Books and Movies Reviews

Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay

he chooses to leave the East and return to the Midwest. By that choice he seems

to be saying to us that he has tried the East and found it missing something he

needs: a basic set of values. So he goes home, where values still exist. Think

about the two worlds–the Midwest and the East and what they represented for

Nick (and by extension, Fitzgerald) and what they might represent for you.

The title of this novel is The Great Gatsby. If you like paradoxes, start

with this one: he is neither great nor Gatsby (his real name was Gatz). He is a

crook, a bootlegger who has involved himself with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who

fixed the 1919 World Series. He has committed crimes in order to buy the house

he feels he needs to win the woman he loves, who happens to be another man’s

wife. Thus a central question for us as readers is, why should we love such a

man? Or, to put it in other word, what makes Gatsby great? Why, despite all

these things, does Fitzgerald invite us to cry out with Nick, “’They’re a

rotten crowd’… ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’”? We are

asked to love Gatsby, even admire him to a point, because of his dream. That

dream is what separates Gatsby from what Nick calls the “foul dust [that]

floated in the wake of his dreams…” It is not merely what is known as the

American Dream of Success–the belief that every man can rise to success no

matter what his beginnings. It is a kind of romantic idealism, “some

heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” Nick calls it. It is a

belief in fairytales and princesses and happy endings, a faith that life can be

special, remarkable, beautiful. Gatsby is not interested in power for its own

sake or in money or prestige. What he wants is his dream, and that dream is

embodied in Daisy. He must have her, and, as the novel’s epigraph on the title

page suggests, he will do anything that is required in order to win her. But

dreams don’t always show on the outside. The Great Gatsby is a kind of mystery

story with Gatsby as the mystery. Who is he? All the way through the novel

people keep asking that question and answering it falsely. They answer it

falsely because they aren’t really interested in who Gatsby is. They have heard

things about him–that he killed a man, that he was a German spy in World War

I–and they pass these bits of gossip on to other people. So the myth of

Gatsby–the collection of false stories about him–hides the Gatsby that we come

gradually to know through the efforts of Nick Carraway. Nick genuinely cares who

Gatsby is, and in Chapters IV, VI, VIII, and IX he presents us with the story of

Gatsby’s past as he has learned it from Jordan Baker, from Gatsby himself, and

eventually, from Gatsby’s father. No one else but Nick knows or understands

Gatsby’s background except maybe his father and Owl Eyes–and they,

significantly, are the only ones present at his funeral. Fitzgerald invites us

to share Nick’s understanding of Gatsby as we read the novel. He makes us see

behind the surface of the man who at first glance looks like a young roughneck.

And he forces us to ask, as we finish the book, what this dream is that Gatsby

has dedicated himself to. Is it a worthwhile dream? Is it our dream, too? Can we

love Gatsby and be critical of his dream at the same time? Fitzgerald makes us

ask these questions and then lets us find our own answers.

Tom Buchanan, Nick tells us, “had been one of the most powerful ends

that ever played football at New Haven–a national figure in a way, one of those

men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything

afterward savors of anticlimax.” He is also very wealthy, having brought a

string of polo ponies from Lake Forest to Long Island. This double power–the

size of his body and his bankroll–colors our feelings about Tom Buchanan.

Because he is both very strong and very rich, Tom is used to having his own way.

Nick describes him as having “a rather hard mouth” and “two

shining arrogant eyes.” When we first meet him in Chapter I, he reveals his

crude belief in his own superiority by telling Nick that he has just read a book

called The Rise of the Colored Empires. The book warns that if white people are

not careful, the black races will rise up and overwhelm them. Tom clearly

believes it. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of George

Wilson, who runs a garage in the valley of ashes. Myrtle seems to have a dark

sexual vitality that attracts Tom, and he keeps an apartment for her in New

York, where he takes Nick in Chapter II. Here he again shows how little he

thinks of anyone beside himself when he casually breaks Myrtle’s nose with the

back of his hand, because she is shouting “Daisy! Daisy!” in a vulgar

fashion. Between Chapters II and VII we see little of Tom, but in Chapter VII he

emerges as a central figure. It is Tom who pushes the affair between Gatsby and

Daisy out into the open by asking Gatsby point blank, “’What kind of a row

are you trying to cause in my house anyway?” It is Tom who verbally

outduels Gatsby to win his wife back and deflate his rival’s dream. And it is

Tom who, after the death of Myrtle Wilson, tells George Wilson that Gatsby was

the killer and then hustles Daisy out of the area until the affair blows over.

