The Great Gatsby Analysis
Introduction “The Great Gatsby” is a novel by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published in 1925, it is set on Long Island’s North Shore and in New York City from spring to autumn of 1922. The novel takes place following the First World War. American society enjoyed prosperity during the “roaring” as the economy soared. At the same time, prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers.
After its republishing in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is today widely regarded as a paragon of the Great American Novel, and a literary classic. The Modern Library named it the second best novel of the 20th Century. Author’s biography Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, and named after his ancestor Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner. ” Fitzgerald was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Though an intelligent child, he did poorly in school and was sent to a New Jersey boarding school in 1911.
Despite being a mediocre student there, he managed to enroll at Princeton in 1913. Academic troubles and apathy plagued him throughout his time at college, and he never graduated, instead enlisting in the army in 1917, as World War I neared its end. Fitzgerald became a second lieutenant, and was stationed at Camp Sheridan, in Montgomery, Alabama. There he met and fell in love with a wild seventeen-year-old beauty named Zelda Sayre. Zelda finally agreed to marry him, but her overpowering desire for wealth, fun, and leisure led her to delay their wedding until he could prove a success.
With the publication of This Side of Paradise in 1920, Fitzgerald became a literary sensation, earning enough money and fame to convince Zelda to marry him. Having become a celebrity, Fitzgerald fell into a wild, reckless life-style of parties and decadence, while desperately trying to please Zelda by writing to earn money. Similarly, Gatsby amasses a great deal of wealth at a relatively young age, and devotes himself to acquiring possessions and throwing parties that he believes will enable him to win Daisy’s love. As the giddiness of the Roaring Twenties dissolved into the bleakness of the Great Depression, owever, Zelda suffered a nervous breakdown and Fitzgerald battled alcoholism, which hampered his writing. He published Tender Is the Night in 1934, and sold short stories to The Saturday Evening Post to support his lavish lifestyle. In 1937, he left for Hollywood to write screenplays, and in 1940, while working on his novel The Love of the Last Tycoon, died of a heart attack at the age of forty-four. Plot overview Nick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business.
He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy but unfashionable area populated by the new rich, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections and who are prone to garish displays of wealth. Nick’s next-door neighbor in West Egg is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic Gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday night. Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg, he was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island home to the established upper class.
Nick drives out to East Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhile classmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Nick also learns a bit about Daisy and Tom’s marriage: Jordan tells him that Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a gray industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle.
At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tom keeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose. As the summer progresses, Nick eventually garners an invitation to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. He encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, a surprisingly young man who affects an English accent, has a remarkable smile, and calls everyone “old sport. ” Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone, and, through Jordan, Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbor.
Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse to see him if she knows that he still loves her. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there.
After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. Their love rekindled, they begin an affair. After a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such undisguised passion that Tom realizes Gatsby is in love with her. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is deeply outraged by the thought that his wife could be unfaithful to him.
He forces the group to drive into New York City, where he confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand, and he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal, his fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.
When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes, however, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. They rush back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but that Gatsby intends to take the blame. The next day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, who has leapt to the conclusion that the driver of the car that killed Myrtle must have been her lover, finds Gatsby in the pool at his mansion and shoots him dead.
He then fatally shoots himself. Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest to escape the disgust he feels for the people surrounding Gatsby’s life and for the emptiness and moral decay of life among the wealthy on the East Coast. Nick reflects that just as Gatsby’s dream of Daisy was corrupted by money and dishonesty, the American dream of happiness and individualism has disintegrated into the mere pursuit of wealth.
Though Gatsby’s power to transform his dreams into reality is what makes him “great,” Nick reflects that the era of dreaming, both Gatsby’s dream and the American dream, is over. Character list Nick Carraway: The novel’s narrator, Nick is a young man from Minnesota who, after being educated at Yale and fighting in World War I, goes to New York City to learn the bond business. Honest, tolerant, and inclined to reserve judgment, Nick often serves as a confidant for those with troubling secrets.
After moving to West Egg, a fictional area of Long Island that is home to the newly rich, Nick quickly befriends his next-door neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. As Daisy Buchanan’s cousin, he facilitates the rekindling of the romance between her and Gatsby. The Great Gatsby is told entirely through Nick’s eyes; his thoughts and perceptions shape and color the story. Jay Gatsby: The title character and protagonist of the novel, Gatsby is a fabulously wealthy young man living in a Gothic mansion in West Egg.
He is famous for the lavish parties he throws every Saturday night, but no one knows where he comes from, what he does, or how he made his fortune. As the novel progresses, Nick learns that Gatsby was born James Gatz on a farm in North Dakota; working for a millionaire made him dedicate his life to the achievement of wealth. When he met Daisy while training to be an officer in Louisville, he fell in love with her. Nick also learns that Gatsby made his fortune through criminal activity, as he was willing to do anything to gain the social position he thought necessary to win Daisy.
