The Great Gatsby Essay
The Great Gatsby
“The most iconic characters in literature are alienated by the changing world around them. ” Discuss these ideas in relation to The Great Gatsby and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In ‘The Great Gatsby,’ Fitzgerald frequently demonstrates how isolated his strongest characters are by the world around them through a variety of techniques. Both Nick and Gatsby are presented as being alienated from the world in some way and, as suggested by William Troy, both characters represent two forces in Fitzgerald’s own life – “’intelligent and responsible’ vs. ‘dream ridden romantic. ”
He uses symbolism frequently throughout the novel to suggest that this split autobiographical portrayal of his characters is representative of the limbo between “‘power’ and ‘dream’” as said by Lionel Trilling in his critical essay, and the immovability this creates within people. I find confinement of characters is shown in the novel through a use of pathetic fallacy. Fitzgerald also uses the novel to introduce the theme of class and demonstrate how wealth constricts different people in different ways, despite sometimes seeming like the key to happiness.
Many of these ideas are echoed in ‘Nineteen Eight-Four,’ in which Orwell uses symbolism to emphasise his totalitarian oppressive society. One way Fitzgerald portrays his characters as confined by the world around them is through his use of pathetic fallacy. The phrase ‘weather-beaten’ is used to describe Nick’s bungalow on the West Egg and this implied that it wasn’t just the people in ‘The Great Gatsby’ that the weather and change bore down on, but the buildings too.
When Nick first visits Tom Buchanan at his home, Fitzgerald says the two men talk on ‘the sunny porch’ with the sunshine here being presented as a sense of optimism that Nick can find companionship with a man he knew at ‘Yale’. When Nick talks to Daisy during that first visit, he tells her there’s a ‘persistent wail all night’ along the shore of where they’ve left; Nick is bowing to Daisy’s desire to be missed by personifying nature to allow it to chase after her, much like Gatsby.
Sunshine again is used by Fitzgerald to present those who are indulgently wealthy when Nick visits Tom and Myrtle’s apartment which was ‘full of cheerful sun’ until night time and alcohol were brought into the story. Alcohol is usually accompanied with darkness within the novel, to reflect Fitzgerald’s potential personal distaste as a recovering alcoholic at the point of writing the novel. Of Gatsby’s parties, it is said they are held on ‘summer nights,’ a phrase still managing to retain the concept of summer and nice weather to attach to the wealth.
Once Nick has arranged the meeting between Daisy and Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses pathetic fallacy to mirror Gatsby’s emotions within the chapter. As he waits for Daisy coloured with ‘embarrassment,’ it is ‘pouring rain’ but once Daisy arrives and he sees her with ‘unreasoning joy’ it has ‘stopped raining,’ and finally as Nick leaves Daisy and Gatsby looking at each other with ‘wonder’ over a piano, there are ‘twinkle-bells of sunshine’ leaving a sense of hope to the chapter that the constraining rain did not hold.
Again, at Gatsby’s funeral, Fitzgerald writes the weather to very clearly reflect the character’s moods. Nick is deeply saddened by the loss of his friend and the rain is repeatedly described to be ‘thick’ and ‘heavy,’ a force to be reckoned with that the characters must move ‘through to the cars. ’ The rain is shown to hang around Nick, replacing the people the funeral lacks in attendance and shows that Fitzgerald thinks it is a trapping task for a man to abandon the side of him that dreams.
Similarly, Orwell also uses metaphor at the beginning of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ as Winston enters Victory Mansions to describe the ‘swirl of gritty dust’ following him into the building, reminiscent of how the Party trace every movement and every action, confining their citizens in the most suffocating of manners; the dust reminiscent of the dark, rainy sky in ‘The Great Gatsby’ closing in on the characters. Fitzgerald frequently depicts the isolation of characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ with use of various reoccurring symbols. Colours are something the author uses in various ways.
The colour yellow, which we have already seen mirrored in Fitzgerald’s use of pathetic fallacy with the large amounts of yellow sunshine symbolises decay and corruptness. The reader is told Gatsby’s car is a ‘rich cream’ colour. Not only is the mustard colour of the car symbolism, it is a representation of Gatsby himself – ostentatious and over-the-top in displaying his wealth. Later in the novel, Fitzgerald writes that the car ‘mirrored a dozen suns’ with its large amount of windshields. This give the interpretation that the car is glowing, further drawing on the yellow symbolism of decay for the personal representation of corruption.
