In what ways are Gatsby and George Wilson similar or dissimilar, to whom is Nick more sympathetic towards?
Fitzgerald purposefully contrasts his characters throughout the novel, in order to compare contrasting worlds that were present in American society. Although there are some clear differences between Gatsby and George, there are also superficial similarities between them that each man has to experience and put up with.
Drawing upon the more apparent differences between these two characters, it is evident that they have differing wealth.
Gatsby is depicted as being rich through the means of the ‘Hotel de Ville’ or ‘mansion'(11) that he owns, and also by the way he holds lavish parties where ‘champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls'(48). Considering that Gatsby lives in West Egg not only reveals the true extent of his wealth, but additionally it shows that he is ‘noveau riche’ rather than ‘old’ rich like those who inhabit East Egg. Gatsby has only recently acquired his wealth after migrating from the Midwest whilst following the ‘New’ American Dream.
The original dream consisted of any American citizen having the right to pursue their goals and dreams through hard work and free choice.
It was the opportunity to make individual choices without the underlying restrictions of class, caste, religion, race, or ethnic group, that once overshadowed people. Often, people followed the common saying, ‘Go West young man!’ where the land was uninhabited and extremely fertile. In the case of the ‘New’ dream, it was simply how the dream had become interpreted by the 1920s.
It was a distortion from the original dream to the idea of ‘Get rich quick’. Being of ‘New’ wealth, Gatsby tries to flaunt his wealth about.
When Nick asks Gatsby whether he is going to go home that night following the vehicular manslaughter of Myrtle by Daisy, Nick describes Gatsby in chapter eight, as wearing a ‘pink rag of a suit'(147).This description suggests how Gatsby wears these expensive, gaudy and colourful items of clothing in order to display his wealth ostentatiously. The idea behind this pretentious displayal of the opulence that he has acquired, may be a method used by Gatsby in order to stand out from the crowd and to break away from periphery and into East Egg high society. This is a means to an end that he requires so that he can get even closer to retrieving Daisy and thus accomplishing his distorted version of the American Dream.
In comparison, George lives in the rubbish tip that is the ‘Valley of the Ashes’. All that ‘grows’ on it is dead and the words ‘Ash’ and ‘grey’ that Fitzgerald uses to describe it with in chapter two, not only emphasise the literally dull and unfulfilling nature of the landscape here, but also the dull and unfulfilling lives of those like George Wilson who inhabit this valley. In chapter two it becomes apparent how little respect George’s wife has for her husband, when she says ‘He burrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in.’ This shows how poor he is because he cannot even afford a wedding suit of his own to get married in. In comparison to Gatsby, he has little material wealth.
Gatsby appears to have originated from a poor background in the West which is similar to George’s background. However, the effects of this poor background influence both men differently. Originating in the West, rural North Dakota, he followed the ‘New’ American Dream in order to ‘Get rich quick’ and this pushed him towards organized crime, such as bootlegging. During the 1920s, there was a prohibition which imposed the law that alcohol was to be banned. Gangsters like Gatsby, were able to make a fortune out of this time through the illegal distribution of alcohol and trading in stolen securities.
This was all a means though of achieving his distorted version of the American Dream, which was to retrieve Daisy. Importantly, he does not abide by the ‘protestant work ethic’ which states that a man should work hard and earn a comfortable living by which he and his family can live a peaceful, enjoyable life off. He also participated in a bit of bond fraud on the side as Fitzgerald notifies the reader in chapter nine (158). A strange caller says to Nick (thinking him Gatsby), ‘Young Parke’s in trouble. They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter.’ The way he commits himself to such illegalities is irresponsible on his behalf and it reveals how the American Dream has become revolved around money. Human greediness to obtain money, have corrupted the dream that once was so much more innocent.
Comparatively, George does not involve himself in such a tainted world and instead follows a morally acceptable path in life by owning a legal garage. To some extent though, Fitzgerald uses this character to emphasise how such a traditional stance like the one George takes up (where one follows the ‘Protestant work ethic’), is unable to survive in such a morally decayed world that was the Jazz Age. Fitzgerald describes him in chapter two, as ‘mingling immediately with the cement colour of the walls’ of his garage. In some way it shows how the years he has been following this legitimate path, have caused him to effectively fade away into the dull environment that he inhabits.
