|Choose a novel which features a relationship between two characters which is confrontational. Describe how the relationship is portrayed and discuss to what extent the nature of the relationship influences your understanding of the text as a whole.
In F Scott Fitzgerald’s important, tragic American novel, “The Great Gatsby” the conflict and confrontation between Tom Buchannan and Jay Gatsby is central to the novel’s power in the way in which is exposes the falseness of the American Dream. Fitzgerald uses the confrontation and contrast between these two characters to explore this theme and does so through his effective use of characterisation, symbolism and key moments of tension.
Firstly, we can see the way in which Fitzgerald uses the characterisation of Gatsby to establish the contrasts existing between hi m and Tom which will lead to their eventual confrontation. When Gatsby is first introduced he is alone and seems lonely:
“He stretched his arms toward the dark water in a curious way…Involuntarily, I glanced seaward - and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.”
This introduction to Gatsby already indicates his close link with the theme of the Death of the American Dream; Gatsby’s characterisation is a constant reminder of the falseness of the American Dream and how it cannot be achieved. Gatsby’s idealism and unrealistic dream of Daisy is revealed to be a fantasy and doomed to failure. We sense this in the tone of this passage where Gatsby is seen reaching out for his green light (a symbolic representation of Daisy). The bleak truth held within the novel is that he can never reach his dream because his dream is based on an illusion. This contrasts with Tom in the way in which both men see the world on such profoundly different terms. Consequently, the first time Nick meets Gatsby he notices the beauty of his smile, which represents his romantic view of the world:
“It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
This again reinforces Gatsby’s role as the representation of the American Dream, and indeed, the death of the American dream, and these two themes are central to the overall effect of the novel; Gatsby has a profound and naive hope in fulfilling his dream. His eventual disappointment is his dream (Daisy) is a representation of the disappointment in the American Dream. This is contrasted with the character of Tom, who will not allow Gatsby’s dream to be fulfilled. Thus Gatsby is also presented as an almost magical figure early on in the novel:
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the Champaign and the stars.”
Gatsby’s world is described as being magical in this passage. He throws enormous parties for people he does not know, and who do not know him. This is part of Gatsby’s tragedy; he does not understand the harsh reality of the world around him, in direct contrast with Tom who understands and accepts the harshness of modern life. In this way, Fitzgerald is commenting on the shallowness of the period (the roaring twenties) which saw the beginnings of the death of the American dream when capitalism and materialism became a focus of American culture. This is again another contrast to Tom, because Tom himself is so representative of the shallowness of hi class and times. Also the symbolism of the novel conveys the difference between Gatsby and Tom. Also, Gatsby’s house represents how he has adopted a persona in order to win Daisy:
“It was a factual imitation of a hotel-de-Ville in Normandy…His house never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when we hunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtains that were like pavilions, and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric lights…”
Gatsby has created a persona for himself that includes money and notoriety but in the end we see that he is, in fact, a much simpler character, whose dreams and goals are much purer than the world in which he eventually moves. In so many ways, he has sold his real self for the dream of Daisy and in doing so, has corrupted himself. This is a contrast with Tom in the way in which Tom never pretends to be anything other than what he is; Tom is honest about his views on the world, even if others find them distasteful.
However, Fitzgerald also indicates the eventual confrontation between the two characters in the depiction of Tom himself. The first description of Tom and Daisy’s house emphasises how lavish it is:
“Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, over-looking the bay… brick walks and burning gardens… bright vines… glowing now with the reflected gold…”
This suggests a great deal about Tom and Daisy in the way in which the personality of their house is so overtly confident. It is loud and also luxurious, and this is represents the characters who live there. The colours are bold and full of life, and so are Tom and Daisy. However, the light described here is reflected light, and this subtly suggests Tom and Daisy’s shallowness. Also, red is an angry colour and hints at Tom’s violence. When we first see Tom and Nick together, Tom’s bigotry is an important part of his characterisation:
“And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization – oh science and art, and all that. Do you see?”
