A tragic hero can best be defined as a person of significance, who has a tragic flaw and who meets his or her fate with courage and nobility of spirit. In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero.
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Jay Gatsby is an enormously rich man, and in the flashy years of the jazz age, wealth defined importance. Gatsby has endless wealth, power and influence but never uses material objects selfishly. Everything he owns exists only to attain his vision. Nick feels “inclined to reserve all judgements” (p.1), but despite his disapproval of Gatsby’s vulgarity, Nick respects him for the strength and unselfishness of his idealism. Gatsby is a romantic dreamer who wishes to fulfill his ideal by gaining wealth in hopes of impressing and eventually winning the heart of the materialistic, superficial Daisy. She is, however, completely undeserving of his worship.
“Then it had been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor” (p.79). Nick realizes Gatsby’s estate, parties, shirts and other seemingly “purposeless” possessions are not purposeless. Everything Gatsby does, every move he makes and every decision he conceives is for a reason. He wants to achieve his ideal, Daisy. Gatsby’s “purposeless splendor” is all for the woman he loves and wishes to represent his ideal. Furthermore, Gatsby believes he can win his woman with riches, and that his woman can achieve the ideal she stands for through material influence. Gatsby believes in The Great American Dream, for that is where the basis for his ideal originated. Later, the concept developes into an obsession with money and more so, Daisy.
Gatsby’s tragic flaw lies within his inability to see that the real and the ideal cannot coexist. Gatsby’s ideal is Daisy. He sees her as perfect and worthy of all his affections and praise. In reality she is undeserving and through her actions, proves she is pathetic rather than honorable. When Daisy says “Sophisticated-God I’m sophisticated” (p.18), she contradicts who she really is. The reader sees irony here, knowing she is far from sophisticated, but superficial, selfish and pathetic. Gatsby’s vision is based on his belief that the past can be repeated, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (p.111). The disregard for reality is how Gatsby formulates his dream (with high expectations), and the belief that sufficient wealth can allow one to control his or her own fate. Gatsby believes youth and beauty can be recaptured if he cn only make enough money. To become worthy of Daisy, Gatsby accumulates his wealth, so he can rewrite the past and Daisy will be his. He establishes an immense fortune to impress the great love of his life, Daisy; who can only be won with evidence of material success.
Over the five years in which Gatsby formulates this ideal, he envisions Daisy so perfect that he places her on a pedestal. As he attempts to make his ideal a reality things do not run as smoothly as he plans. Daisy can never live up to Gatsby’s ideal, though Gatsby is unable to see this. Gatsby’s downfall is choosing Daisy to represent his great vision. She is unworthy.
Gatsby dies with faith, awaiting the improbable phone call from Daisy. He keeps faith to the end, in his ideal and Daisy. Gatsby’s dream falls apart in front of him, yet he still holds faith in his Daisy. By the end of the novel, Gatsby earns Nick’s respect and Nick passes judgement “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (p.154). Since Nick is the only level-headed character in the entire novel, this statement expresses truth. There is honor in Gatsby’s dream, and that is the unselfishness of its nature. Everything Gatsby does to aquire his vision, he does for Daisy; for nothing or nobody else. Gatsby never lost faith in his vision, it was totally pure and he pursues it with such great intensity that by the end of the book he is recognized as an admirable character. At the end of the novel, Nick “became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes-afresh, green breast of the new world” (p.182). He is describing the New World as Dutch sailors from the Old World would have seen it. This is where the American Dream is started. The Dutch sailors arrive at the New World with infinite hope. Gatsby looked upon his dream with infinite hope. Gatsby stretched his arms to touch the green light that is the symbol of his vision. Green is the color of promise, hope and renewal. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is made parallel to the “green breast of the new world” (p.182). Gatsby’s vision corresponds to that of the explorers who discover the promise of the New World.
Gatsby is a man of extreme capabilities but he fails to see the inevitability of his vision’s failure, and in his inability to see this, he keeps trying to attain it. He does everything in his power to accomplish this vision, until his death. Daisy indirectly causes Gatsby’s death, making her more than ever, unworthy of Gatsby’s affections. Ironically, Gatsby lived for Daisy and and up to his death, believed and had faith in her and his vision.