Kathleen Parkinson described Gatsby as ‘a mysterious and ambivalent figure’. This is a true interpretation of Gatsby in the sense that, unlike George, there is a build up prior to his introduction into the novel. At Gatsby’s first party in chapter three, various rumours of Gatsby’s past circulate the party. One guest exclaims that Gatsby is a ‘nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm’ and others go on to say how they heard that he had ‘killed a man’ or ‘been a German spy’ or ‘been in the American army.’ All this mystery serves to stimulate Nick’s curiosity, which possibly leads to his more lenient and sympathetic stance when it comes to Gatsby. It also creates a sense of suspense in the reader that heightened Gatsby’s entrance into the novel. Rumour plays an integral role in the novel as Fitzgerald uses it to provide the reader with the option of deciding whether or not they believe it and this technique evokes more interest in certain characters like Gatsby.
Evidently, Gatsby embodies the idea of the American Dream as is suggested in chapter three where Nick reports on how Gatsby would look across the golf at ‘that green light’ every night. This ‘green light’ would have symbolised various things for Gatsby. It would have been a symbol of generally the American Dream, but also more specifically for Gatsby, the prospect of the ‘green’ colour of money and achieving Daisy. Gatsby appears to have achieved the American Dream to some extent as he has risen from an impoverished child to a young man with great material wealth. He is the main dreamer in the novel; however, it appears that he is following two dreams. His initial dream becomes apparent in chapter nine where Gatsby’s father talks of Gatsby’s ‘SCHEDULE’ that he wrote when he was seventeen.
In the ‘GENERAL RESOLVES’ (164) Gatsby wrote ‘Read one improving book or magazine per week’ which reveals straightaway how his dream of becoming rich and fitting into the world of high society, originates from when he was a teenager. Additionally, it uncovers the immaturity of Gatsby and his dream, as he has never allowed his dream to develop and grow up like he has. His other dream was a distorted version of the American dream, (which in some way used the wealth he had gained from achieving the American Dream), which was to retrieve his childhood love – Daisy. This dream was established in the past, and therefore fixates on the past. Gatsby’s naï¿½ve personality and his ruthlessness to achieve this dream ignore what Daisy has become and he appears to pursue the ‘old’ Daisy which remains vividly in his dreams.
The way in which Gatsby was driven by his undying love for a woman is a reflection of Fitzgerald’s own life and dreams too. He too joined the army (1917) and eventually fell in love with a seventeen year old girl called ‘Zelda Sayre’. Zelda finally agreed to marry him, but her overpowering desire for wealth, fun, and leisure led her to delay their wedding until he could prove a success. Their relationship appears to be like Gatsby and Daisy’s. The following quote reveals the point in the novel at which all of Daisy’s charm and beauty is stripped away, leaving nothing but money to be admired underneath: ‘That was it. I’d never understood before.
It was full of money- that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it.’ (Chapter seven) Gatsby realizes late into the novel, how his dream has been ripped apart into dollar bills as he discovers that for years he has been in pursuit of not love, but cold, harsh money which is hidden behind the disguise of a human face. Following the death of Gatsby and the suicide of George, it becomes apparent that Fitzgerald is using the deaths of a rich man and a poor man who both set out to achieve their unattainable goals, to symbolise the death of the original dream on which America was founded.
With consideration given to George, he too shares the American Dream with Gatsby; however he seems to be pursuing the ‘old’ American Dream and not the ‘New’ one like Gatsby. George reveals his dream in chapter seven, where he says: I’ve been here too long. I want to get away. My wife and I want to go West. She’s been talking about it for ten years.’ Clearly his dream is the opposite of Gatsby’s. He wants to migrate West like the original settlers and wants to follow the idea to ‘Go West young man!’
This idea was commonly followed by many families who would migrate out to the West and set up a basis to gather wealth. This is the case for the characters, Tom and Daisy, whose families formed their wealth out in the West through hard labour, so that their children could have better lives than they did. Undoubtedly, George wants his share of this; however, the way in which he says that his wife has ‘been talking about it for ten years’ is possibly a suggestion that it is more her dream than his and that he has been bullied into dreaming of it by her domineering nature. Whatever the case, he almost definitely dreams of a more comfortable life than what he already suffers.
Gatsby and George are similar in the ways they both resort to deception in order to attain their originally unattainable dreams. They both resort to this in their relationships. Gatsby is found to do this in chapters four and five. When Nick is informed of the history between Gatsby and Daisy, by Jordan, it appears that she believed him to have wealthy roots when he did not. In chapter five he tells Daisy how ‘it only took him three years to earn the money that bought’ his mansion. He initially created the false perception of himself that fooled Daisy into false hope. Daisy probably saw in Gatsby a future of material possessions and comfort, which she adored. But he did not have this and when he comes round to having this in the latter, he lies about how he came to earn the money. He shields her from his true identity as a criminal, so that once again he can relight the false perception she had of him.