Nick views Gatsby as a deeply flawed man, dishonest and vulgar, whose extraordinary optimism and power to transform his dreams into reality make him “great” nonetheless. Daisy Buchanan: Nick’s cousin, and the woman Gatsby loves. As a young woman in Louisville before the war, Daisy was courted by a number of officers, including Gatsby. She fell in love with Gatsby and promised to wait for him. However, Daisy harbors a deep need to be loved, and when a wealthy, powerful young man named Tom Buchanan asked her to marry him, Daisy decided not to wait for Gatsby after all.
Now a beautiful socialite, Daisy lives with Tom across from Gatsby in the fashionable East Egg district of Long Island. She is sardonic and somewhat cynical, and behaves superficially to mask her pain at her husband’s constant infidelity. Tom Buchanan: Daisy’s immensely wealthy husband, once a member of Nick’s social club at Yale. Powerfully built and hailing from a socially solid old family, Tom is an arrogant, hypocritical bully. His social attitudes are laced with racism and sexism, and he never even considers trying to live up to the moral standard he demands from those around him.
He has no moral qualms about his own extramarital affair with Myrtle, but when he begins to suspect Daisy and Gatsby of having an affair, he becomes outraged and forces a confrontation. Jordan Baker: Daisy’s friend, a woman with whom Nick becomes romantically involved during the course of the novel. A competitive golfer, Jordan represents one of the “new women” of the 1920s, cynical, boyish, and self-centered. Jordan is beautiful, but also dishonest: she cheated in order to win her first golf tournament and continually bends the truth.
Myrtle Wilson: Tom’s lover, whose lifeless husband George, owns a run-down garage in the valley of ashes. Myrtle herself possesses a fierce vitality and desperately looks for a way to improve her situation. Unfortunately for her, she chooses Tom, who treats her as a mere object of his desire. George Wilson: Myrtle’s husband, the lifeless, exhausted owner of a run-down auto shop at the edge of the valley of ashes. George loves and idealizes Myrtle, and is devastated by her affair with Tom. George is consumed with grief when Myrtle is killed.
George is comparable to Gatsby in that both are dreamers and both are ruined by their unrequited love for women who love Tom. Owl Eyes: The eccentric, bespectacled drunk whom Nick meets at the first party he attends at Gatsby’s mansion. Nick finds Owl Eyes looking through Gatsby’s library, astonished that the books are real. Klipspringer: The shallow freeloader who seems almost to live at Gatsby’s mansion, taking advantage of his host’s money. As soon as Gatsby dies, Klipspringer disappears, he does not attend the funeral, but he does call Nick about a pair of tennis shoes that he left at Gatsby’s mansion.
Meyer Wolfsheim: Gatsby’s friend, a prominent figure in organized crime. Before the events of the novel take place, Wolfsheim helped Gatsby to make his fortune bootlegging illegal liquor. His continued acquaintance with Gatsby suggests that Gatsby is still involved in illegal business. Themes, motifs and symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. The Decline of the American Dream in the 1920s On the surface, The Great Gatsby is a story of the thwarted love between a man and a woman.
The main theme of the novel, however, encompasses a much larger, less romantic scope. Though all of its action takes place over a mere few months during the summer of 1922 and is set in a circumscribed geographical area in the vicinity of Long Island, New York, The Great Gatsby is a highly symbolic meditation on 1920s America as a whole, in particular the disintegration of the American dream in an era of unprecedented prosperity and material excess. Fitzgerald portrays the 1920s as an era of decayed social and moral values, evidenced in its overarching cynicism, greed, and empty pursuit of pleasure.
The reckless jubilance that led to decadent parties and wild jazz music—epitomized in The Great Gatsby by the opulent parties that Gatsby throws every Saturday night—resulted ultimately in the corruption of the American dream, as the unrestrained desire for money and pleasure surpassed more noble goals. When World War I ended in 1918, the generation of young Americans who had fought the war became intensely disillusioned, as the brutal carnage that they had just faced made the Victorian social morality of early-twentieth-century America seem like stuffy, empty hypocrisy.
The dizzying rise of the stock market in the aftermath of the war led to a sudden, sustained increase in the national wealth and a newfound materialism, as people began to spend and consume at unprecedented levels. A person from any social background could, potentially, make a fortune, but the American aristocracy, families with old wealth, scorned the newly rich industrialists and speculators. Additionally, the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which banned the sale of alcohol, created a thriving underworld designed to satisfy the massive demand for bootleg liquor among rich and poor alike.
