Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay

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American East and the American Midwest. This larger contrast between East and

Midwest frames the novel as a whole. Nick comes East to enter the bond business,

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and finds himself instead in the dizzying world of The Jazz Age in the summer of

1922. He is fascinated and disgusted with this world, and he eventually returns

home to the Midwest, to the values and traditions of his youth.

A good novel has a number of themes. The following are important themes of

The Great Gatsby. 1. THE CORRUPTION OF THE AMERICAN DREAM The American Dream–as

it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the nineteenth century–was

based on the assumption that each person, no matter what his origins, could

succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and effort. The dream

was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was embodied in

Fitzgerald’s own family by his grandfather, P. F. McQuillan. The Great Gatsby is

a novel about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a period when

the old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the vulgar

pursuit of wealth. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in

pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom

and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in

Europe. Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident

enough to try to win Daisy. What Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing in The Great

Gatsby is not the American Dream itself but the corruption of the American

Dream. What was once–for Ben Franklin, for example, or Thomas Jefferson–a

belief in self-reliance and hard work has become what Nick Carraway calls

“…the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.” The

energy that might have gone into the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled

into the pursuit of power and pleasure, and a very showy, but fundamentally

empty form of success. How is this developed? I have tried to indicate in the

chapter-by-chapter analysis, especially in the Notes, that Fitzgerald’s critique

of the dream of success is developed primarily through the five central

characters and through certain dominant images and symbols. The characters might

be divided into three groups: 1. Nick, the observer and commentator, who sees

what has gone wrong; 2. Gatsby, who lives the dream purely; and 3. Tom, Daisy,

and Jordan, the “foul dust” who are the prime examples of the

corruption of the dream. The primary images and symbols that Fitzgerald employs

in developing the theme are: 1. the green light; 2. the eyes of Dr. T. J.

Eckleburg; 3. the image of the East and Midwest; 4. Owl Eyes; 5. Dan Cody’s

yacht; and 6. religious terms such as grail and incarnation. 2. SIGHT AND

INSIGHT Both the character groupings and the images and symbols suggest a second

major theme that we can call “sight and insight.” As you read the

novel, you will come across many images of blindness; is this because hardly

anyone seems to see what is really going on? The characters have little

self-knowledge and even less knowledge of each other. Even Gatsby–we might say,

especially Gatsby–lacks the insight to understand what is happening. He never

truly sees either Daisy or himself, so blinded is he by his dream. The only

characters who see, in the sense of “understand,” are Nick and Owl

Eyes. The ever present eyes of Dr. Eckleburg seem to reinforce the theme that

there is no all-seeing presence in the modern world. 3. THE MEANING OF THE PAST

The past is of central importance in the novel, whether it is Gatsby’s personal

past (his affair with Daisy in 1917) or the larger historical past to which Nick

refers in the closing sentence of the novel: “So we beat on, boats against

the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The past holds

something that both Gatsby and Nick seem to long for: a simpler, better, nobler

time, perhaps, a time when people believed in the importance of the family and

the church. Tom, Daisy and Jordan are creatures of the present–Fitzgerald tells

us little or nothing about their pasts–and it is this allegiance to the moment

that makes them so attractive, and also so rootless and spiritually empty. 4.

THE EDUCATION OF A YOUNG MAN In Chapter VII, Nick remembers that it is his

thirtieth birthday. He, like Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy, came East to get away from

his past; now that his youth is officially over, he realizes that he may have

made a mistake to come East, and begins a period of reevaluation that leads to

his eventual decision to return to the Middle West. The Great Gatsby is the

story of Nick’s initiation into life. His trip East gives him the education he

needs to grow up. The novel can, therefore, be called a bildungsroman–the

German word for a story about a young man. (Other examples of a bildungsroman

are The Red Badge of Courage, David Copperfield, and The Catcher in the Rye.)

Nick, in a sense, writes The Great Gatsby to show us what he has learned.

