The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925. The novel would prove to be Fitzgerald's most accomplished novel, and was an immediate critical success. Despite the favorable reviews, the sales for the novel were disappointing.
Within the novel, Fitzgerald uses the character of Nick Carraway as the first-person narrator. It is through Carraway's eyes that we see the other characters and the world they live in. Carraway is the only character in the novel to exhibit, and hold onto, a sense of morals and decency throughout the novel. Symbolism is heavily used, and can be found in both the characters actions and the physical objects.
Through the novel, Fitzgerald puts across the idea that the American dream has been corrupted by the desire for materialism. We see that Gatsby had a pure dream, but became corrupt in his quest towards that dream.
Much has been made of Fitzerald's relation to his characters. Many of the characters in his novels are based on people from his life. Within the characters of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby we can see the dueling parts of Fitzgerald's own personality. Gatsby and Fitzgerald are alike by both being self-made men who have achieved financial success. Similarly, they both achieved their financial success for the love of a woman. Gatsby felt that he needed wealth to win the hand of Daisy, and Fitzgerald felt the same about Zelda. The love of a woman was the motivating factor behind virtually all of Gatsby's actions, and many of the young Fitzgerald's. Fitzgerald would spend the majority of his career struggling to earn as much money as possible to maintain the privelaged lifestyle that Zelda desired.
Nick Carraway can be seen to represent the outsider that Fitzgerald felt himself to be. Both Fitzgerald and Carraway found themselves surrounded by high society and dishonest people. Neither of them truly fit in with those surroundings. One of the major themes within the novel is East vs. West. Carraway comes from the West, and returns to it by the novel's end. Through Carraway, Fitzgerald shows his fondness for the West, which he idealized as being a moral land. It is their dissatisfaction with their surroundings that Carraway and Fitzgerald share. It is because of such feelings, that they both feel like outsiders.
One of the most important themes in the novel is class and social standing. It is a barrier for almost every character. East and West Egg acts as a symbol of this in it's physical makeup. Tom and Daisy live on the East which is far more refined and well bred. Nick and Gatsby are on the West which is for people who don't have any real standing, even if they have money. The green light shines from the East Egg enticing Gatsby towards what he has always wanted. And Daisy, the woman that Gatsby has always wanted but never gets, lives on East Egg. The barrier that the water creates between these worlds in symbolic of the barrier that keeps these people apart from one another and from much of what they want.
The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg
Fitzgerald uses the word careless a lot in describing most of the people and events in this book. There seems to be no fear of consequence, of judgment. So who is doing the judgment? That is, in part, what the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg are there for. These eyes are from a billboard that looks over Wilson's garage. The eyes are always mentioned whenever Nick is there. They look over the situation, objectively, but offer a kind of judgment on the characters and their actions. They are placed near Wilson's because that is where some of the most selfish acts take place: Myrtle's death, Tom's affair. All of these crimes go unpunished. So they eyes look on and remind the characters of the guilt that they forget to have for what they have done.
The Green Light
The green light is a multi-faceted piece of symbolism in the book. It's most obvious interpretation is that the light is symbolic of Gatsby's longing for Daisy, but that is too simplistic. Daisy is part of it, but the green light means much more. Gatsby has spent his whole life longing for something better. Money, success, acceptance, and Daisy. And no matter how much he has he never feels complete. Even when he has his large house full of interesting people and all of their attention, he still longs for Daisy. He created in his dreams for the future a place for her, and he will not be content to have that gaping hole. So the green light stands for all of Gatsby's longings and wants. And when Nick talks about the green light at the end of the book he says "It eluded us then, but that's no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out farther...." . He connects the green light to all people. Everyone has something that they long and search for that is just off in the distance. That is the green light.
The word that can sum up many of the themes in the book is position. The word encompasses themes like class, wealth, social standing, and others. Gatsby's whole life is spent trying to attain money and status so that he can reach a certain position in life. That is what motivated him to move to West Egg, make money by any means necessary, and strive to win Daisy back. There is a position in life that he yearns for and will do all that it takes to achieve it.
Daisy and Tom on the other hand show how people can use their position to look down on others and live their life carelessly. As Nick says about Daisy, "in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged". It is this superior mind set that allows Tom to cheat on his wife and allows he and Daisy to run away from the death of Myrtle. They need not worry about such things because they are too good for it. Nick sees it as a kind of carelessness. "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness...". They can use their wealth and position to escape whatever they choose.
The word careless also sums up one of the most important ideas in the book. Nick refers to Jordan, Tom, and Daisy as careless in one form or another. Their actions are careless and they are careless people. This is due to the ease of their life. These people live the decadent life of the roaring twenties that many of the writers of this era were criticizing. The mindless, indulgent, irresponsible life style where consequence is just an afterthought. Fitzgerald uses these characters to expose this life with their selfish actions. This carelessness can be seen when Tom and Daisy run away after Myrtle is killed or when Jordan is driving Nick through the city. These people do not worry about paying for their actions so they do as they please. Tom is not worried about hurting Daisy so he flaunts his relationship with Myrtle, his mistress. Daisy, in turn, goes off with Gatsby without a thought to her marriage. Consequence is a unheard of concept to these people so they live their lives without thinking about it.