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Introduction Great Gatsby Essay

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

(Full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) American novelist, short story writer, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright.

The following entry provides criticism on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) from 1984 through 2001. See also, F. Scott Fitzgerald Criticism and "Babylon Revisited" Criticism.

Critics have generally agreed that The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, is the crowning achievement of Fitzgerald's literary career. It evokes not only the ambiance of the jazz-age search for the American dream of wealth and happiness, but also the larger questions of fading traditional values in the face of increasing materialism and cynicism.

Plot and Major Characters

Fitzgerald frames his plot as a story within a story, as the narrator, Nick Carraway, relates his version of Jay Gatsby's life. Nick, seeking freedom from his constricted Midwestern existence, takes a job in New York City and rents a bungalow in West Egg, Long Island, next door to the lavish mansion of the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Nick's wealthy cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband Tom, invite Nick to dinner with the attractive but flighty Jordan Baker at their luxurious home on the neighboring island of East Egg. Unsettled by the Buchanans' seemingly purposeless lives, Nick returns home and notices his neighbor Gatsby staring longingly at a green light across the bay coming from the Buchanans' property. Tom later persuades Nick to accompany him to a place he calls the Valley of Ashes and introduces him to his blowsy mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Tom, Myrtle, and Nick end up at an apartment in New York, where a wild party ensues, and in a violent outburst, Tom strikes Myrtle and breaks her nose. Later in the month, Gatsby sends Nick an invitation to come to a sumptuous party at his estate, where Nick meets his neighbor for the first time. This is the first of many parties Nick attends at the Gatsby mansion in the company of many of the rich and famous. When Gatsby later takes Nick to New York for lunch, he regales him with tales of his war medals and his Oxford education. The other guest at lunch is the notorious gangster Meyer Wolfsheim, who reportedly fixed the World Series in 1918. Nick, befuddled by Gatsby's questionable associations, is also taken aback when Jordan asks him on Gatsby's behalf to invite Daisy to lunch at Nick's bungalow. He does so even though he now knows that Daisy and Gatsby were in love prior to her marriage to Tom. The two ill-fated lovers meet, and Gatsby takes Daisy to his mansion and invites her to his next party. Daisy agrees, but when she disapproves of some of his guests, Gatsby stops entertaining altogether. He eventually tells Nick of his truly humble Midwest origins, noting that his name is really Gatz, that he did not graduate from Oxford, and that he has made his fortune in bootlegging and other nefarious ventures. One day Gatsby, the Buchanans, Jordan, and Nick drive to New York. On the way, they stop at the garage of George Wilson, husband of Myrtle, who tries to get money from Tom and announces that he and Myrtle are leaving town. At a hotel in New York, Tom accuses Gatsby of trying to steal his wife, and a fierce argument ensues. Daisy heads home with Gatsby, and shortly thereafter Tom and Jordan stop at Wilson's garage to find that Myrtle has been killed by a hit-and-run driver of a yellow car. Tom blames the death on Gatsby though the real driver at the time was Daisy, whom Gatsby seeks to protect. George Wilson, thinking Gatsby was the driver, goes to Gatsby's estate, shoots him, and then kills himself. Only Gatsby's father, who thinks his son was a great man, attends his funeral. Nick later learns that Tom had a part in Gatsby's death, having convinced Wilson that Myrtle and Gatsby were lovers. Disillusioned with the Buchanans and their ilk, Nick decides to return to the Midwest.

Major Themes

Echoes of the American Dream pervade the novel, which contrasts the supposed innocence and moral sense of the “Western” characters with the sophistication and materialism of the “Eastern” characters. Gatsby's lavish existence in the nouveau riche Long Island community of West Egg, moreover, cannot ever compensate for his lack of the more pedigreed wealth of East Egg. He remains an “innocent” in his single-minded pursuit of Daisy despite his association with underworld characters and ill-begotten money. The Valley of Ashes and the sign with the blank eyes of Dr. Eckleburg indicate a moral wasteland and an absent God—as well as the emptiness of the new commercial culture. Gatsby's pursuit of his dream takes on a mythic quality, mirroring the dream which led Americans to conquer the frontier. Gatsby's “frontier,” however, is an ill-advised pursuit of a vacuous young woman not worthy of his love. Initially, Nick, the Midwestern moral arbiter, disdains Gatsby's values, but he eventually comes to see something heroic in Gatsby's vision, which reflects America's own loss of innocence in the face of the crass materialism of the 1920s.