Style refers to the way a writer puts words together: the length and rhythm

of his sentences; his use of figurative language and symbolism; his use of

dialogue and description. Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby a “novel of

selected incident,” modelled after Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. “What I

cut out of it both physically and emotionally would make another novel,” he

said. Fitzgerald’s stylistic method is to let a part stand for the whole. In

Chapters I to III, for example, he lets three parties stand for the whole summer

and for the contrasting values of three different worlds. He also lets small

snatches of dialogue represent what is happening at each party. The technique is

cinematic. The camera zooms in, gives us a snatch of conversation, and then cuts

to another group of people. Nick serves almost as a recording device, jotting

down what he hears. Fitzgerald’s ear for dialogue, especially for the colloquial

phrases of the period, is excellent. Fitzgerald’s style might also be called

imagistic. His language is full of images–concrete verbal pictures appealing to

the senses. There is water imagery in descriptions of the rain, Long Island

Sound, and the swimming pool. There is religious imagery in the Godlike eyes of

Dr. Eckleburg and in words such as incarnation, and grail. There is color

imagery: pink for Gatsby, yellow and white for Daisy. Some images might more

properly be called symbols for the way they point beyond themselves to historic

or mythic truths: the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, for instance, or

Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes, or Dan Cody’s yacht. Through the symbolic use of images,

Fitzgerald transforms what is on the surface a realistic social novel of the

1920s into a myth about America. Finally, we might call Fitzgerald’s style

reflective. There are several important passages at which Nick stops and

reflects on the meaning of the action, almost interpreting the events. The style

in such passages is dense, intellectual, almost deliberately difficult as Nick

tries to wrestle with the meanings behind the events he has witnessed.

Style and point of view are very hard to separate in a novel that is told in

the first person by a narrator who is also one of the characters. The voice is

always Nick’s. Fitzgerald’s choice of Nick as the character through whom to tell

his story has a stroke of genius. He had been reading Joseph Conrad and had been

particularly struck by the way in which Conrad uses the character of Marlow to

tell both the story of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and the story of Jim in Lord

Jim. In those novels, Fitzgerald learned, we never see the characters of Kurtz

or Jim directly, but only through the eyes of other people. And when we come to

think of it, isn’t that how we get to know people in real life? We never get to

know them all at once, as we get to know characters described by an omniscient

novelist; we learn about them in bits and pieces over a period of time. And so,

Fitzgerald reasoned, someone like Gatsby would be much more understandable and

sympathetic if presented through the eyes of a character like ourselves. Rather

than imposing himself between us and the action, Nick brings us closer to the

action by forcing us to experience events as though we were Nick. The I of the

novel becomes ourselves, and we find ourselves, like Nick, wondering who Gatsby

is, why he gives these huge parties, and what his past and background may be. By

writing from Nick’s point of view, Fitzgerald is able to make Gatsby more

realistic than he could have by presenting Gatsby through the eyes of an

omniscient narrator. He is also able to make Gatsby a more sympathetic character

because of Nick’s decision to become Gatsby’s friend. We want to find out more

about Gatsby because Nick does. We care about Gatsby because Nick does. We are

angry that no one comes to Gatsby’s funeral because Nick is. The use of the

limited first person point of view gives not only the character of Gatsby but

the whole novel a greater air of realism. We believe these parties really

happened because a real person named Nick Carraway is reporting what he saw.

When Nick writes down the names of the people who came to Gatsby’s parties on a

Long Island Railroad timetable, we believe that these people actually came to

Gatsby’s parties. Nick is careful throughout the novel never to tell us things

that he could not have known. If he was not present at a particular occasion, he

gets the information from someone who was–from Jordan Baker, for example, who

tells him about Gatsby’s courtship of Daisy in Louisville; or from the Greek,

Michaelis, who tells him about the death of Myrtle Wilson. Sometimes Nick

summarizes what others tell him, and sometimes he uses their words. But he never

tells us something he could never know. This is one of the reasons the novel is

so convincing.

Form and structure are closely related to point of view. Before writing a

novel, an author has to ask himself: who is to tell the story? And in what order

will events be told? The primary problem in answering the second question is how

to handle time. Do I tell the story straight through from beginning to end? Do I

start in the middle and use flashbacks? As many critics have pointed out, the

method Fitzgerald adopts in The Great Gatsby is a brilliant one. He starts the

novel in the present, giving us, in the first three chapters, a glimpse of the

four main locales of the novel: Daisy’s house in East Egg (Chapter I); the

valley of ashes and New York (Chapter II); and Gatsby’s house in West Egg

(Chapter III). Having established the characters and setting in the first three

chapters, he then narrates the main events of the story in Chapters IV to IX,

using Chapters IV, VI, and VII to gradually reveal the story of Gatsby’s past.

