(1) Themes of The Great Gatsby
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
(1) Theme of The American Dream as represented in the novel
In the organisation of your answer, you should bear in mind the following outline suggested by our dear doctor:
- The Definition of the American Dream.
- Criticism of the American Dream
- Is the American Dream Corrupted: (1) Importance of Work, (2) High Moral Sense, (3) Egalitarianism [equality], (4)Class [East and West egg and the Valley of Ashes and what they represent], (5) Racism [Tom’s Racism].
Perseverance and Hope
- The Pursuit of Happiness [what is the true meaning of happiness according to American Dreamers? (Clothing/Housing/Cars)
- Death and disillusionment (Gatsby’s death represents the death of the American Dream)
THEME OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
The American Dream is the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. The American Dream is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.
From the writer’s point of view, American Dream is just an illusion and something that does not really exists.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is properly considered one of the seminal [important] works of literature exposing the “American dream” as crass materialism. The key figure is Jay Gatsby. Gatsby has devoted his life to two things: the accumulation of wealth, synonymous in his eyes with the “American dream,” and the accumulation of Daisy Buchanan, who exists in Fitzgerald’s novel as a metaphor for the spiritual emptiness that too often sat at the center of the materialism the author condemns. Taking place during a period of exaggerated domestic euphoria, The Great Gatsby illuminates the fragility and superficiality of the dream to which so many, embodied in the person of Gatsby himself, aspired. If this be the dream, Fitzgerald appears to be saying, then be careful what you ask for in life.
While the figure of Jay Gatsby represents the misguided obsession with materialism, it is Tom and Daisy Buchanan who represent the moral emptiness of it. Early in The Great Gatsby, in Chapter One, Fitzgerald describes the Buchanans as a couple of considerable wealth, yet whose relationship and whose lives are devoid of meaning:
His criminal undertakings and associations, so important to his ability to accumulate wealth, have tainted him and condemned him to a side of that wall that he will never be able to overcome. The unethical and occasionally criminal practices that fuelled the accumulation of wealth represented in East Egg has long since been glossed-over with a thin veneer of respectability.
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.
As The Great Gatsby progresses, and as the cold, distant Daisy, the living, breathing symbol of the spiritual emptiness at the heart of the “American dream” is forced to consider the implications of having killed Myrtle Wilson, it is the morally-redeemable symbol of “new money” who comes to her aid in an act that serves also to open Gatsby’s eyes to the realities of the dream he had so-anxiously pursued. Late in Chapter Eight, Nick describes the crumbling world of Jay Gatsby, as the dream personified by Daisy Buchanan precipitates his fall:
“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream... A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”
As The Great Gatsby comes to end, Nick further reflects back on the tragic figure of Jay Gatsby -- whose mansion is located in the West Egg section of Long Island, the section reserved for the inferior “new money” types -- gazes across the bay in the direction of East Egg, site of “old money” types like the Buchanans. In one of the novel’s most important and telling passages, Nick describes watching Gatsby stare longingly at the images of East Egg from his own well-manicured lawn across the water:
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”
Yet, there is still hope that the American Dream may come to life again as it is represented in the green light and also the boat beating against the current:
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
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.
Therefore, the death of Jay Gatsby, the symbol of the death the American Dream in the novel, represents the death of the American Dream itself.
The American Dream is also corrupted by Racism which emerges often from time to time, it may take time but eventually it is there. We notice that in the character of Tom Buchanan when he said:
“Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white."
"’Civilization’s going to pieces,’ broke out Tom violently. ‘I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?’"
"The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved."
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s critique of “the American dream,” as defined during the period described in his novel, is one of a bleak, emotionless existence. The Great Gatsby was written prior to the tumultuous events yet to come – mainly, the stock market crash and onset of the depression – but Fitzgerald’s story can be seen as having been prescient regarding the moral and practical implications of the crass materialism that defined the “American dream.”
Theme of Class as represented in the novel
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, established 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. 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.
"I told that boy about the ice." Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. "These people! You have to keep after them all the time..She looked at me and laughed pointlessly...”