Fitzgerald positions the characters of The Great Gatsby as emblems of these social trends. Nick and Gatsby, both of whom fought in World War I, exhibit the newfound cosmopolitanism and cynicism that resulted from the war. The various social climbers and ambitious speculators who attend Gatsby’s parties evidence the greedy scramble for wealth. The clash between “old money” and “new money” manifests itself in the novel’s symbolic geography: East Egg represents the established aristocracy, West Egg the self-made rich. Meyer Wolfshiem and Gatsby’s fortune symbolize the rise of organized crime and bootlegging.
As Fitzgerald saw it (and as Nick explains in Chapter 9), the American dream was originally about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. In the 1920s depicted in the novel, however, easy money and relaxed social values have corrupted this dream, especially on the East Coast. The main plotline of the novel reflects this assessment, as Gatsby’s dream of loving Daisy is ruined by the difference in their respective social statuses, his resorting to crime to make enough money to impress her, and the rampant materialism that characterizes her lifestyle.
Additionally, places and objects in The Great Gatsby have meaning only because characters instill them with meaning: the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg best exemplify this idea. In Nick’s mind, the ability to create meaningful symbols constitutes a central component of the American dream, as early Americans invested their new nation with their own ideals and values. Nick compares the green bulk of America rising from the ocean to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.
Just as Americans have given America meaning through their dreams for their own lives, Gatsby instills Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection that she neither deserves nor possesses. Gatsby’s dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the American dream in the 1920s is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, money and pleasure. Like 1920s Americans in general, fruitlessly seeking a bygone era in which their dreams had value, Gatsby longs to re-create a vanished past, his time in Louisville with Daisy, but is incapable of doing so.
When his dream crumbles, all that is left for Gatsby to do is die; all Nick can do is move back to Minnesota, where American values have not decayed. The Hollowness of the Upper Class One of the major topics explored in The Great Gatsby is the sociology of wealth, specifically, how the newly minted millionaires of the 1920s differ from and relate to the old aristocracy of the country’s richest families. In the novel, West Egg and its denizens represent the newly rich, while East Egg and its denizens, especially Daisy and Tom, represent the old aristocracy.
Fitzgerald portrays the newly rich as being vulgar, gaudy, ostentatious, and lacking in social graces and taste. Gatsby, for example, lives in a monstrously ornate mansion, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls-Royce, and does not pick up on subtle social signals, such as the insincerity of the Sloanes’ invitation to lunch. In contrast, the old aristocracy possesses grace, taste, subtlety, and elegance, epitomized by the Buchanans’ tasteful home and the flowing white dresses of Daisy and Jordan Baker.
What the old aristocracy possesses in taste, however, it seems to lack in heart, as the East Eggers prove themselves careless, inconsiderate bullies who are so used to money’s ability to ease their minds that they never worry about hurting others. The Buchanans exemplify this stereotype when, at the end of the novel, they simply move to a new house far away rather than condescend to attend Gatsby’s funeral. Gatsby, on the other hand, whose recent wealth derives from criminal activity, has a sincere and loyal heart, remaining outside Daisy’s window until four in the morning in Chapter 7 simply to make sure that Tom does not hurt her.
Ironically, Gatsby’s good qualities (loyalty and love) lead to his death, as he takes the blame for killing Myrtle rather than letting Daisy be punished, and the Buchanans’ bad qualities (fickleness and selfishness) allow them to remove themselves from the tragedy not only physically but psychologically. Honesty Honesty is does not seem to determine which characters are sympathetic and which are not in this novel in quite the same way that it does in others. Nick is able to admire Gatsby despite his knowledge of the man’s illegal dealings and bootlegging.
Ironically, it is the corrupt Daisy who takes pause at Gatsby’s sordid past. Her indignation at his “dishonesty,” however, is less moral than class-based. Her sense of why Gatsby should not behave in an immoral manner is based on what she expects from members of her milieu, rather than what she believes to be intrinsically right. The standards for honesty and morality seem to be dependent on class and gender in this novel. Tom finds his wife’s infidelity intolerable; however, he does not hesitate to lie to her about his own affair. Decay
Decay is a word that constantly comes up in The Great Gatsby, which is appropriate in a novel which centers on the death of the American Dream. Decay is most evident in the so-called “valley of ashes. ” With great virtuosity, Fitzgerald describes a barren wasteland which probably has little to do with the New York landscape and instead serves to comment on the downfall of American society. It seems that the American dream has been perverted, reversed. Gatsby lives in West Egg and Daisy in East Egg; therefore, Gatsby looks East with yearning, rather than West, the traditional direction of American frontier ambitions.
Fitzgerald portrays the chauvinistic and racist Tom in a very negative light, clearly scoffing at his apocalyptic vision of the races intermarrying. Fitzgerald’s implication seems to be that society has already decayed enough and requires no new twist. Gender Roles In some respects, Fitzgerald writes about gender roles in a quite conservative manner. In his novel, men work to earn money for the maintenance of the women. Men are dominant over women, especially in the case of Tom, who asserts his physical strength to subdue them.