The past and present come together at the end of the novel in Chapter IX. The

critic James E. Miller, Jr., diagrams the sequence of events in The Great Gatsby

like this: “Allowing X to stand for the straight chronological account of

the summer of 1922, and A, B, C, D, and F to represent the significant events of

Gatsby’s past, the nine chapters of The Great Gatsby may be charted: X, X, X,

XCX, X, XBXCX, X, XCXDXD, XEXAX.” Miller’s diagram shows clearly how

Fitzgerald designed the novel. He gives us the information as Nick gets it, just

as we might find out information about a friend or acquaintance in real life, in

bits and pieces over a period of time. Since we don’t want or can’t absorb much

information about a character until we truly become interested in him,

Fitzgerald waits to take us into the past until close to the middle of the

novel. As the story moves toward its climax, we find out more and more about the

central figure from Nick until we, too, are in a privileged position and can

understand why Gatsby behaves as he does. Thus the key to the structure of the

novel is the combination of the first person narrative and the gradual

revelation of the past as the narrator finds out more and more. The two devices

work extremely effectively together, but neither would work very well alone.

Note that the material included in the novel is highly selective. Fitzgerald

creates a series of scenes–most of them parties–but does not tell us much

about what happens between these scenes. Think of how much happened in the

summer of 1922 that Fitzgerald doesn’t tell us! He doesn’t tell us about Gatsby

and Daisy’s relationship after they meet at Nick’s house in Chapter V, because

Nick would have no access to this information. What the technique of extreme

selectivity demands from the reader is close attention. We have to piece

together everything we know about Gatsby from the few details that Nick gives

us. Part of the pleasure this form gives us is that of drawing conclusions not

only from what is included but from what is left out. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT

GATSBY: CHAPTER I The opening paragraphs teach us a lot about Nick and his

attitude toward Gatsby and others. Nick introduces himself to us as a young man

from the Midwest who has come East to learn the bond business. He tells us that

he’s tolerant, inclined to reserve judgment about people, and a good listener.

People tell him their secrets because they trust him; he knows the Story of

Gatsby. If you read closely, you’ll see that Nick has ambivalent feelings toward

Gatsby. He both loves Gatsby and is critical of him. Nick is tolerant, but that

toleration has limits. He hates Gatsby’s crass and vulgar materialism, but he

also admires the man for his dream, his “romantic readiness,” his

“extraordinary gift for hope.” Nick makes the distinction between

Gatsby, whom he loves because of his dream, and the other characters, who

constitute the “foul dust” that “floated in the wake of his

dreams.” Nick has such scorn for these “Eastern” types that he

has left the East, returned to the Midwest, and, for the time being at least,

withdraws from his involvement with other people. Having told us about his

relationships, Nick now introduces us to the world in which he lived during the

summer of 1999: the world of East Egg and West Egg, Long Island. Fitzgerald

designed The Great Gatsby very carefully, establishing each of the locations in

the novel as a symbol for a particular style of life. West Egg, where Nick and

Gatsby live, is essentially a place for the nouveau riche. There are two types

of people living here: those on the way up the social ladder who have not the

family background or the money to live in fashionable East Egg; and those like

Gatsby, whose vulgar display of wealth and connections with Broadway or the New

York underworld make them unwelcome in the more dignified world of East Egg.

Nick describes his own house as an eyesore, but it is a smaller eyesore than

Gatsby’s mansion, which has a tower on one side, “spanking new under a thin

beard of raw ivy.” Words like new, thin, and raw describe some of the

reasons Gatsby’s house is a monstrosity. By contrast, East Egg is like a

fairyland. Its primary color is white, and Nick calls its houses “white

palaces” that glitter in the sunlight. The story actually opens in East Egg

on the night Nick drives over to have dinner with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Since

Daisy is his cousin and Tom, a friend from Yale, Nick has the credentials to

visit East Egg. Their house is “a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial

Mansion” overlooking the bay. And the owner is obviously proud of his

possessions. Our first view of Tom Buchanan reveals a very powerful man standing

in riding clothes with his legs apart on his front porch. He likes his power,

and like the potentates of Eastern kingdoms, he expects the obedience of his

subjects. We are ushered into the living room with its “frosted wedding

cake” ceiling, its wine-colored rug, and its enormous couch on which are

seated two princesses in white: Jordan Baker and Tom’s wife, Daisy Buchanan.

