The Great Gatsby's Theme



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The Strength to Dream


There is much else that we could explore in this extraordinary novel. There are, for example, the questions about the ways in which it is constructed, the effects of its use of the personalised narrator, for whom acquaintance with Gatsby means attempting to discover himself. There are also issues to do with the way in which the novel is put together, its juxtaposition of scenes dramatising important events and brief passages of commentary and interpretation. One could also look at the literary parallels behind the novel, the similarities with Heart of Darkness, (and Marlow's attempts to discover Kurtz and also perhaps himself), with the novels of Mark Twain or Henry James (who also explore these fundamental issues of innocence/experience in terms of the contrast of East and West), and perhaps most notably with T S Eliot's The Waste Land. For me, as the designer of this course, this seems the most natural finishing point, given that this course is concerned with the development of writing between the Wars. Eliot provided his generation with a challenging and disturbing vision of the modern world, where faith in religion and culture has been reduced to the relentless pursuit of money and the shallow dreams of tarot readings and jazz ballads. In Gatsby, with its insider's view of the hollowness at the heart of the modern American world, we have a world where money, status and progress have become the new "savage gods", the new "green lights", where the sense of religious vision has become reduced to an advertising hoarding and the bespectacled figure of the now forgotten oculist T J Eckelberg. Similarly we may refer back to the mysterious "ou-boum" which haunts the world of A Passage to India, and the vision in the cave which may be nothing, or may simply be ourselves and our thoughts. Whatever the answer the need to find or cling onto a sense of meaning and value amidst the chaos, violence and arbitrariness of contemporary life is seen, in Forster's novel and Eliot's poem, as a positive thing. It is the same, I would suggest, the same in Gatsby, for he, Nick assures the reader, "turned out all right in 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.". Gatsby may have been exposed as a dreamer, but it is his willingness to cling to this dream, as a means of bringing sense, order and purpose to his life, which distinguishes him from those who have simply lost the ability to dream, Eliot's "Hollow Men" and Gatsby's ungrateful guests



Gatsby's Pursuit of the American Dream
The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is about the American Dream, and the downfall of those who attempt to reach its illusionary goals. The attempt to capture the American Dream is central to many novels. This dream is different for different people, but in The Great Gatsby, for Jay, the dream is that through wealth and power, one can acquire happiness. To get this happiness Jay must reach into the past and relive an old dream and in order to do this he must have wealth and power.

Jay Gatsby, the central figure of the the story, is one character who longs for the past. Surprisingly he devotes most of his adult life trying to recapture it and, finally, dies in its pursuit. In the past, Jay had a love affair with the affluent Daisy. Knowing he could not marry her because of the difference in their social status, he leaves her to amass wealth to reach her economic standards. Once he acquires this wealth, he moves near to Daisy, "Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay (83)," and throws extravagant parties, hoping by chance she might show up at one of them. He, himself, does not attend his parties but watches them from a distance. When this dream doesn't happen, he asks around casually if anyone knows her. Soon he meets Nick Carraway, a cousin of Daisy, who agrees to set up a meeting, "He wants to know...if you'll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over (83)." Gatsby's personal dream symbolizes the larger American Dream where all have the opportunity to get what they want.

Later, as we see in the Plaza Hotel, Jay still believes that Daisy loves him. He is convinced of this as is shown when he takes the blame for Myrtle's death. "Was Daisy driving?" "Yes...but of course I'll say I was." (151) He also watches and protects Daisy as she returns home. "How long are you going to wait?" "All night if necessary." (152) Jay cannot accept that the past is gone and done with. Jay is sure that he can capture his dream with wealth and influence. He believes that he acted for a good beyond his personal interest and that should guarantee success.

Nick attempts to show Jay the folly of his dream, but Jay innocently replies to Nick's assertion that the past cannot be relived by saying, "Yes you can, old sport." This shows the confidence that Jay has in fulfilling his American Dream. For Jay, his American Dream is not material possessions, although it may seem that way. He only comes into riches so that he can fulfill his true American Dream, Daisy.

Gatsby doesn't rest until his American Dream is finally fulfilled. However, it never comes about and he ends up paying the ultimate price for it. The idea of the American Dream still holds true in today's time, be it wealth, love, or fame. But one thing never changes about the American Dream; everyone desires something in life, and everyone, somehow, strives to get it. Gatsby is a prime example of pursuing the American Dream.

The Failure of the American Dream


A society naturally breaks up into various social groups over time. Members of lower statuses constantly suppose that their problems will be resolved if they gain enough wealth to reach the upper class. Many interpret the American Dream as being this passage to high social status and, once reaching that point, not having to concern about money at all. Though, the American Dream involves more than the social and economic standings of an individual. The dream involves attaining a balance between the spiritual strength and the physical strength of an individual. Jay Gatsby, of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, fails to reach his ultimate dream of love for Daisy in that he chooses to pursue it by engaging in a lifestyle of high class.

