The Great Gatsby is an outstanding piece of classic American literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald discussed in it issues of post-war society, American dream, love, and wealth which draw the attention of the reading audience until today. Especially interesting is the question of whether the protagonist is even deserving of being called great or is the title ironical.
Samuels claims that despite the uselessness of his beginnings, Gatsby is great due to the intensity of his will (789). However, it is my contention that Jay Gatsby is a person whose false love, materialism and egotism led him to the tragic end.
It might be argued that Gatsby’s feelings for Daisy were genuine. With striking determination he worked hard to be close to Daisy: he settled in the house just opposite, threw grandiose parties with the hope that she might appear there, arranged a meeting with her after five years of separation. Finally, he took the blame upon himself after she killed Myrtle Wilson in the car accident: “Was Daisy driving?” “Yes,’ he said after a moment, ‘but of course I’ll say I was” (Fitzgerald 154). Nevertheless, as Hermanson points out, the protagonist is more “committed to an idea of Daisy that he has created than to the real woman she is.” Self-centered Gatsby imagined himself just about the son of God and considered Daisy as a trophy, as a means of realization of his dreams. An “ideal” Daisy existed as a phantom of imagination in Gatsby’s mind, but in fact, she could not meet that image. In addition, Daisy’s love was not strong as well: “I did love him once—but I loved you too” (Fitzgerald142).
Gatsby tells Nick Carraway: “My family died and I came into a good deal of money” (Fitzgerald 71). At first, this seemed to be a reasonable explanation to the enormous wealth such a young man possessed. Although, as a novel develops, we see that material possessions which helped Jay to reach high status were obtained illegally (bootlegging, stolen securities). In order to understand how Gatsby became so rich one should consider a substantial influence of Dan Cody and Meyer Wolfshiem on his character formation. When the protagonist came back from the war, he was so poor that for some time could not even buy new clothes. Dan Cody, a silver mining millionaire, took young Gatsby aboard of his yacht and provided him with different jobs while they sailed around the continent. At that time Gatsby’s character began to take shape – he was approaching his dream – to belong to the upper class. No lesser influence on Gatsby had another shady character – Meyer Wolfshiem; he, eventually, made his fortune: “Did you start him in business?’ I inquired. ‘Start him! I made him” (Fitzgerald 182). Now, we see that the bad influence of Cody and Wolfshiem, combined with Jay’s desire to be rich in order to win Daisy spurred him on to criminal activity and materialistic view of life.
“We were close friends” (Fitzgerald 179). This is how Nick describes his relationship with Gatsby at the end of the story. It could be said that their friendship was strong. Nick agreed to help Gatsby arrange a meeting with Daisy and objected against Jay’s “support” in return; they had an intimate conversation about Daisy, and only Nick was privileged to hear a whole story of their relationship. Furthermore, it is Nick who organizes Gatsby’s funeral when everybody is unconcerned. However, according to Lewis, Gatsby’s wealth and hospitality which secured his hold on many peoples’ memories were empty (47). Klipspringer cares more about his lost tennis shoes than Gatsby’s death. His parties were crowded but “no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder” (Fitzgerald 55). Even a relationship with Nick looks doubtful because we cannot be sure whether Gatsby made a friendly request asking him to arrange a meeting with Daisy, or he just used Nick to get closer to her. Thus, in his pursuit of material success, Gatsby didn’t develop any real friendships at all.
It has been shown, therefore, that Jay Gatsby cannot be regarded great in a very real sense. Striving to gain Daisy’s love, climbing out of poverty to the upper class, crowds of people at his parties could create an impression that the protagonist was no ordinary man. But if we probe a little deeper, we will see false illusions about Daisy, unlawful manner of business and egotism which isolated Jay Gatsby from other people.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Wordsworth Editions, 1993.
Samuels, C. Thomas. “The Greatness of Gatsby.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 7, no. 4, 1966, pp. 783-794.
Hermanson, Casie. “An Overview of The Great Gatsby.” Some Critical Essays of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, 1997, www.stephaniesandhurst.tripod.com/id4.html.
Lewis, R. Money, Love and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby. Cambridge U.P., 1985.