Myrtle thinks that acting like a snob makes her sound fancy.
"About Gatsby! No, I haven't. I said I'd been making a small investigation of his past."
"And you found he was an Oxford man," said Jordan helpfully.
"An Oxford man!" He was incredulous. "Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit."
The point here is that education isn't just about reading the classics; it's also about learning to act (and dress) like a member of your class. And you can't learn that from a book.
They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
Daisy and Tom may have been born with money, but they're not "worth" anything. But Gatsby—despite his ill-gotten money—is.
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.
(3) Theme of 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 that 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.
(2) Analysis of Major Characters of The Great Gatsby
(ADD YOUR OWN QUOTATIONS)
(At least 5 quotations for each character)
1. Jay Gatsby
The title character of The Great Gatsby is a young man, around thirty years old, who rose from an impoverished childhood in rural North Dakota to become fabulously wealthy. However, he achieved this lofty goal by participating in organized crime, including distributing illegal alcohol and trading in stolen securities. From his early youth, Gatsby despised poverty and longed for wealth and sophistication—he dropped out of St. Olaf’s College after only two weeks because he could not bear the janitorial job with which he was paying his tuition.
Though Gatsby has always wanted to be rich, his main motivation in acquiring his fortune was his love for Daisy Buchanan, whom he met as a young military officer in Louisville before leaving to fight in World War I in 1917. Gatsby immediately fell in love with Daisy’s aura of luxury, grace, and charm, and lied to her about his own background in order to convince her that he was good enough for her.
Daisy promised to wait for him when he left for the war, but married Tom Buchanan in 1919, while Gatsby was studying at Oxford after the war in an attempt to gain an education. From that moment on, Gatsby dedicated himself to winning Daisy back, and his acquisition of millions of dollars, his purchase of a gaudy mansion on West Egg, and his lavish weekly parties are all merely means to that end.
Fitzgerald delays the introduction of most of this information until fairly late in the novel. Gatsby’s reputation precedes him—Gatsby himself does not appear in a speaking role until Chapter 3. Fitzgerald initially presents Gatsby as the aloof, enigmatic host of the unbelievably opulent parties thrown every week at his mansion.
He appears surrounded by spectacular luxury, courted by powerful men and beautiful women. He is the subject of a whirlwind of gossip throughout New York and is already a kind of legendary celebrity before he is ever introduced to the reader.
Fitzgerald propels the novel forward through the early chapters by shrouding Gatsby’s background and the source of his wealth in mystery (the reader learns about Gatsby’s childhood in Chapter 6 and receives definitive proof of his criminal dealings in Chapter 7). As a result, the reader’s first, distant impressions of Gatsby strike quite a different note from that of the lovesick, naive young man who emerges during the latter part of the novel.
Fitzgerald uses this technique of delayed character revelation to emphasize the theatrical quality of Gatsby’s approach to life, which is an important part of his personality. Gatsby has literally created his own character, even changing his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby to represent his reinvention of himself.
As his relentless quest for Daisy demonstrates, Gatsby has an extraordinary ability to transform his hopes and dreams into reality; at the beginning of the novel, he appears to the reader just as he desires to appear to the world. This talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of “greatness”: indeed, the title “The Great Gatsby” is reminiscent of billings for such vaudeville magicians as “The Great Houdini” and “The Great Blackstone,” suggesting that the persona of Jay Gatsby is a masterful illusion.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
As the novel progresses and Fitzgerald deconstructs Gatsby’s self-presentation, Gatsby reveals himself to be an innocent, hopeful young man who stakes everything on his dreams, not realizing that his dreams are unworthy of him. Gatsby invests Daisy with an idealistic perfection that she cannot possibly attain in reality and pursues her with a passionate zeal that blinds him to her limitations.
His dream of her disintegrates, revealing the corruption that wealth causes and the unworthiness of the goal, much in the way Fitzgerald sees the American dream crumbling in the 1920s, as America’s powerful optimism, vitality, and individualism become subordinated to the amoral pursuit of wealth.
