F. Scott Fitzgerald s most famous work of literature is unarguably his great American novel, The Great Gatsby. This is plainly evidenced by its frequent and familiar appearance in the American classroom. The protagonist of the novel is the character
mentioned in the title, Jay Gatsby. Though Gatsby s mysterious life is the focus of the novel, the reader always has a vague conception of the details that surround Gatsby s life and history. This causes Gatsby s character to seem that much more mysterious. Other characters in the novel, major or minor, are described by Fitzgerald much more deliberately and with much greater precision. Though other characters play roles subordinate to Gatsby s the details that surround their lives as they relate to the story are defined and clear, at least more defined and clear than with Gatsby. This obscurity adds to the reader s curiosity about Gatsby s life, to the eccentric wonder that was his personality, and to the bewilderment that succeeded his death.
Gatsby is the rich, majestic, protagonist of the novel. While it isn’t clear how he made all his money it is obvious that it was through illegal dealings in organized crime. There was a reference to the 1919 World Series, (That’s the one where the players on the
Chicago White Sox helped out organized crime by not trying their hardest when it counted. Go Reds!) When asked about his line of work, Gatsby claims to be in the drugstore business. Drugstores were a common means of bootlegging liquor during prohibition since pharmacists could sell whiskey by prescription. Fitzgerald is never quite clear as to just what extent of illegal activity Gatsby was involved in. At some points, he may even seem like a legitimate business man.
It is clear that the driving motivation for getting all this cash is so that it will appeal to Daisy. Daisy was the rich girl that he fell in love with before he joined the service. But just what it was that made him fall so head over heels for her isn t so clear. Why would someone with the ambition of Gatsby devote five years of his life in pursuit of a woman as superficial as Daisy? Unfortunately he just didn’t have enough money to keep her while he was overseas. When Gatsby got back from the war, she was married to someone else but
that didn’t dissuade him in the least. Gatsby’s whole efforts in this book are focused on trying to bring him and Daisy back to the point of time before he joined the army except this time he has enough money for her. Gatsby says it himself on [page 111], Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! The description of Gatsby s visual appearance doesn t come until well after he has been introduced into the story. This serves to allow the reader to form their own image of him, which can be of a slightly older man than Gatsby proves to be later in the story. Information about his past history is important to the story, yet given sporadically by the narrator and often when it could have been useful sooner in the book. This presents Gatsby early in the story as a mystery and sparks the readers curiosity about him. All details about Gatsby, however sketchy, are given through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a character whose opinion of Gatsby changes as the story progresses and therefore the reader s impression of him is confused even more.
Nick Carraway is the narrator of this story. As you can see on the first page Nick holds himself in higher esteem than the other characters in the novel. Even though Nick is the narrator he should not be completely trusted. On the first page he boasts about how he
doesn’t judge people yet throughout the story he does just that. The only person who he envies though is Gatsby. On page 2, Nick says about Gatsby, He has an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it
is not likely I shall ever find again. Also, for someone with such high moral values he doesn’t handle commitment very well. That’s probably a main reason why he left the Mid West and it’s part of why he ended up going back. Nick left the Mid West to be a stock broker in New York but didn’t get rich, yet everywhere he looks, these amoral people are rolling in the wealth. Nick resents that. He even resents it in Gatsby up until he realizes that Gatsby was moral after all. Gatsby efforts to buy Daisy s love are forgiven by Nick once Nick understands that Daisy was in fact for sale. Nick is always very frank about the details of his own life believes that his honesty about himself is evidence of his high moral fiber.
Daisy is the woman Gatsby is trying to win back and coincidentally she is also Nick’s second cousin. Daisy doesn’t have a strong will and she cracks under pressure as is shown late in the book in the hotel scene. There she is forced to choose between her husband
and her old lover that reentered into her life (Gatsby). Her selfish desire for both men and their opulence toward her prevent her from choosing. She is the original material girl and focuses on the outward instead of the inward. Tom bought her love with a three hundred thousand dollar necklace, and now Gatsby is doing it with a huge mansion and a lot of nice shirts. Her manner of being swept away by the volume of shirts owned by Gatsby is clear evidence of her primary character flaw.
