F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Literary Analysis
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The essential story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby seems simple enough. Meanwhile, when asked exactly why readers enjoy the novel and what makes it work, they usually realize that it is a very complex book that means much more than it seems at the first glance.
The novel has a perfect unity of effect: every image, character, symbol, and turn of the plot contributes to the theme and to the feeling a reader carries away from reading it. The major themes of the novel include class and status in society, true feelings, loyalty and the American Dream. However, exactly the theme of the loss of morality in America of that time, when the true values were replaced by the false ones, occurs throughout the novel and provokes much thinking. The author shows how poor morality has turned the American Dream, one of the finest fruits of the Western culture, into the dead materialism. Additionally, Gatsby’s life and death show that if the values are false, they will finally destroy individuals no matter how innocently and wholeheartedly they pursue their goal.
In the novel, the fatal obsessions supersede real, high-moral purposes. The whole story is based on Jay Gatsby’s desire to succeed in a world where materialism is worshiped, and win back the heart of the woman he adores. Gatsby devotes five years to this single-minded passion. However, it turns out in reality that his dream is based on the sad illusion that his beloved will reciprocate this commitment. Daisy is attractive and has definite charm but at the same time she is a shallow woman who is too dependent on her husband. When she and Gatsby are reunited for a short period, the impossibility of renewing the intensity of their past relationship becomes self-evident.
The Great Gatsby demonstrates the difficulty of individuals who maintain moral principles to live in a material society which values the acquisition of wealth above everything else. Gatsby’s quest for emotional fulfillment becomes strongly connected with his material ambitions. The poverty in childhood and the meeting with Daisy who was rich are the background of Gatsby’s pursuit for money and status. When she marries Tom Buchanan, Gatsby decides to join Meyer Wolfsheim’s corrupt activity, believing that the result justifies the means. Some premonition of the elusive character of his dream visits him when he returns to Louisville:
He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever. (Fitzgerald, 1995, p.146).
The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway, and all the events are presented to the reader through his own experience. The moral issues of the story are highlighted exactly through Nick Carraway’s critical eyes. Nick’s disillusionment in the East is profound, and only Gatsby receives his deep sympathy. Nick is fond of Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope and the romantic readiness” which make him different from everyone else (Fitzgerald, 1995, p.9). Actually, the paradox of Gatsby’s character is another evidence of the novel’s complexity. It is interesting that while he has become the part of the society where the corrupting power of wealth is the key value, he maintains a purity of heart and purpose which transcends that corruption.
The image of the land contributes much to the general atmosphere of carelessness. Its pessimistic vision seems to encapsulate the notion that humanity had lost the right direction, and consumerism became an inadequate substitute for the old moral principles. Fitzgerald manages to explore the tensions and contradictions of the period. The glamour and exhilaration of the 1920s serve as a cover for the despair and distortion which lie beneath it. When Daisy Buchanan cries, “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon... and the day after that, and the next thirty years?” it marks the carelessness and spiritual impoverishment of the lost generation (Fitzgerald, 1995, p. 114).
Actually, the characters of the novel are masterfully created, and, step by step, the reader sees, or even feels, the strange mixture of cynicism and outraged idealism, despair and hysterical vitality that form the spirit of the story. Fitzgerald shows how the search of richness leads to the loss of morality in all spheres of human life. By the end of the novel, the reader can see the change of Nick’s attitude towards the East, now it is “haunted ...distorted beyond (his) eyes’ power of correction” (Fitzgerald, 1995, p. 168).
The characters of the novel can be perceived as registers of the moral spirit of the age. Nick states that Gatsby’s dream represents a vital touchstone, a spiritual initiative, which is not understood by the secular age. He adds that they are “boats against the current” (Fitzgerald, 1995, p. 173). Nick’s qualities do not match well the society he lives in. He is honest, is able to critically judge about others, often cynical but kind-hearted and intelligent. His highly developed morality contradicts the other characters of the novel. The girl who Nick likes at the beginning, Jordan Baker, shows her real face of a self-absorbed person by her reaction to Myrtle Wilson’s death.
Tom Buchanan represents a caricature of the American Dream: he is rich, handsome, and is married to a beautiful woman. But he is also narrow-minded, brutal, and bored. Daisy Buchanan is worshiped by Gatsby. She is beautiful, but fraudulent: all her views and actions are only the performance according to the fashion. She ignores Gatsby’s death and funeral. Even Gatsby, who Nick likes so much, falls the victim of the time and by the end of the novel represents everything Nick disapproves of. He is a criminal, a liar, and he is ignorant. In general, the visions of all these characters, except Nick, embody the loss of morality in America and a corrupted form of the American Dream.
The Great Gatsby demonstrates the tragedy of the society without genuine spiritual values. The novel can serve as a warning for those who are oriented in life only by a crude pursuit of wealth and the superficial glamor that wealth give, forgetting about real achievements and dignity.