more glamourous one, Jay Gatsby (Kuehl 62). Fitzgerald agrees and writes: The truth was that Jay Gatsby . . . sprang from his
Platonic conception of himself (104). Supposedly, Gatsby inherits his fortune from Dan Cody, a man he looked up to. In all reality, Nick learns early on that Dan Cody is a cover for Gatsby s real source of wealth bootlegging. . . . major characters in the novel . . . embrace illusions that they know to be illusions in order to cope with their sense of hopelessness and vulnerability (Parr 60).
Wealth creates an illusion that covers an ugly reality, but carries with it the associations of happiness and fulfillment. Gatsby is drawn to Daisy because she already represents his dream to him, the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves (Fitzgerald 157). Her presents indicate the fact of money when Gatsby identifies her voice with a distinctive quality of being full of money (Fitzgerald 150). Gatsby draws Daisy to him because of his enormous wealth and possessions even though she already has everything. . . . Daisy initially finds such pleasure in Gatsby s
wealth that she ignores the gaudier realities (Parr 64). For instance when she sees his expensive shirts, she sobs to him, They re such beautiful shirts. . . . It makes me sad because I ve never seen such beautiful shirts before (Fitzgerald 98). Throughout the novel the characters . . . constantly measur[e] themselves . . . on a scale of. . . . (Eble 97) prosperity. Because the only thing the characters seem to care
about is the higher class life, . . . they must cover their dissatisfactions with the distractions of the idle rich (Lewis 47).
Another image Fitzgerald uses to reinforce the theme is the valley of ashes a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens. . . . (Fitzgerald 27). This . . . desolate area of land between West Egg and New York is actually a dumping ground, dominated by a large billboard that shows two . . . blue and gigantic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg wearing a pair of enormous yellow spectacles (Fitzgerald 27) . Fitzgerald s image of him suggests that he is some sort of god who looks down and scrutinizes the corrupt world which the characters live in. One critic writes: The waste land suggests a withdrawal of values and significance
from the world of human affairs (Parker 33). Across the road from the desolate valley of ashes lives George Wilson, the garage owner whose wife, Myrtle is killed in the valley. Their relationship is dull and grey like the land that surrounds them. The waste land dramatizes the . . . world of exhausted hopes because the only vision to be had Gatsby s is an ersatz one (Lehan 33). Because cruelty, suffering, and violent death are the real business of the waste land. . . . (Parker 33), the reader learns that
the characters lives are doomed by their self-indulging natures.
According to one critic, Bewley, the central image in the book is the green light that is visible at night across the bay from the windows and lawns of Gatsby s house (40). This image first occurs near the beginning when the narrator, Nick Carraway, first glimpses Gatsby standing in his backyard one summer night, Gatsby suddenly . . . stretch[s] out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way. . . . (Fitzgerald 25), toward a small green light in the distance. As he does so, Nick observes, I could have sworn he was trembling (Fitzgerald 26). Later the reader learns the green light is at
the end of Daisy s dock. Throughout the book, Gatsby reaches longingly, from a
distance, toward this light he associates with as . . . the most important of his enchanted objects (Parr 62). The green light illustrates Gatsby s romantic vision of hope and promise (new life). At the beginning of The Great Gatsby Daisy is strongly associated with the light. But when one looks deeper it is a manifestation of the glamour of wealth, whose possession is the vital source of Gatsby s sense of identity and meaning in life. As Fitzgerald writes: Gatsby believe[s] in the green light, the orgastic future. . . . (189). The light s colour represents the wealth which Gatsby believe[s] is the natural means whereby on purchases Daisy and the other magical
material possessions necessary for identity and fulfilment (Stavola 139).