Critical Reception

Early reviews of Gatsby were mixed, and relatively few copies actually had sold before Fitzgerald's death in 1940. Many critics, most notably Ernest Hemingway, were put off by the fact that Fitzgerald had been known as a writer of stories for popular magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. It was not until a revival of Fitzgerald's works in the 1950s that the novel began to attract serious criticism. For the five ensuing decades, Gatsby has continued to attract critical attention and reappraisal. Critics have praised Fitzgerald's tightly woven narrative, and many have focused on the position of the narrator, Nick Carraway, and the subjective limitations of his observations of Gatsby's saga. Although Gatsby was for many years called “a novel of the Jazz Age” (a term which Fitzgerald coined), critics have agreed that it has a much more universal meaning, not the least of which is a trenchant critique of materialist American society much like T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. The appearance of at least four biographies in the 1990s and early 2000s is an indication that interest in Fitzgerald's novels remains unabated. Earlier critics of Gatsby emphasized biographical and cultural influences on the novel, and formalist approaches dealt with the novel's structure, point of view, symbols, use of language, and the like. By the 1980s through the early 2000s, a variety of approaches, both heavily theoretical and non-theoretical, have been evident in critics' commentaries. While many have continued to explore biographical influences or comparisons with other authors, or to use New Critical analyses, others have increasingly employed such techniques as deconstruction, feminist criticism, and discourse analysis to uncover hidden meanings in the text.

(A major theme in The Great Gatsby is the pursuit of what can be termed the American dream. Do you agree? By choosing a major character or a situation in Fitzgerald’s novel, discuss how or whether Fitzgerald is successful in exposing the underside of the American dream)

This represents the idea of the American Dream, where qualities of hard work and ambition are shown. The novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald embodies many themes; however the most significant one relates to the corruption of the American dream. The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working hard towards prosperity and or wealth and fame. By having money, a car, a big house, nice clothes and a happy family symbolizes the American dream. This dream also represents that people, no matter who he or she is, can become successful in life by his or her own work. The desire to strive for what one wants can be accomplished if they work hard enough. The dream is represented by the ideas of a self-sufficient man or woman, who works hard to achieve a goal to become successful. The Great Gatsby is a novel that shows what happened to the American Dream in the 1920’s, which is a time period when the dreams became corrupted for many reasons. The American dream not only causes corruption but has caused destruction. Myrtle, Gatsby and Daisy have all been corrupted and destroyed by the dream.

The desire for a luxurious life is what lures Myrtle into having an affair with Tom. This decision harms her marriage with George, which leads to her death and loss of true happiness. Myrtle has the hope and desire for a perfect, wealthy and famous type life.  She enjoys reading gossip magazines which represent her hope for the life of “the rich and famous”. This shows how the one reason she wants to be with Tom, is because he represents the life of “the rich and famous”. When Myrtle first got married to George Wilson, she thought that she was crazy about him and thought that they were happy being together. Myrtle says, “The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never told me about it, and the man came after it one say when he was out…” (Fitzgerald, 37) This shows how materialistic Myrtle is, and that she didn’t appreciate how George couldn’t afford his own suit to get married in. She looks at Tom in a different way. She looks at him as someone who can afford to buy their own suit for their own wedding. Myrtle is attracted to not only Tom’s appearance but his money as well. She believes that Tom is the ideal picture perfect man that represents the advertisement of the American Dream. Myrtle is considered to be lower class, as she doesn’t have a lot of money. Myrtle sleeps with Tom to inch her way to an upper class status. People who are upper class are the ones that have money, drive fancy cars, and have nice, big houses. Myrtle isn’t one of those people, but desires to be one of them. This later on causes destruction, and destroys Myrtle. It was later found that Daisy was the one that hit Myrtle with her car which resulted in the death of Myrtle. It is ironic that Daisy was the one that killed her, since Myrtle was having an affair with her husband, Tom. This shows how the desire for a luxurious life and having the American dream, only caused destruction in this novel and destroyed someone life.