Fitzgerald describes Tom and Daisy as careless people who break things and then

retreat into their wealth and let other people clean up their messes. It’s a

particularly apt metaphor for Tom, who cannot understand why Nick should have

any ill feelings about Gatsby’s death. After all, Tom was only protecting his

wife. Nick shakes hands with Tom in the final chapter because “…I saw

that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified.” Yet Tom’s behavior

was not justifiable, and when Nick refers to the “foul dust” that

floated in the wake of Gatsby’s dream, he seems to be speaking of Tom Buchanan

more than anyone else. It is Tom as much as anyone who sends Nick back to the

Midwest, where there are still values one can believe in.

She was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, and her color is white. When

Jordan Baker, in Chapter IV, tells Nick about the first meeting between Gatsby

and Daisy in October 1917, she says of Daisy, “She dressed in white, and

had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house

and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of

monopolizing her that night.” Throughout The Great Gatsby Daisy is

described almost in fairytale language. The name Fay means “fairy” or

“sprite.” “Daisy,” of course, suggests the flower, fresh and

bright as spring, yet fragile and without the strength to resist the heat and

dryness of summer. Daisy is the princess in the tower, the golden girl that

every man dreams of possessing. She is beautiful and rich and innocent and pure

(at least on the surface) in her whiteness. But that whiteness, as you will

notice, is mixed with the yellow of gold and the inevitable corruption that

money brings. Though Daisy seems pure and white, she is a mixture of things,

just like the flower for which she was named (see Schneider in

“Critics”). Fitzgerald suggests the nature of this mixture beautifully

in the famous passage from Chapter VII about her voice: “She’s got an

indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of-” I hesitated.

“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly. That was it. I’d never

understood it before. It was full of money–that was the inexhaustible charm

that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it…. High in

a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl…. Like money, Daisy

promises more than she gives. Her voice seems to offer everything, but she’s

born to disappoint. She is the sort of person who is better to dream about than

to actually possess. Fitzgerald–with that double vision we discussed in The

Author and His Times section of this guide–knew very well both the attractions

and the limitations of women like Daisy, who is modeled in many ways upon his

wife Zelda. Gatsby worships Daisy, and Nick distrusts her–just as Scott both

worshipped and distrusted Zelda. Gatsby loves Daisy too much to see what is

wrong with her. Nick stands back and sees the way Daisy lets other people take

care of her in crises. If you want to study the nature of Daisy’s weakness, look

especially at her behavior on the night before her wedding and on the night of

Myrtle Wilson’s death. Daisy, unlike Tom, uses her money rather than her body or

her personality to bully others. She uses her money to protect her from reality,

and when reality threatens to hurt her, she cries and goes inside the protective

womb her money has made. Be careful not to identify Daisy with the green light

at the end of her dock. The green light is the promise, the dream. Daisy herself

is much less than that. Even Gatsby must realize that having Daisy in the flesh

is much, much less than what he imagined it would be when he fell in love with

the idea of her.