Fitzgerald controls the whole scene through his use of colors–white and gold

mainly–that suggest a combination of beauty and wealth. Yet underneath this

magical surface there is something wrong. Jordan Baker is bored and

discontented. She yawns more than once in this very first scene. There is

something cool and slightly unpleasant about the atmosphere–something basically

disturbing. Tom talks about a book he has read, The Rise of the Colored Empires

by Goddard. It is a piece of pure Social Darwinism, advocating that the white

race preserve its own purity and beat down the colored races before they rise up

and overcome the whites. Daisy, who seems not to understand what Tom is talking

about, teases him about his size and about the big words in the book. The

telephone rings, and Tom is called from the room to answer it. When Daisy

follows him out, Jordan Baker confides to Nick that the call is from Tom’s woman

in New York. The rest of the evening is awkward and painful as Tom and Daisy try

unsuccessfully to forget the intrusion. Daisy’s cynicism about life becomes

painfully clear when she says about her daughter’s birth: “’I’m glad it’s a

girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this

world, a beautiful little fool.’” NOTE: Under the veneer of the white

world, there is hollowness. Nick has said at the very beginning that

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what

foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my

interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” Even in

this opening chapter, we are getting hints that Tom and Daisy are part of this

foul dust. In Nick’s eyes, Tom and Daisy belong to “a rather distinguished

secret society,” whose members have powers the outside world can neither

understand nor control. Nick finds both of them smug and insincere. The evening

ends early, around ten o’clock. Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer, wants to go

to bed since she’s playing in a tournament the next day. Before Nick leaves for

West Egg, Tom and Daisy hint that they would welcome his attention to Miss Baker

during the summer. Nick arrives home, and (in the final paragraph of the

chapter) gets his first glimpse of Gatsby. Gatsby is standing on the lawn,

stretching out “his arms toward the dark water in a curious way.”

Nick, from his own house, believes that he can see Gatsby trembling. As Nick

looks out at the water, he can see “…nothing except a single green light,

minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.” NOTE: THE

GREEN LIGHT AS SYMBOL This is the first use of one of the novel’s central

symbols, the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. What Fitzgerald seems to be

doing is merely introducing a symbol that will gain in meaning as the story

progresses. At this point, we don’t even know that the light is on Daisy’s dock,

and we have no reason to associate Gatsby with Daisy. What we do know–and this

is very important–is that Nick admires Gatsby because of his dream and this

dream is somehow associated with the green light. The color green is a

traditional symbol of spring and hope and youth. As long as Gatsby gazes at the

green light, his dream lives. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: CHAPTER II The opening

description of the valley of ashes, watched over by the brooding eyes of Dr. T.

J. Eckleburg, has been analyzed again and again. Fitzgerald’s friend and editor,

Maxwell Perkins, wrote to Scott on November 20, 1924: “In the eyes of Dr.

Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence

gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless,

looking down upon the human scene. It’s magnificent.” Later in the same

letter Perkins concludes, “…with the help of T. J. Eckleburg… you have

imported a sort of sense of eternity.” How should you approach this famous

symbol? Remember, a wide variety of interpretations have been made and defended

over the years. It’s best to begin by placing Eckleburg in his geographical

context: the valley of ashes, located about halfway between West Egg and New

York City. The valley of ashes is the home of George and Myrtle Wilson, whom

we’ll meet later on in this chapter. The valley is also a very important part of

what we might call the moral geography of the novel. Values are associated with

places. In Chapter I we were introduced to East and West Egg, the homes of the

very rich, the nouveau riche, and the middle class. The valley of ashes is the

home of the poor, the victims of those who live in either New York or the Eggs.

Men, described by Fitzgerald as “ash-gray,” move through the landscape

“dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” Apparently the

city’s ashes are dumped in the valley, and the men who work here have the job of

shoveling up these ashes with “leaden spades.” NOTE: On a more

symbolic level, these men are inhabitants of what might be called Fitzgerald’s

wasteland. T. S. Eliot’s famous poem “The Waste Land” had been

published in 1922, and Fitzgerald had read it with great interest. There is no

doubt that he had Eliot’s poem in mind when he described the valley of ashes.

Eliot’s wasteland–arid, desertlike–contains figures who go through the motions

of life with no spiritual center. Eliot’s imagery seemed to express the anxiety,

frustration, and emptiness of a post-war generation cut off from spiritual

values by the shock of the First World War. Read the following passage

carefully: The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are

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