Gatsby realizes that life of the high class demands wealth to become priority; wealth becomes his superficial goal overshadowing his quest for love. He establishes his necessity to acquire wealth, which allows him to be with Daisy. The social elite of Gatsby's time sacrifice morality in order to attain wealth. Tom Buchanan, a man from an "enormously wealthy" family, seems to Nick to have lost all sense of being kind (Fitzgerald 10). Nick describes Tom's physical attributes as a metaphor for his true character when remarking that Tom had a "hard mouth and a supercilious manner…arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face…always leaning aggressively forward…a cruel body…[h]is speaking voice…added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed" (Fitzgerald 11). The wealth Tom has inherited causes him to become arrogant and condescending to others, while losing his morals. Rather than becoming immoral from wealth as Tom has, Gatsby engages in criminal activity as his only path to being rich. His need for money had become so great that he "was in the drug business" (Fitzgerald 95). Furthermore, he lies to Nick about his past in order to cover up his criminal activity. Gatsby claims to others that he has inherited his wealth, but Nick discovers "[h]is parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" (Fitzgerald 104). Gatsby enters a world where money takes precedence over moral integrity. Materialism has already overshadowed a portion of his spiritual side. A quest for true love is doomed for failure in the presence of immorality. Once wealth has taken priority over integrity, members of the high social class focus on immediate indulgences, rather than on long-term pleasures of life such as love. Daisy constantly strives to keep herself busy by means of social interaction or physical pleasure. She presents her worry to keep busy when saying, "What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon…and the day after that, and the next thirty years" (Fitzgerald 125). In a society that relies on immediate physical indulgences, Gatsby simply feeds the appetite of the high class by throwing parties. He believes he can create an earthly paradise for others and himself. Unfortunately, this so-called paradise exists with physical pleasures and wealth being priorities. Furthermore, Gatsby expresses that same need to keep busy in a society of the elite. As a metaphor for Gatsby's necessity, Nick describes him as "never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand" (Fitzgerald 68). Gatsby fills his house "full of interesting people…who do interesting things" (Fitzgerald 96). Gatsby no longer has to rely on himself for immediate pleasures. Gatsby's pursuit of wealth becomes so intense that it even takes priority over his yearning for love. Money and immediate pleasures become more important than being with Daisy. Gatsby's dream is doomed to failure in that he has lost the fundamental necessities to experience love, such as honesty and moral integrity.

True, binding relationships amongst individuals no longer exist once wealth has taken precedence. Family relationships exist superficially amongst high-ranking members of society. Marriages become simply labels of society rather than bindings between two individuals. Catherine observes the superficiality of marriages when remarking about the couples of the story, "Neither of them can stand the person they're married to" (Fitzgerald 37). The binding of a marriage has become very weak when Daisy "had told [Gatsby] that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded" (Fitzgerald 125). Gatsby accepts the fact that marriages rarely represent true love, and does not hesitate to tell his love to Daisy right in front of her husband. More than the institution of marriage, Gatsby loses all sense of family. His wealth has metaphorically become his family. He relies on his money rather than a family to bring comfort and security to his life. Gatsby's musician sings, "The rich get richer and the poor get - children" (Fitzgerald 101). Gatsby makes an attempt to regain the loss of family he experiences through his wealth. Nick describes a story about how Gatsby "agreed to pay five years' taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of his plan to Found a Family" (Fitzgerald 93). Yet again, Gatsby takes advantage of his wealth to replace his deteriorated spirit and emotions. As a result of superficial family relationships, all love for that matter becomes based on social status. Myrtle's love for Tom is ultimately doomed to failure due to her standing in a lower social class than Tom. This large social gap appears when Tom "had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world" (Fitzgerald 130). The couple is never meant to be. Gatsby had experienced this exact situation with Daisy when he was in the army. His love for Daisy was impossible in society because "he was at present a penniless young man without a past…he had no comfortable family standing behind him" (Fitzgerald 156). Gatsby encounters his dream of love at this point of his life. He knows that at present time a relationship of love is impossible with Daisy due to his low social standing. Gatsby becomes determined to breach that gap between them in order to have a loving relationship with Daisy. This dream is the representation of the American Dream. He does reach the physical circumstances necessary to love her, but he has focused too much on money and power the previous five years of his life. He wants his love with Daisy to flourish while occupying the rest of both their lives. Unfortunately, he has lost the ability to love. He no longer possesses moral integrity or the ability to handle a relationship. In resignation of his dream he can simply hope to prove that Daisy "never loved [Tom]" (Fitzgerald 116). Gatsby leaves his mark proving that true love is bound to fail amongst extreme wealth.

Gatsby possesses an extreme imbalance between the material and spiritual sides of himself. His ultimate goal of love swaps places with his secondary goal of becoming rich. He portrays the ultimate failure of the American Dream in that individuals tend to believe wealth is everything. Historically, America was the New World of endless opportunity and wealth. But a nation cannot operate solely on materialism. The spirits of individuals are the true composition of a nation.




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