Jay Gatsby, the subject of the novel, is the embodiment of the American Dream (Gidin 116). Gatsby is a very determined character. He has such a strong love for Daisy. But, his love for her is impossible in society because he once was a young man without a past. . . .(Fitzgerald 156). When he finds out she is married to someone else, his efforts to win her back become very strong. Gatsby knows himself well enough to see that his own attraction toward wealth is tied to his love for Daisy (Lewis 51). As Jordan recalls: Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay
(Fitzgerald 83) and throws extravagant parties, in hopes that Daisy might show up at one of them. Gatsby thinks of his material possessions, not of himself, as the most powerful means of regaining Daisy (Stavola 137). Gatsby takes advantage of his wealth and enters a world where money takes precedence over moral integrity. Once wealth takes priority over integrity, members of the high social class focus on immediate indulgences, rather than on the long-term pleasures of life such as love (Trilling 15). Gatsby simply feeds the appetite of the high class by throwing . . .gleaming, dazzling parties. . . .(Fitzgerald 188). He believes he can create a paradise for others and himself. Unfortunately this paradise he creates becomes so intense that
it even takes priority over his longing for love. Gatsby s dream of love is doomed tofailure in that it switches places with his dream of becoming wealthy.
Daisy Buchanan embodies the American Dream. Young, beautiful, and
innocent, she speaks with a voice of inexhaustible charm (Fitzgerald 150); her presents both indicates the fact of money and gives point to its possession. She marries Tom because he buys her love with a . . . string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty dollars (Fitzgerald 80), money Gatsby at one time didn t possess. But when she reunites with Gatsby, and finds that he is now very wealthy, she falls for him. Daisy also thinks she finds, that safety from human reality. . . . (Bewley 19) in Gatsby that she doesn t find in Tom. Daisy is a very material person and knows her sense of happiness and the good life depends on money and property. Daisy lacks any meaningful integrity between self and gesture. (Lynn 156). But Daisy, concerned
with her own needs, soon turns away from her initial acceptance of Gatsby s character when he collides with those needs. Daisy s life is empty of purpose and represents the condition of corrupt values and decline in the moral America. Daisy, unable to see people for who they really are, loses the real reason for life.
In The Great Gatsby, the story is told through the eyes of an active, biased, character, Nick , thought of as a very honest and harmless person by the other characters. For this reason he is confided in and trusted by everyone. He thinks of himself higher then everyone else. He says on the first page how he is . . . inclined to reserve all judgements. . . . (Fitzgerald 5), but goes on and says that . . . tolerance
. . . has a limit (Fitzgerald 6). Nick . . . not only judges all characters throughout the book but with holds judgement (Eble 97). He becomes corrupt because of the corrupt people around him. Nick is very partial in his way of telling the story about several characters. With the ability to . . . look at life through a variety of windows, from more than one point of view (Parkert 151), Nick is drawn imaginatively to a figure who repudiates both time and an identity defined by the American Dream (Lynn 158). He admits that he makes an exception of judging Gatsby, for whom he is prepared to suspend both the moral code of his upbringing and the limit of narrow-mindedness, because Gatsby has an . . . extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness (Fitzgerald 6). This suspended judgement inspires him to a level of friendship and
loyalty that Nick seems unprepared to extend towards others in the novel. Richard Lehan, one critic writes: . . . Nick is a character in his own right, and he is a spokesman for Fitzgerald (98). Through Nick, Fitzgerald revives the dream and . . . sets it in juxtaposition to a modern society. . . . (Lynn 161). Nick overlooks the moral implications of Gatsby s bootlegging, his association with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man rumored to have fixed the World series in 1919. Yet, he is scornful of Jordan Baker for cheating in a measly game of golf. And while he says that he is prepared to forgive this sort of behavior in a woman: It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame too deeply I was casually sorry, and then forgot,
(Fitzgerald 63). It seems that he cannot accept her for being incurably dishonest and then reflects that his one cardinal virtue is that he is one of the few honest people (Fitzgerald 64) he has ever known. In the end West Egg is not what he wanted it to be, and he decides to move back home, to a place with perhaps enough room for a dreamy idealism.
Peoples lingering dissatisfactions tend to make them believe even more heavily in the American Dream then those who realize that it is called a dream for a reason.
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Lewis, Roger. Money, Love, and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby. Brucculi 41-57.
Parr, Resneck. The Idea of Order at West Egg. Bruccoli 59-77.
Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1977.
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