Gatsby is contrasted most consistently with Nick. Critics point out that the former, passionate and active, and the latter, sober and reflective, seem to represent two sides of Fitzgerald’s personality. Additionally, whereas Tom is a cold-hearted, aristocratic bully, Gatsby is a loyal and good-hearted man. Though his lifestyle and attitude differ greatly from those of George Wilson, Gatsby and Wilson share the fact that they both lose their love interest to Tom.
2. Nick Carraway
Nick Carraway is the narrator of the entire novel, the protagonist of his own plot, and the moral judge of the events that surround him. He is a practical and conservative young man who turns thirty during the course of the story. Raised in a small town in the Midwest, he believes his hometown to be stifling and decides to move to the East Coast to learn the bond business.
He hopes to find a sense of identity and freedom in New York. He rents a small bungalow out from the city on a fashionable island known as West Egg. His next door neighbor is Jay Gatsby, and his distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives across the bay with her husband, Tom, on the more fashionable and wealthy island of East Egg. Nick plays an important role in the main plot of the novel, for he is responsible for reuniting Gatsby and Daisy.
If Gatsby represents one part of Fitzgerald’s personality, the flashy celebrity who pursued and glorified wealth in order to impress the woman he loved, then Nick represents another part: the quiet, reflective Midwesterner adrift in the lurid East.
A young man (he turns thirty during the course of the novel) from Minnesota, Nick travels to New York in 1922 to learn the bond business. He lives in the West Egg district of Long Island, next door to Gatsby. Nick is also Daisy’s cousin, which enables him to observe and assist the resurgent love affair between Daisy and Gatsby. As a result of his relationship to these two characters, Nick is the perfect choice to narrate the novel, which functions as a personal memoir of his experiences with Gatsby in the summer of 1922.
Nick is also well suited to narrating The Great Gatsby because of his temperament. As he tells the reader in Chapter 1, he is tolerant, open-minded, quiet, and a good listener, and, as a result, others tend to talk to him and tell him their secrets. Gatsby, in particular, comes to trust him and treat him as a confidant.
Nick generally assumes a secondary role throughout the novel, preferring to describe and comment on events rather than dominate the action. Often, however, he functions as Fitzgerald’s voice, as in his extended meditation on time and the American dream at the end of Chapter 9.
Insofar as Nick plays a role inside the narrative, he evidences a strongly mixed reaction to life on the East Coast, one that creates a powerful internal conflict that he does not resolve until the end of the book. On the one hand, Nick is attracted to the fast-paced, fun-driven lifestyle of New York. On the other hand, he finds that lifestyle grotesque and damaging. This inner conflict is symbolized throughout the book by Nick’s romantic affair with Jordan Baker. He is attracted to her vivacity and her sophistication just as he is repelled by her dishonesty and her lack of consideration for other people.
Nick states that there is a “quality of distortion” to life in New York, and this lifestyle makes him lose his equilibrium, especially early in the novel, as when he gets drunk at Gatsby’s party in Chapter 2.
After witnessing the unraveling of Gatsby’s dream and presiding over the appalling spectacle of Gatsby’s funeral, Nick realizes that the fast life of revelry on the East Coast is a cover for the terrifying moral emptiness that the valley of ashes symbolizes. Having gained the maturity that this insight demonstrates, he returns to Minnesota in search of a quieter life structured by more traditional moral values.
3. Daisy Buchanan
Partially based on Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, Daisy is a beautiful young woman from Louisville, Kentucky. She is Nick’s cousin and the object of Gatsby’s love. As a young debutante in Louisville, Daisy was extremely popular among the military officers stationed near her home, including Jay Gatsby. Gatsby lied about his background to Daisy, claiming to be from a wealthy family in order to convince her that he was worthy of her.
Eventually, Gatsby won Daisy’s heart, and they made love before Gatsby left to fight in the war. Daisy promised to wait for Gatsby, but in 1919 she chose instead to marry Tom Buchanan, a young man from a solid, aristocratic family who could promise her a wealthy lifestyle and who had the support of her parents.
