The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald ANALYSIS OF CHARACTERS, SYMBOLS, AND THEMES
Nick Carraway (the narrator) �Because he is the narrator, he will only give us an impression of himself that he would like to give. �Honest? It’s questionable. �By the end, the experience with Gatsby and the others has taken its toll on him. He wants nothing to do with them and he sees the materialism and excesses of the 1920’s for what they really are. �Nick alone sees the phoniness of the East Eggers, and is the only one moved by Gatsby’s death. His integrity elevates him above the others and what he experiences does change him. (dynamic character)
Jay Gatsby �He came from poor beginnings and created a fantasy world where he was rich and powerful. �Even when his wealth and position are at their greatest, he can’t be content unless he has Daisy. �There is a drive to possess her because that is what he wanted for all of those years; she was his image of the future. �He seems kind but isn’t afraid to be unscrupulous to get what he wants. �His drive makes him who he is, good and bad- and this is what ends up ruining his life.
Daisy Buchanan �Trapped- in an unhappy marriage and a world where she has no chance of being independent. �Although Daisy is foolish and shallow, it might be out of necessity. She is smart enough to know the limits imposed on her and this has made her jaded. �She is careless- wrapped up in herself partly because she has been spoiled all her life. �She has learned to to think only of herself without regard for the people it may hurt.
Tom Buchanan �He is a careless man who won’t be bothered by the suffering he causes. He doesn’t really work, living a life of indulgence and ease. �What motivates Tom is gratification- he has an affair with Myrtle because it satisfies his needs. �He flaunts the affair because he has never had to concern himself with the consequences of his actions. �This is why he and Daisy escape at the end; there was a situation they didn’t want to face, so they ran to their money and fled, leaving others to deal with it.
Jordan Baker �Faces same problems as Tom and Daisy- born into money and spoiled by it. �She has no concept of accountability (cheating at the golf tournament and being a careless driver) and this continues because people allow her to go unaccountable. �Cynical, practical, callous, and “incurably dishonest”.
Theme: Moral decay of American Society �Fitzgerald tackles inner emptiness and loss of values that he perceives in the society around him. �He traces this emptiness and despair to: The pursuit of money Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification) Lack of ideals/commitment �This is represented by the Valley of Ashes, a setting which is symbolic of The Waste Land, an expression that refers to post WWI loss of faith in God and the nobility of the human spirit.
The Inner Emptiness �Tom, Daisy, and to some extent, Nick. Without purpose or hope Restlessness, boredom Materialism saps the soul �Gatsby escapes because despite his corruption, he is not portrayed as an empty, wasted character; he is saved by his impossible and fatal dream. �For Gatsby, idealism is necessary for life.
Theme: The American Dream � Fitzgerald criticizes the American Dream and explores the boundary between illusion and reality. � Gatsby personifies the pursuit of a great dream, carried obsessively to the point of illusion- yet there is something admirable and grand about him that flows from his dream. � The ending confronts the reader with the impossibility of the dream; Gatsby has been abandoned by everyone but Nick and his father- a reminder of the predatory and callous world. � Nick appreciates the inner beauty of Gatsby. He understands that achieving the dream externally, through wealth is impossible; only inner qualities can give that sort of satisfaction.
Symbols �The characters infuse these objects with meaning: �Green light- for Gatsby it becomes the embodiment of the dreams of his future. It calls to him like a vision of the fulfillment of his desires. �The eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg- could mean anything to any observer, but tend to make people feel as if they are the ones being scrutinized. Wilson decides they are the eyes of God, representing a moral imperative on which he must act.
Setting � West Egg- like Gatsby, full of garish extravagance, symbolizing the emergence of the new rich alongside the established aristocracy of the 1920 s. � East Egg- like the Buchanans, wealthy, possessing high social status, and powerful, symbolizing the old upper class that continued to dominate the American social landscape. � Valley of Ashes- like George Wilson, desolate, desperate, and utterly without hope, symbolizing the moral decay of American society hidden by the glittering surface of upperclass extravagance. � New York City- simply chaos, an abundant swell of variety and life, associated with the “quality of distortion” that Nick perceives in the East.
Setting �Weather makes a flow of the plot: Gatsby’s reunion with Daisy begins in a ferocious thunderstorm and reaches its happiest moment just as the sun comes out. Tom’s confrontation with Gatsby occurs on the hottest day of the summer. Gatsby’s death occurs just as autumn creeps into the air.
What makes Gatsby “great”? �In a way, the title is ironic- the character is neither “great” (on one level) nor named Gatsby. �However, the title refers to theatrical skill with which Gatsby makes this illusion seem real: “the Great Gatsby” suggests the sort of vaudeville billing that would have been given to an acrobat, an escape artist, or a magician. �Nick is particularly taken with Gatsby and considers him a great figure. He sees both the extraordinary quality of hope that Gatsby possesses and his idealistic dream of loving Daisy in a perfect world.
What makes Gatsby “great”? �Though Nick recognizes Gatsby’s flaws the first time he meets him, he cannot help but admire Gatsby’s brilliant smile, his romantic idealization of Daisy, and his yearning for the future. �Nick alone among the novel’s characters recognizes that Gatsby’s love for Daisy has less to do with Daisy’s qualities than Gatsby’s own. That is, Gatsby makes Daisy his dream because his heart demands a dream, not because Daisy truly deserves the passion that Gatsby feels for her.
What makes Gatsby “great”? �In a world without a moral center, in which attempting to fulfill one’s dreams is like rowing a boat against the current, Gatsby’s power to dream lifts him above the meaningless and amoral pleasureseeking people of New York society. �In Nick’s view, Gatsby’s capacity to dream makes him “great” despite his flaws and eventual undoing.