Perhaps intentionally, it is also this car that leads to Gatsby’s own destruction by being so conspicuous. Gatsby’s demise by his own car leads to the idea presented by Fitzgerald that one cannot escape decay. The Valley of Ashes is riddled with symbolism, from the ‘ash grey’ men that inhabit the ‘grey land’ to the looming billboard eyes of T. J. Eckleburg. The colour grey here symbolises dreariness and monotony, and with the character of Wilson, Fitzgerald ties this to a lack of wealth. The lack of light implies claustrophobia within its inhabitants – Tom says it’s good for Myrtle to ‘get out.
The ‘dimmed’ eyes of Eckleburg ‘look out’ over the characters in the novel and symbolise the ever growing commercialism of America and how this change causes moral depravity. This is again emphasised by how Wilson equates these eyes to God when finding out about Myrtle’s affair with the phrase ‘God knows’ what she’s being doing. The eyes watched as Tom and Myrtle had to drive past them to get to their apartment, and the loss of Myrtle’s life occurred in the miserable valley of ashes under their omniscient gaze.
Another colour Fitzgerald utilises is white, though it is usually placed in juxtaposition to the character wearing it. Daisy and Jordan, first seen in ‘rippling’ white dresses, are not seen in any other colour but white – falsely implying the purity and innocence women were just losing the expectation to have. This lies in line with Joan Korenman’s interpretation that says the ambiguity of Daisy’s hair colour from dark to light symbolises ‘the fair and the dark women’ of literature, with fair hair being stereotyped as innocent – something the reader finds neither Daisy nor Jordan to be.
Fitzgerald is also referencing the ‘expansion of femininity’ with the 1920s “new women. ” In ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ Orwell also uses symbolism when he writes a poster that ‘gazes down’ with large, ‘dark’ eyes much like those of T. J. Eckleburg, that are pasted all over London by the Party – comforting to some inhabitants with the name ‘Big Brother,’ but a threat to others because the posters watch their every move. However the connotations of ‘Big Brother’ are a lot more oppressive than those of God in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and cause Winston’s alienation and his subsequent relationship with Julia.
Another way Fitzgerald shows that the characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ are ostracised because of the world they inhabit is through his presentation of classism and how that affects the interaction between people, as well as isolating them to their own class. Ross Posnock argues that the characters in ‘The Great Gatsby’ are so obsessed with material wealth they treat each other like objects and this could leave many people feeling objectified and therefore ostracised by those who claim to care about them. This is seen when Nick says the cocktails are ‘floating’ – completely overlooking the fact Gatsby’s hired staff are holding the trays.
Marxists argue that Nick overlooks the existence and therefore the difficulties of the working class. However at the start of the novel, after the events of the story, Fitzgerald writes that Nick is aware the ‘fundamentally decencies’ are ‘parcelled out unequally at birth’ at that point, which means he knows class play a big role in identity in his current society. Fitzgerald further supports this with the phrase ‘wanted the world to be in uniform’ which is simultaneously a nod to the passing of World War I and also emphasising that Nick has had enough of the upper class’ selfish behaviours.
When Nick is sitting on the porch with Daisy and Tom, Tom states that their society is ‘going to pieces’ and spews racist ideals. This is Fitzgerald showing that Tom feels he is at the top of society and does not want to be ‘submerged’ by those he feels are beneath him – the lower class and immigrants. However, earlier when Tom shows Nick his ‘nice place’ the reader can see it isn’t as big or obnoxious as Gatsby’s home and the divide between the “Old Rich” and “New Rich” starts to become clear. This minute difference in class leaves the upper classes estranged from each other.
At the start of the novel, it is made clear that even Nick’s family have been wealthy ‘for three generations’ and this makes him acceptable despite been less rich than those he socialises with. Like Fitzgerald, Orwell uses the class divide in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ to define between members of the Party (who are granted great privileges and freedoms), the middle class who obey the Party (such as Winston), and the proles who ( are a ‘swarming mass’ so poor they are ‘disregarded’ by the Party, which is so convinced of their inability to have action against them – much like Nick’s complete ignorance to Gatsby’s servants at the party.
After exploring a variety of factors throughout this essay, I agree with the critical opinion, especially in terms of ‘The Great Gatsby’ as one of Fitzgerald’s main themes throughout was of how Gatsby was trapped in the past and this isolated him from the present. This can be seen especially in the last paragraph of the book, in which Fitzgerald compares his character to boats ‘beating on. ’ I feel Orwell’s characters also felt claustrophobic in their London because of the new law implemented by the Party, and Winston’s submission at the end of the novel is representative of Orwell’s warning to the readers.
Subject: The Great Gatsby,
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 September 2016
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