Tom Buchannan is the antagonist in this novel. While Gatsby was fighting in World War I Tom was using his wealth to sweep Daisy off her feet. Tom is a yuppie and clearly in the way of Gatsby’s love for Daisy. He is having an affair, which he makes no attempt to keep secret, with Myrtle Wilson while stringing along Myrtle’s husband on a business deal. He treats Myrtle even worse than Daisy because in his eyes Daisy is worth a three hundred thousand dollar pearl necklace while Myrtle is worth a dog leash. With that fact in mind it is reasonable to assume Fitzgerald is telling us that Tom considers Myrtle to be his pet. These and other similar actions make Tom s role and personality definite and unmistakable. Tom is just the bad guy in this story and you could not possibly like him, especially if you
Jordan is the woman in this story who connects Gatsby to Nick and consequently Gatsby to Daisy. Jordan is also a friend of Daisy’s while she has a romantic interest going with Nick during the story. She has short hair and plays golf, which back in the twenty’s was uncommon for women. Therefore you can assume she acts like a guy. She is very into
the Roaring Twenty’s party scene and is carelessly going through life. The carelessness comes out when she’s driving with Nick on [page 59]:
Nick: You’re a rotten driver, either you ought to be more careful
or you oughtn’t to drive at all.
Jordan: I am careful.
Nick: No you’re not.
Jordan: Well, other people are.
Nick: What’s that got to do with it
Jordan: They’ll keep out of my way, It takes two to make an
Nick: Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself?
Jordan: I hope I never will, I hate careless people. That’s why
I like you.
This also tags her as a hypocrite when she says “I hate careless people” being a careless person herself. Though her relationship with Nick at first endears her to the reader, her careless, hypocritical and dismissive attitude later change that. Never does Fitzgerald lead
the reader to think of Jordan as anything but a careless a spoiled woman.
Myrtle Wilson is the woman Tom is having an affair with. She let’s Tom push her around and treat her however he wants and she likes it. Tom has all the money and leads the life she wants to be a part of. She always thought she should have done better than her current husband and having an affair with Tom reinforces this belief of hers. Her current husband, George Wilson, is just a poor gas station owner in the Valley of Ashes who had to borrow a tuxedo for his wedding. Myrtle would rather be treated like a dog by someone who has money instead of being cared for by someone who has no money. in this respect, she turns out to be just as material as Daisy. Obviously her husband loves her very much, or he would not have been driven on a mad rampage at the end. But, Myrtle does not appreciate her husband s love for her. All she appreciates is Tom s money. It is strange
that all of Fitgerald s female characters clearly share this intense materialism. Could this somehow relate to an opinion he holds about women?
George Wilson is married to a woman who resents him and is having an affair right under his nose without him knowing it. He runs a gas station which he lives above in the Valley of Ashes which is the dirtiest area of New York. The valley of Ashes has now become Queens if you were wondering where it was. That’s not even the worst of his
poverty. George Wilson is just the hard luck guy in this novel and he ends up taking it out on Gastby. He is hard luck and he is not too quick witted. There is no mystery behind George.
The obscure manner in which Fitzgerald exclusively uses to describe Gatsby throughout the novel adds to the reader s curiosity about Gatsby s life, to the eccentric wonder that was his personality, and to the bewilderment that succeeded his death. Though other characters play roles subordinate to Gatsby s, the details that surround their lives as they relate to the story are defined and clear, at least more defined and clear than with Gatsby. Fitzgerald describes the other characters with precision and deliberateness.
Gatsby remains clouded. Without that cloudiness, the character of Gatsby would not have captured our imaginations in such a way.