After 1919, Gatsby dedicated himself to winning Daisy back, making her the single goal of all of his dreams and the main motivation behind his acquisition of immense wealth through criminal activity.
To Gatsby, Daisy represents the paragon of perfection—she has the aura of charm, wealth, sophistication, grace, and aristocracy that he longed for as a child in North Dakota and that first attracted him to her. In reality, however, Daisy falls far short of Gatsby’s ideals.
She is beautiful and charming, but also fickle, shallow, bored, and sardonic. Nick characterizes her as a careless person who smashes things up and then retreats behind her money. Daisy proves her real nature when she chooses Tom over Gatsby in Chapter 7, then allows Gatsby to take the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson even though she herself was driving the car. Finally, rather than attend Gatsby’s funeral, Daisy and Tom move away, leaving no forwarding address.
Like Zelda Fitzgerald, Daisy is in love with money, ease, and material luxury. She is capable of affection (she seems genuinely fond of Nick and occasionally seems to love Gatsby sincerely), but not of sustained loyalty or care. She is indifferent even to her own infant daughter, never discussing her and treating her as an afterthought when she is introduced in Chapter 7. In Fitzgerald’s conception of America in the 1920s, Daisy represents the amoral values of the aristocratic East Egg set.
4. Tom Buchanan (DO NOT FORGET TO ADD THE QUOTATIONS)
Tom is Daisy’s wealthy husband whom Nick has known casually at Yale. He is a cruel, hard man and the living personification of the shallowness and carelessness of the very rich. He plays with cars and race horses, has sordid affairs, and treats Daisy shabbily.
During the book, Tom’s mistress is Myrtle Wilson. He keeps an apartment for her in the city and often meets her there. Their encounters are not always pleasant. On the night of the party that Nick attends, Tom grows angry with Myrtle for saying Daisy’s name; as a result, he hits Myrtle, breaking her nose. In addition to his low standards, Tom can obviously be a very violent person.
The violence almost emerges again when he confronts Gatsby about Daisy in the suite at the Plaza Hotel. The men argue, and even though Gatsby forces Daisy to say she has never loved Tom, she soon recants. She does love Tom for his wealth and will always remain with him, for he offers her security and the life style to which she is accustomed.
(3) Symbolism in The Great Gatsby
Your answer in the exam should be organized into paragraphs each paragraph or paragraphs discussing a symbol (definition of the symbol) followed by the quotations from the novel and explain every quotation and how it is related to the symbol as we shall see in this guide.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
1. The Green Light
Situated at the end of Daisy’s East Egg dock and barely visible from Gatsby’s West Egg lawn, 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. Because Gatsby’s quest for Daisy is broadly associated with the American dream, the green light also symbolizes that more generalized ideal. In Chapter 9, Nick compares the green light to how America, rising out of the ocean, must have looked to early settlers of the new nation.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.”
2. The Valley of Ashes
First introduced in Chapter 2, the valley of ashes between West Egg and New York City consists of a long stretch of desolate land created by the dumping of industrial ashes. It represents the moral and social decay that results from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure. The valley of ashes also symbolizes the plight of the poor, like George Wilson, who live among the dirty ashes and lose their vitality as a result.
"This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."
3. The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg
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. Nick explores these ideas in Chapter 8, when he imagines Gatsby’s final thoughts as a depressed consideration of the emptiness of symbols and dreams.
The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg “witness” Myrtle’s affair with Tom, and her death when Daisy runs her over. The billboard’s eyes are linked symbolically with the eyes of a judging God who sees all sinners.
Wilson himself is particularly spooked by this association. After Myrtle’s death (and before his revenge against Gatsby), he darkly hints that while people may think their evil deeds will be hidden and go unnoticed, God is always watching.
"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 non-existent nose"
4.The Owl-Eyed Man
Owls are a symbol of wisdom, but can also be an omen of death.
“It was the man with owl-eyed glasses whom I had found marvelling over Gatsby’s books in the library one night three months before.”
“The rain poured down his thick glasses, and he took them off and wiped them to see the protecting canvas unrolled from Gatsby’s grave.”