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“The Great Gatsby” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” Essay

What do you see as the relationship between the two texts you have studied?

How are form, structure and image used in each of the two texts you have studied?

The study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definitive American novel “The Great Gatsby” and Anthony Minghella’s emphatic film, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, portray to me that the prevalent theme relating the two texts is the corruption and disillusionment of The American Dream.

Both texts articulate the corruption of The American Dream relative to their specific contexts. “The Great Gatsby”, conveys values of social acceptance and the importance of identity and wealth, during the 1920’s. Fitzgerald situates the novel’s protagonist, Jay Gatsby, to endorse the harsh realities and barriers of social class and wealth, separating Gatsby’s fraudulent image of The American Dream and the idyllic world he seeks with Daisy Buchanan. In Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, Minghella demonstrates the extreme transformation of Tom Ripley, into a character with wealth, and social status. Tom Ripley strives to be the successful embodiment of The American Dream, as he reinvents his character into that of Dickie Greenleaf. Both composers have utilised comparative aspects of form, structure and image to depict the relationship between the texts and the idea of corruption and disillusionment of The American Dream.

The novel is presented through the unblemished and subjective view of Nick Carraway’s first person narration. This allows us to perceive the novel from the judgment of a character impervious to the contextual pressures of social status, wealth and corruption. Fitzgerald employs Nick to expose the emptiness and cynicism of The American Dream, throughout the social hierarchy. The “old money”, representing the generational aristocracy, comprises the Buchanan’s, Tom and Daisy. They convey a superficial and egotistical image, with Nick evaluating them as “careless people…retreating back to their money…letting people clean the mess they had made”.

Despite possessing the aspired riches, they lack the morality that accompanies the true integrity of the American dream. To juxtapose riches to poverty, Fitzgerald depicts ‘The Valley of Ashes’ and the disillusioned lives of the Wilson’s. ‘The Valley of Ashes’ is used to symbolise the inevitable barrier dividing two social classes, the empty existence of low society, and the consequences deriving from the failure of the American Dream.

Through symbolic imagery Fitzgerald illustrates the incompetence and fallacy of The American Dream. The “single green light” shining from Daisy’s pier in East Egg can be perceived as a symbol of Gatsby’s enticement for his hopes and dreams of money, success, and love. Gatsby “reaches towards [the green light] in the darkness” as it represents a generalised reflection of Gatsby’s blinded American Dream, and how attaining wealth could reawaken the love he shared with Daisy. The eyes of T.J. Eckleburg portray a judgement on American society.

The “persistent stare”, reinforce guilt and unease toward unpunished crimes, such as Tom’s affair and Myrtle’s death. The “enormous yellow spectacles” at the same time impair Ekleburg’s gaze, reflecting the lack of vision for one’s true identity, resulting from the pursuit of an empty, deceptive dream. Gatsby is the essential character that is blinded by his dream to an extent that he never truly sees Daisy’s genuine reflection or his own defective morals. Fitzgerald utilises symbolic imagery to represent the immorality that is attached to the pursuit of the remote American Dream.

Minghella’s comparable film, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, establishes the flaws within a society that bases itself on the importance of money. The American Dream is ultimately undermined by the vulgar pursuit for wealth and status.

Minghella uses filmic techniques to depict the split personality of Tom Ripley. The opening scene uses a film edit that takes away fragments of black, to gradually expose the image of Tom Ripley. This technique foreshadows Tom’s external image, perceiving it as charming and respectable. It is evocative of the mysterious and restrained life that Ripley lives in, whilst also being used to metaphorically uncover his identity. Lighting is employed to enhance the facial expressions of Tom, whilst shadowing to juxtapose parts of Tom’s face, to leave lingering a delicate impression of anonymity. The opening shot is also the last shot of the film, symbolising Tom’s ineffectual journey and the indication of Tom finishing right where he started. Minghella effectively portrays in this scene, the futile and fraudulent attempt at reinventing one’s character by means of The American Dream.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” evidently conceives the search for fulfillment and identity. The character of Tom Ripley is ‘isolated’ from his ideal world of Dickie Greenleaf. Unreceptive to this seclusion, Ripley exploits his talents of “telling lies, forging signatures and impersonating almost anybody”, indicating to the audience the corrupt morals implicated in attaining Ripley’s American Dream. The use of lighting and colour comparison is utilised, to directly accentuate the contrasts between Ripley and Dickie. The colour of Ripley’s bright lime green shorts and his “so pale” body contrast to the tanned bodies and dull swimmers of Dickie and Marge, conveying an ‘outsider’ attempting to weave his way into a social circle.

The American Dream is exposed in Ripley’s desire-blinded personality, reflecting his profound dissatisfaction with his self-image and identity. Ripley claims “it’d be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody”, accentuating his aspiration to reinvent his character. Minghella employs the use of mirrors to highlight the theme of reinvention. In the scenes where Tom is in Dickie’s clothes and Tom falls of the scooter, comparative images of Dickie are shown to depict Ripley’s own reflection of who he wants to see himself as, “I could live Dickie’s life for him”. Minghella shows the misleading notion of The American Dream, and the frantically desolate efforts Ripley puts into achieving his dream, of wealth and class.

Both composers have used respective techniques to their contexts to reflect upon the characters’ attempts to achieve personal fulfillment of their American Dream. The two comparative texts have utilised form, structure and image to relate to corruption and disillusionment of The American Dream.

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