The hope for happiness is something that Daisy hoped to have, but by finding out she married the wrong man changed who she is and her over outlook on life. Early on in the novel, Daisy finds out a secret that Tom is hiding from her. Jordan says, “She might have the decency not to telephone him a dinner time. Don’t you think?” (Fitzgerald, 20) Tom got a call from some women at dinner time, and Jordan claims that the women is Tom’s, suggesting that he is sleeping with someone else. You learn throughout the novel that Tom and Daisy relationship is not to most ideal, happy relationship. Tom seems to be abusive towards her, and rather does not seem to care much about her. Daisy thinks she has everything, wealth, love and happiness which all tie into the American dream, but then she discovers that she has nothing and that she has been corrupted by this specific dream. She thought she has all she desired for but truly realized she had nothing. She has a child, who does not seem important to her at all. The child is never around, which shows a lot about Daisy. When her child was born, Daisy said “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 fool.” (Fitzgerald, 22) Daisy basically explained that there are limited possibilities for women, and she would have rather had a boy. The baby has to be a beautiful fool in order to be happy and successful. Woman back in the 1920’s all married for money, and not necessarily love. Daisy thought she had love when she married Tom, but truly in the long run, only came out with money. With Gatsby, Daisy realized something that broke her heart. When reunited with Gatsby, who she has not seen in about five years Daisy breaks down and starts to cry. “They’re such beautiful shirts, it makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.” (Fitzgerald, 89) At this time Daisy realizes that she did marry for money and not for love. She figures out that she could have married for money with Gatsby but would have had love too. The chase for the American dream and the ideal man to be with destroyed Daisy’s happiness.

The ambition for something has thrown Gatsby over the edge. His love and chase for Daisy has taken over his whole life. He feels that he has to live up to the American dream to accomplish what he truly dreams for, which is Daisy. While Gatsby was away fighting in the war, Daisy met Tom and married him. Daisy had always been rich and Gatsby thought that in order to get Daisy back, he needs to have money so that he would be able to give Daisy anything she wanted. There was a green light where Daisy lived that Gatsby would always look out to.

The green light is of great significance in this novel. It becomes evident that this green light is not Daisy, but a symbol representing Gatsby’s dream of having Daisy. The fact that Daisy falls short of Gatsby’s expectations is obvious. Knowing this, one can see that no matter how hard Gatsby tries to live his fantasy, he will never be able to achieve it. Through close examination of the green light, one may learn that the force that empowers Gatsby to follow his lifelong aspiration is that of the American Dream. Fitzgerald uses the green light as a symbol of hope, money, and jealousy.  Gatsby looks up to the American dream and follows it so he can be the picture perfect man that every girl desires. Gatsby cares a lot about how people see him, and his appearance towards others. He wants everything to look perfect for Daisy, as he wants Daisy to view him as a perfect man. “We both looked down at the grass – there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected he meant my grass.” (Fitzgerald, 80) This presents the theme of appearance vs. reality and how Gatsby wants everything to look nice and presentable for when he meets up with Daisy for the first time in five years. Gatsby becomes corrupted because his main goal is to have Daisy. He needs to have an enormous mansion so he could feel confident enough to try and get Daisy. Gatsby was blinded by the American dream and as a result of this, cause destruction of Gatsby himself. He didn’t end up getting what he wanted because the American dream took over who he truly was.

The American dream is a powerful dream that was significant in the novel The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. It was evident that this dream only truly caused corruption and destruction. The desire for something sometimes causes people to be someone they are not and this usually does not result in a positive outcome. The American Dream is defined as someone starting low on the economic or social level, and working hard towards prosperity and or wealth and fame. Most characters in the novel The Great Gatsby all wanted money, wealth and happiness and would do anything in their power to get this. The Great Gatsby is a novel that shows what happened to the American Dream in the 1920’s, which is a time period when the dreams became corrupted. The American dream not only causes corruption but has caused destruction. Myrtle, Gatsby and Daisy have all been corrupted and destroyed by the dream and it was clear to be true. Money cannot buy you happiness which is something that the three characters in the novel The Great Gatsby truly did not realize.