This initial impression of Tom establishes his faults and we begin to question both Daisy and Tom. Tom’s shallowness is a perfect match for Daisy and it is Gatsby’s tragic flaw that he cannot see Daisy’s shallowness. In this way, the two male characters contrast in their essential personalities. During the party in New York, Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, mentions Daisy, and in response Tom hits her:
“Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.”
This tells us that Tom is a ruthless character and that he will hurt others to get what he wants. This is an early indication of his later callousness, when he blames Gatsby for Myrtle’s death. This is another aspect to the conflict between Gatsby and Tom, the way in which Tom has no regard for others, especially Gatsby, and eventually uses Gatsby to get Daisy out of a difficult situation. Thus, at the end of the novel Nick gives his final opinion on Tom and Daisy:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money, or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and left other people clean up the mess they had made.”
This emphasises how selfish and self-absorbed Tom and Daisy are while also revealing Nick’s thoughts on the American upper class; that they are ruthless and do not care about what other people think. It also shows that they are completely unaware of their irresponsible actions and the consequences that they can have on the rest of society. This clearly conveys the conflict between Tom and Gatsby and the falsity of the American Dream as it is the people like Tom and Daisy who create this barrier to stop the middle-class/people, in this case Gatsby, from achieving their dreams. Through this, Fitzgerald has clearly portrayed that in a materialistic society, the rich and ruthless always win.
It follows that the author also reveals the significance of the confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, and how they are so different, through effective manipulation of the key moments of tension. Whilst, in New York, Gatsby confronts Tom about his love for Daisy but then realises that his love is not mutual:
“‘Just tell him the truth – that you never loved him – and it’s all wiped out forever.’ Even alone I can’t say I never loved Tom, ‘ she admitted in a pitiful voice, ‘It wouldn’t be true.’”
At this time the tension between Tom and Gatsby is at its highest. Gatsby’s display of love and affection for Daisy results in a colossal confrontation between the two. Tom is extremely quick to undermine Gatsby and put him in his place. He makes his opinion clear that Daisy is his and then deflects the topic to confront and criticise Gatsby on his personal life instead. The fact that Tom feels as if he “owns” Daisy suggests that he is emotionally immature as he does not truly love Daisy; he sees her as another possession he can retain. It is at this point Gatsby learns this awful truth; Daisy did not love him like she did in 1917 when he was at his at his weakest. Thus Tom decides to take advantage of him and tell Wilson that is was Gatsby who killed his wife. He seizes the moment when Wilson asks him who killed Myrtle, which is a clear display of his aggressiveness and his hurtful nature. Their conflict ends in Tom getting what he wishes for; Gatsby has been removed from his and Daisy’s life. He now has Daisy all to himself and she has only Tom to concentrate on. This conflict and confrontation is between them is what stops Gatsby from achieving his goal. Tom is too strong and forceful and will do whatever it takes to stop Gatsby from achieving is dream. Ultimately, this represents the death and falsity of the American Dream as Gatsby dedicated most of his live trying to get back with Daisy but he never did fully achieve this. The upper social class was not willing to accept the lower social classes. This is the fundamental flaw in the American Dream, which caused it to fail:
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then.”
Here, we can see that Gatsby was guided by the green light in order to get closer towards Daisy and be with her. But, unfortunately for Gatsby, he was never going to be with Daisy and, although he kept his hopes up right up until the end, it was obvious from early in the book that it was not in his destiny to be with Daisy. In reality though, even though Gatsby was chasing Daisy, it should have been the other way around, as Gatsby was a far better person than Daisy would ever be, and, unfortunately for him, he didn’t realise this and continued pursuing her, oblivious to all her faults, and it was this pursuit of Daisy, that indirectly lead to his tragic death. Tom, unlike Gatsby, sees Daisy for who she really is, and uses this knowledge to his advantage; this is a profoundly important difference between the two, because it is tom who survives.
Thus, “The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald is a novel in which the conflict and confrontation between Tom Buchannan and Jay Gatsby is central to the novel’s message in the way in which is explores the theme of the Death of the American Dream. Fitzgerald does this through his effective use of characterisation, symbolism and key moments of tension in order to highlight the confrontation and contrast between these two characters, which explores his themes so successfully.