The Great Gatsby: Analysis, Themes and Characters

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Overview of the novel The Great Gatsby

“The Great Gatsby” is one of America’s most popular novels from the Jazz Age, which was the peak of American culture from 1920 to 1929. Parties, bootleg cocktails, and jazz music all characterised a time when Americans were slowly recovering from the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic.

The Great Gatsby’s deft portrayal of Jazz Age ‘values’ as neither an outright defence of them nor a categorical support for them is one reason why the book continues to compel in-depth research. Fitzgerald and his sympathetic narrator, Nick Carraway, do not mock Gatsby’s behaviour as completely shallow or vacuous, even though his parties may be just a cover for him to cope with Daisy’s prior rejection of him and try to win her back.

Importance of using first-person narrator

Fitzgerald’s use of a first-person narrator as opposed to a more detached and impersonal ‘omniscient’ third-person narrator is also crucial. Nick Carraway is closer to Jay Gatsby than an impersonal narrator would be, yet the fact that Nick narrates Gatsby’s story rather than Gatsby himself, gives Nick a degree of detachment, as well as naivety and ignorance regarding Gatsby’s identity and past. Nick Carraway is both a member of Gatsby’s world and an observer from the sidelines. He is not as wealthy and lavish as the other members of Gatsby’s circle, but he is introduced into that world by an excited Jay Gatsby, who sees in Carraway a confidant.

Fitzgerald skillfully contrasts the world of West Egg, with Gatsby’s faux-chateau and swimming pool, with the grittier and grimmer reality of the majority of Americans at the time. If Gatsby himself represents the American dream – he has risen from poverty to become insanely wealthy with a large mansion and a large staff of servants – then The Great Gatsby is filled with reminders that the American dream remains just a dream, for the majority of Americans:

For the majority of Americans, the world is a grey, dismal, industrial reality; they do not live in a world of parties, gardens filled with cocktails and foreign delicacies, hydroplanes, and fancy automobiles.

The American dream is built on ashes

Wilson’s garage is situated in the Valley of Ashes however, the two worlds are destined to collide personally. The merging of these two worlds is symbolised by the dual tragedy of Gatsby and Wilson’s deaths at the book’s conclusion. The fact that Gatsby is innocent of the two crimes that drive Wilson—his wife’s extramarital affair with Tom and Daisy’s murder of Myrtle with Gatsby’s car—nearly makes no difference because it demonstrates how these people’s lives are subtly interconnected despite their socioeconomic differences.

Gatsby’s lifestyle has more than a hint of vulgarity: his home is a shoddy replica of a real French chateau, but he is not an aristocrat; his car is “ridiculous”; and his very moniker, “the Great Gatsby,” makes him sound like a circus performer. Finally, Gatsby’s opulent lifestyle also fails to bring him happiness because he is unable to get Daisy back. Fitzgerald is therefore not naively celebrating Gatsby’s supposed success in front of us.

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For all of its quasi-magical powers, The Great Gatsby sums up the Jazz Age, yet Fitzgerald reveals that America’s dream is constructed on ashes—industrial filth and toil, and ashes of dead love affairs that Gatsby, for all of his quasi-magical properties, would never bring back to life.

Themes in The Great Gatsby

1) Wealth

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters face a lot of conflict about money. He makes a distinction between the aristocracy, which includes people like Daisy and Tom who have ancient money, and the new money holders, such as Gatsby. They see each other in various ways because of their varied backgrounds and experiences. Wealth of any kind corrupts equally, though. The more money they have, the less considerate they are of others.

When Daisy and Tom leave to a new house at the end of the novel rather than attend Gatsby’s funeral or cope with the consequences, Fitzgerald presents a perfect example of this. These people do not care about other people; instead, they utilise money to keep them at a distance and obtain whatever they desire in life.

2) The American Dream

Gatsby’s worldview and Nick’s predictions for the future are heavily influenced by this subject. In the United States, everyone who works hard may succeed, according to a set of beliefs. Gatsby went from poverty to multi-millionaire in a short period of time. It was only when it came to what he truly desired in life that he failed miserably. After all this time, he was convinced that Daisy would fall in love with him once he had enough money to do so. The pursuit of Daisy led to his death, but he could not get back together with her.

3) Love and relationships

In The Great Gatsby, love and relationships are depicted in several ways, and none of them is perfect. As for love relationships, there are a number: Gatsby has an eternal devotion to Daisy; George has a deep affection for his wife, Myrtle; Tom and Daisy have a close bond; Nick has a close bond with Jordan. Gatsby’s desire to win Daisy back is based on an unrealistic picture of her that never comes to fruition in the real world.

