“A bootlegger with gangster ‘gonnegtions’, a purveyor of sordid parties, a prime exponent of the hedonistic Jazz Age, how can Gatsby be called ‘great’? ” The title of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’ can be seen as incredibly ironic: not only can the ‘greatness’ of the eponymous character be vehemently contested, he is not even named ‘Gatsby’. In fact, he is a criminal, James Gatz, who, although he appears to be an epitome of the idealistic American Dream, having grown from an impoverished childhood into a life of excess and splendour, he has obtained everything through crime and corruption.
Indeed, it has been said that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is “a parable of disenchantment with the ‘American Dream'”1, and it is, for the American Dream is the idea that “through hard work, courage and determination, one could achieve prosperity. ” James Gatz did not obtain his prosperous lifestyle through “hard work”, but rather through felony.
Of course, it may seem that he ‘worked hard’ for it, and there is no disputing his determination and perhaps even his courage, but the “hard work” on which the American Dream is based is not the work of criminals.
Of course, we cannot deny that Gatsby has achieved a great deal in his lifetime, all, apparently, in the name of love. Indeed the narrator of the story, Nick Carraway, describes Gatsby as having “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person”, and this forms the basis of his opening argument for the greatness of Gatsby. We must, however, examine the reliability of the narrator.
Nick says himself that he is “inclined to reserve all judgement”, but then quickly goes on to say how “it has a limit”, that he cannot reserve judgement on everyone, and also that Gatsby was “exempt from my reaction”, following this with how Gatsby “represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn”, and then his flattering description. Here we see how Nick contradicts himself. He does not reserve all judgement, in fact he makes a very quick judgement of character, and does so with naivety, some could say typical of Western America.
He appears to be taken in by Gatsby, by the glamour, the light, and the initial conception that Gatsby is an epitome of the American Dream. After all, Nick himself was incredibly isolated, even though he was in the city. He describes how “at the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness”, how his house was “a small eyesore” next to the two huge mansions, in the “less fashionable” of the two Eggs of land on Long Island. He is incredibly isolated in this world, and so gets drawn in by Gatsby’s world; the house, the parties and the man himself:
There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. (Chapter 3) This lavish description is an example of how Nick is taken in by Gatsby and his world. Whereas to others, these parties would be perhaps commonplace, he is in complete awe. This is evidence for Nick’s, instead of impartial, as he claims, rather subjective narration of the events that took place.
Indeed, even when he attempts to distance himself from the parties and Gatsby’s lifestyle, we are not convinced: Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary, they were merely casual events in a crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs. Nick experiences first-hand Gatsby’s idealistic dream of loving Daisy, and he admires this with the qualities he believes him to have.
He chooses to admire this Gatsby rather than the pretentious and enigmatic man with rather unsavoury connections. It is this partiality, brought on by naivety, and awe, that allows the reader to query the reliability of Nick Carraway as a narrator, and the true “greatness” of Jay Gatsby. Nick’s perceptions, however, are not completely unjustified. Gatsby does have an “extraordinary hope” that he will be able to love Daisy once again, and his determination to win back her love led to him gaining everything he regarded as necessary. This can be likened to F Scott Fitzgerald’s own chase for his wife, Zelda). This can be seen as a quality that makes him “great”. However by obtaining his riches and prosperity through “work”, rather than by heritage, and by living on West Egg, rather than the fashionable East Egg, he has made himself an archetype of “new money”, an idea that was not liked by the rich in early twentieth century America. This is clearly shown in Tom Buchanan’s view of Gatsby. Also read is Nick a reliable narrator essay
He describes him as “Mr Nobody from Nowhere”, implying that he believes people who have “new money” to be beneath him, and not worth the time of other people. Tom also sees the spark between his wife and Gatsby (after all, Daisy is less than subtle about the relationship), and he, perhaps understandably, dislikes the idea of another man with his wife. However, Tom himself is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of the garage owner, and he appears proud of this (“The fact that he had a mistress was insisted upon wherever he was known… [he] sauntered about, chatting with whomsoever he knew”).
In a feminist reading, this could be regarded as a distinctly chauvinistic, sexist attitude: the hypocrisy Tom shows seems to portray that it is perfectly acceptable for the man to have an affair, but not acceptable for the woman. This hypocrisy makes it difficult for the reader, and Nick, to trust Tom’s judgements of Gatsby: he is so immoral himself we fail to see how he can comment on Gatsby’s faults, and so Gatsby appears all the more “great”. Another factor which also suggests Gatsby’s greatness is towards the end of the novel: ‘Her name was Wilson. Her husband owns the garage.
How the devil did it happen? ‘ ‘Well, I tried to swing the wheel -‘ He broke off, and suddenly I guessed at the truth. ‘Was Daisy driving? ‘ ‘Yes,’ he said after a moment, ‘but of course I’ll say I was… ‘ (Chapter 7) The fact that Gatsby is prepared to take the blame for a crime he did not commit is an admirable quality (although it is still illegal): he is prepared to sacrifice himself for Daisy, to ensure that she does not end up unhappy. This can be seen as the epitome of all Nick is drawn to about Gatsby. That “incredible hope”, the “romantic readiness”, it all becomes apparent in this scene.
However, Gatsby’s eventual downfall has the reader questioning this scene and these qualities. It can be said that if Gatsby had told the truth, and Daisy had held the blame for killing Myrtle Wilson, he would not have been killed in the brutal way that he was, and there is reason for us to believe that it would not have meant the downfall of Daisy, either. After all, Nick himself says that “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply”, and one can assume that this would also be true for Daisy: Wilson would not have shot Daisy as he does Gatsby: it would appear that his “romantic readiness” was eventually the cause of his murder.
The fact that he was killed by Wilson is deeply ironic: the underdog, the only poor character we see in the novel, running a “bare”, “whitewashed” garage under the god-like eyes of “Doctor T. J Eckleburg”, kills the prosperous, rich, idealistic hero, showing not only the “disenchantment of the ‘American Dream'”, but also that there really is no place for Jay Gatsbys in the world: the qualities which Nick perceives as “great” slowly pave the way for his defeat. Was Gatsby “great”? No, he was simply naively idealistic in a society completely deficient in morality.
Cite this essay
How Great Gatsby Is. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/how-great-gatsby-is-essay