George follows suit and lies to Myrtle early on in their relationship. When Myrtle reveals her hatred towards her husband in chapter two, she says ‘I married him because I thought he was a gentleman. I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.’ As it appears through the use of the word ‘gentleman’, Myrtle wanted to marry someone of higher social status and of wealth, and George apparently gave her the false hope of this. He creates a false persona that fools her into thinking that her dream is coming true. In some way, the relationship between George and his wife is possibly what may have occurred in the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, if they had run away together in their youth. There is a mirror image or reflection between Gatsby’s relationship and George’s, and Fitzgerald parallels the consequences of both.
Comparing both men, they both seem to be solitary figures who are overly involved in their work. For instance, when looking at Gatsby he is clearly a type of ‘loner’ and this may be down to the fact that he is too set upon retrieving Daisy to have anytime for others. The only circumstance that he has friends is when they are a means to an end with Gatsby, as he only manipulates them to get something out of them. For instance, he befriends Jordan and Nick especially as means of getting closer to Daisy. In chapter four, it is clear that Gatsby has manipulated Jordan into sorting out a meeting between him and Daisy, when she says to Nick: ‘You’re supposed to invite her to tea’ (78). The inclusion of the word ‘supposed’, suggests how Gatsby plans what he wants to get out of people.
At Gatsby’s first party ‘the girls swoon back into the men’s encircling arms, but no one swooned backward on Gatsby.’ This example shows how Gatsby never socialised with people unless he required something from them, and as Nick shows in chapter three where he says that he ‘hasn’t even seen the host’ (49), hardly anyone really knows who Gatsby is. Also, he constantly thinks of his work. Even at his parties, he rudely has to excuse himself to take calls from places like ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Chicago’ which are renowned cities for their corrupt environments where gangsters based themselves. This work is funding his dream in a way, as if he had not been gathering money like this, then he would still be poor and he would not have had the money to buy such been close to Daisy.
George similarly is a man of solitude due to his wife and work; he is portrayed as having no real friends. He is a sick failure who is reduced to the status of a ‘ghost’. This ‘ghost-like’ appearance or presence is highlighted in chapter two when Tom and Nick visit George at the garage and his wife Myrtle is said to have ‘smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost.’ This emphasises the lack of presence and authority he has, as his wife walks through him not noticing or caring that he is standing there. She is far more interested in Tom to care about where her husband is. The way he is referred to as a ‘ghost’ – the disembodied spirit or soul of a deceased person – is a link to not only death but more specifically, the death of the land he lives in.
Fitzgerald is therefore linking George to the failure of the ‘Valley of ashes’ and it is noticeable that he never does this sort of thing with Gatsby. Gatsby is never linked to the riches of the land of the Eggs, which in a way shows how he does not fit in with the high society of the Eggs and this crucially establishes his isolation within such an environment. George is similar to Gatsby also, in the sense that he always thinks about his work too. This becomes clear in chapter two where he pesters Tom with the question: ‘When are you going to sell me that car?’ This highlights his desperation to make a sale and also suggests that he feels he has to jump on every customer who enters his garage, due to the lack of business he receives. Further, it shows his solitude as he scarcely has any customers and thus does not have any interactions with other people.
Nick as narrator, appears to be far more lenient towards Gatsby. Following the deaths of both men, Nick only makes it his duty to sort out Gatsby’s funeral and does not think of George’s. In addition, when Tom wants Nick to meet his mistress in chapter two, Nick says how he had ‘no desire to meet her.’ This statement suggests how Nick feels he is being disloyal to Daisy. He does not think to consider how George would feel knowing about the affair his wife is having with one of his own acquaintances (Tom). Additionally, Nick seems to overlook Gatsby’s criminal behaviours even though he has been given enough evidence to suggest that Gatsby is a gangster.
Fitzgerald’s portrayal of both men differs greatly, so much so that they appear to be direct opposites of one another. Gatsby is rich and has a more fulfilling life than George, who suffers the dullness of living in a dump (Valley of Ashes) and the lack of respect from his wife. The relationship between George and his wife is peculiar and goes against the historical view of a married couple. In the Victorian era, women would have had to stay at home in order to attend to maternal duties, whilst the husband would have had to provide the income.
Usually the man had the authority over the woman, and in the case of the Wilson’s, there has been a role reversal. However, these two men are linked superficially by their failure to achieve their unattainable dreams which they had been pursuing throughout life. Considering that Gatsby was originally a working class poor man in previous years, and that he and George both die in honour of their failed dreams, suggests that when a poor man tries to enter into a higher social status like Gatsby, their efforts are rendered useless. Not only does this circumstance reveal the divide in society but additionally it emphasises the moral decay of American society amidst the superficial impressiveness of upper-class profligacy.