Jordan Baker’s most striking quality is her dishonesty. She is tough and

aggressive–a tournament golfer who is so hardened by competition that she is

willing to do anything to win. At the end of Chapter IV, when Nick is telling us

about Jordan, he remembers a story about her first major tournament. Apparently

she moved her ball to improve her lie (!), but when the matter was being

investigated, the caddy and the only other witness to the incident retracted

their stories and nothing was proved against her. The incident should stay with

you throughout the novel, reminding you (as it reminds Nick) that Jordan is the

smart new woman, the opportunist who will do whatever she must to be successful

in her world. In many ways Jordan Baker symbolizes a new type of woman that was

emerging in the Twenties. She is hard and self-sufficient, and she adopts

whatever morals suit her situation. She has cut herself off from the older

generation. She wears the kind of clothes that suit her; she smokes, she drinks,

and has sex because she enjoys them. You may wish to explore Jordan as the new

woman of the Twenties by looking at the manners and character traits she

reveals. Note such things as her name (a masculine name), her body (hard,

athletic, boyish, small-breasted), her style (blunt, cynical, bored), and her

social background (she is cut off from past generations by having almost no

family). Another important aspect of Jordan is her function in the novel.

Fitzgerald needs her to get the story told. Because she is Daisy’s friend from

Louisville, she can supply Nick with information he would not have otherwise.

She also serves as a link between the major characters, moving back and forth

between the world of East Egg (Tom and Daisy’s house) and West Egg (Gatsby’s and

Nick’s houses). She is rich enough to be comfortable among the East Eggers but

enough of a social hustler to appear at Gatsby’s parties. Jordan serves still

another purpose: Nick’s girlfriend during the summer of 1922. The Nick-Jordan

romance serves as a nice sub-plot to the Gatsby-Jordan relationship, and allows

you to compare and contrast a romantic-idealistic love with a very practical

relationship made on a temporary basis by two worldly people of the time. If you

want to explore the Nick-Jordan relationship and the possible reasons why Nick

becomes involved with her and then breaks the relationship off, you’ll need to

look particularly at three passages: Nick’s comments toward the end of Chapter

III; the phone call between Nick and Jordan in Chapter VIII; and their final

conversation in Chapter IX. We’ll take a close look at these passages later

on.

The setting in The Great Gatsby is very important because in Fitzgerald’s

world setting reveals character. Fitzgerald divides the world of the novel into

four major settings: 1. East Egg; 2. West Egg; 3. the valley of ashes; and 4.

New York City. Within these major settings are two or more subsettings. East Egg

is limited to Daisy’s house, but West Egg incorporates both Gatsby’s house and

Nick’s. The valley of ashes includes the Wilson’s garage, Michaelis’ restaurant,

and the famous sign with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. New York City includes

the offices where people work, the apartment Tom Buchanan has rented for Myrtle

Wilson, and the Plaza Hotel, where the final showdown between Gatsby and Tom

Buchanan takes place. Each of these settings both reflects and determines the

values of the people who live or work there. East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live,

is the home of the Ivy League set who have had wealth for a long time and are

comfortable with it. Since they are secure with their money, they have no need

to show it off. Nick lives in new-rich West Egg because he is too poor to afford

a home in East Egg; Gatsby lives there because his money is “new” and

he lacks the social credentials to be accepted in East Egg. His house, like the

rest of his possessions (his pink suit, for example), is tasteless and vulgar

and would be completely out of place in the more refined and understated world

of East Egg. No wonder that Gatsby is ruined in the end by the East, and that

Nick decides to leave. The valley of ashes in contrast to both eggs is where the

poor people live–those who are the victims of the rich. It is characterized

literally by dust, for it is here that the city’s ashes are dumped (in what is

now Flushing, Queens), and the inhabitants are, as it were, symbolically dumped

on by the rest of the world. The valley of ashes, with its brooding eyes of Dr.

T. J. Eckleburg, also stands as a symbol of the spiritual dryness, the emptiness

of the world of the novel. New York City is a symbol of what America has become

in the 1920s: a place where anything goes, where money is made and bootleggers

flourish, and where the World Series can be fixed by a man like Meyer Wolfsheim.

New York is a place of parties and affairs, and bizarre and colorful characters

who appear from time to time in West Egg at Gatsby’s parties. The idea of

setting as moral geography is reinforced by the overriding symbolism of the

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