The only hint of a role reversal is in the pair of Nick and Jordan. Jordan’s androgynous name and cool, collected style masculinize her more than any other female character. However, in the end, Nick does exert his dominance over her by ending the relationship. The women in the novel are an interesting group, because they do not divide into the traditional groups of Mary Magdalene and Madonna figures, instead, none of them are pure. Myrtle is the most obviously sensual, but the fact that Jordan and Daisy wear white dresses only highlights their corruption.
Violence Violence is a key theme in The Great Gatsby, and is most embodied by the character of Tom. An ex-football player, he uses his immense physical strength to intimidate those around him. When Myrtle taunts him with his wife’s name, he strikes her across the face. The other source of violence in the novel besides Tom are cars. A new commodity at the time that The Great Gatsby was published, Fitzgerald uses cars to symbolize the dangers of modernity and the dangers of wealth. The climax of the novel, the accident hat kills Myrtle, is foreshadowed by the conversation between Nick and Jordan about how bad driving can cause explosive violence. The end of the novel, of course, consists of violence against Gatsby. The choice of handgun as a weapon suggests Gatsby’s shady past, but it is symbolic that it is his love affair, not his business life, that kills Gatsby in the end. Religion It is interesting that Fitzgerald chooses to use some religious tropes in a novel that focuses on the American Dream, a concept which leaves no rooms for religion save for the doctrine of individualism.
The most obvious is the image of the “valley of ashes,” which exemplifies America’s moral state during the “Roaring Twenties. ” This wasteland is presided over by the empty eyes of an advertisement. Fitzgerald strongly implies that these are the eyes of God. This equation of religion with advertising and material gain are made even more terrifying by the fact that the eyes see nothing and can help no one (for example, this “God” can do nothing to prevent Myrtle or Gatsby’s deaths). Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Geography Throughout the novel, places and settings epitomize the various aspects of the 1920s American society that Fitzgerald depicts. East Egg represents the old aristocracy, West Egg the newly rich, the valley of ashes the moral and social decay of America, and New York City the uninhibited, amoral quest for money and pleasure. Additionally, the East is connected to the moral decay and social cynicism of New York, while the West (including Midwestern and northern areas such as Minnesota) is connected to more traditional social values and ideals.
Nick’s analysis in Chapter 9 of the story he has related reveals his sensitivity to this dichotomy: though it is set in the East, the story is really one of the West, as it tells how people originally from west of the Appalachians (as all of the main characters are) react to the pace and style of life on the East Coast. Weather As in much of Shakespeare’s work, the weather in The Great Gatsby unfailingly matches the emotional and narrative tone of the story. Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion begins amid a pouring rain, proving awkward and melancholy; their ove reawakens just as the sun begins to come out. Gatsby’s climactic confrontation with Tom occurs on the hottest day of the summer, under the scorching sun (like the fatal encounter between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet). Wilson kills Gatsby on the first day of autumn, as Gatsby floats in his pool despite a palpable chill in the air, a symbolic attempt to stop time and restore his relationship with Daisy to the way it was five years before, in 1917. Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The Valley of Ashes
One of the first symbols mentioned in the book is the Valley of Ashes, “…a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air…” The valley of ashes resembles something dark and lifeless. As a result of fire ashes stand for destruction and death. Furthermore the death of Myrtle Wilson in the Valley of Ashes stands for the pain associated with this valley.
Also the fact that the Wilsons live in the Valley shows that they are not of such high social standards as the other characters in the novel. By having to pass through the Valley of Ashes in order to get to New York, the other characters have to betake themselves to this lower status. The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg “…But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic- their retinas are one yard high.
They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistence nose…But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground…. ” The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are a pair of fading, bespectacled eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes. They may represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland, though the novel never makes this point explicitly.
Instead, throughout the novel, Fitzgerald suggests that symbols only have meaning because characters instill them with meaning. The connection between the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg and God exists only in George Wilson’s grief-stricken mind. This lack of concrete significance contributes to the unsettling nature of the image. Thus, the eyes also come to represent the essential meaninglessness of the world and the arbitrariness of the mental process by which people invest objects with meaning. The green light The green light is probably one of the most important symbols in The Great Gatsby.
Green is the colour of hope and it first appears when Gatsby stares across the bay towards a green light at the end of a dock “…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…” The green light represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. Gatsby associates it with Daisy, and in chapter 1 he reaches toward it in the darkness as a guiding light to lead him to his goal.
After its republishing in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is today widely regarded as a paragon of the Great American Novel, and a literary classic. The Modern Library named it the second best novel of the 20th Century. Bibliography -Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. Wordsworth Editions Limited. 1993. Web sites: –