Gatsby is more obsessed with the idea of Daisy than he is with Daisy herself. Regarding his wife, Tom shows same thoughtfulness. He sees her as a commodity and a sign of his position, and he wants to maintain her that way. Even still, he does not feel the same way towards her. He cheats on her on a regular basis and does not try to cover it up. Jordan, with whom Nick had a brief romance, was emotionally cold to him.

Read more: The Great Gatsby Novel: Overview And Summary

Symbols in The Great Gatsby

1) The green light

In The Great Gatsby, the green light is possibly the most significant symbol. When Nick first sees Gatsby, he is staring at it from the end of Daisy’s dock. It symbolises Gatsby’s aspirations for his own life, as well as the role Daisy plays in that process. The finale of the novel indicates that the light is leading him into the darkness.

2) Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes

In the narrative, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes serve as a powerful metaphor. On a billboard above the Valley of Ashes, they appear as two eyes. They become God’s eyes in Fitzgerald’s depiction of them (see the above sentence). They do nothing to stop the horrific events that are taking place below them. They are still there, but they are not moving.

The great Gatsby
Characters in The Great Gatsby

Characters in The Great Gatsby

1) Nick Carraway 

Nick Carraway, a native of Minnesota who attended Yale and served in the military during World War One, now lives in West Egg, Long Island. He is the book’s narrator and describes himself as upstanding, honest, and able to see the best in people. He is Jay Gatsby’s neighbour and Daisy Buchanan’s cousin.

He devotes the most of the book on assisting Gatsby in reuniting with Daisy. Despite his affluence, he is the only character in the novel to sincerely care about and mourn for Gatsby following his death. Carraway’s refusal to completely indulge in worldly pleasures serves as a type of premonition for the impending economic collapse of the roaring twenties, as shown in the novel.

2) Jay Gatsby

Gatsby, the book’s main character, is a new-money Midwesterner who moved to the East Coast and has just one simple wish: to reconcile with Daisy Buchanan, a love he lost five years prior. While undergoing military training in Louisville, Kentucky, prior to World War One, he fell in love with Daisy and ultimately lost her. He resides in a massive mansion on West Egg, immediately across the lake from the East Egg home of the Buchanans.

Self-made and involved in the bootlegging industry, Gatsby hosts infamously extravagant parties in his mansion in an effort to win Daisy back. He ultimately loses his life after getting caught in the crossfire of yet another instance of romantic treachery and deceit since his financial wealth is not enough to entice his love to him. Because of his extravagant spending and careless behaviour, Jay Gatsby serves as a metaphor for the roaring twenties’ demise and the subsequent economic catastrophe.

3) Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan, a socialite who is attractive, vivacious, and aristocratic, has caught Jay Gatsby’s attention. Her loveless marriage to Tom Buchanan does give her the comfortable life she is used to due to her aristocratic background in Louisville. Daisy is not merely a shallow money-grabber, though; she has a sensitive spirit that greed has eventually tainted.

In this sense, Daisy ultimately decides to put her love for Gatsby below the safety and security of Tom’s aristocratic social status. Fitzgerald uses Daisy as a metaphor for the old-fashioned traps of social class and aristocratic wealth as well as the way that the 1920s American dream of materialism ensnared and debased its citizens.

4) Tom Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is married to the obnoxious and wealthy Tom Buchanan. He makes no effort to hide his relationship with Myrtle Wilson, the most recent in a long line of women from Daisy; instead, he relishes the attention that his loud and occasionally bigoted behaviour garners. He lives a luxurious life in East Egg, playing polo, driving sports cars, and riding horses.

Even though Tom is far coarser and more disagreeable on the outside than Jay Gatsby, his previous affluence allows him to conceal himself behind an air of respectability that finally shields him when Myrtle is killed and he assigns Gatsby the blame. Tom serves as a vehicle for Fitzgerald to attack the influence that the wealthy upper classes held in early 20th-century America and to show how deceptive gentlemanly behaviour can be.

5) Myrtle Wilson

George and Myrtle Wilson are a married couple who reside in the Valley of Ashes, a barren wasteland between the suburbs and the city. Myrtle starts an affair with Tom and as a result learns about the privileged society that she had previously been excluded from. Her personality has changed noticeably; she now demonstrates the control and strength that she lacked in the working-class community of Valley of the Ashes.

She ultimately pays the “price” of socialising with the upper class when Daisy, who is driving Gatsby’s automobile, kills her. George, Myrtle’s husband, shoots and kills Gatsby, but Daisy escapes punishment for her actions. In addition, George kills himself after killing Gatsby, so the married pair dies as a result of their dealings with the wealthy individuals. Thus, Fitzgerald utilises Myrtle’s persona to symbolise how the upper classes in 1920s America exploited and ultimately rejected the working classes, frequently with little to no repercussions.

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