“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald Essay
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald condemns his readers to the knowledge that the American dream is not the key to eudemonia but rather the stair way which once started upon leads inescapably to destruction. When we refuse to accept reality, we lose it completely.
The notion of the American dream is a primary concern in the novel. Coincidentally Fitzgerald shows it to be just that. A dream. The frequent, yet subtle references to theatre, fantasy and ideals throughout the novel reinforce this. Like any ideal, it is flawed through human conception and action.
It is Nick who describes Gatsby’s transformation from “young Gatz” to “Jay Gatsby”, likening it to Platonic conception. It is in this sense that Gatsby has ultimately doomed himself. Plato’s beings were perfect, ideals of human aspirations, formed by the infallible sculptor, in contrast, “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out” with the help of a “singularly appropriate education” by a man who embodied the “savage violence of the frontier brothel”. Regardless of the fact that this “ideal Gatsby” is fundamentally flawed, Gatsby’s inability to truly become the ideal also hinders him. He is neither one thing nor the other, instead he dances along the precipice, unable to bear being “young Gatz” but also unable to transform completely into “Jay Gatsby”, this is evident both through his conspicuous absence from his own elaborate parties, “he was not there”; and in the flaws of his props, eg. the “absolutely real” books which adorn the library but have never been read.
Every thing about the created character of Jay Gatsby is extravagant, as though young Gatz feels the need to over compensate lest someone see through his charade. Like the books, the parties, the clothes and the “elaborate formality of speech” Daisy is yet another prop, similar to the medal from Montenegro, to add to the collection of the convincing artefacts which confirm Jay Gatsby’s life. Nick describes how the fact that men had previously loved Daisy “increased her value” in the eyes of Gatz. This reinforces her position as an object but more importantly she was a convincing object, an appropriate object for glorious future of Jay Gatsby. Daisy was an object to strive towards, as utterly unattainable as the American dream but something which never-the-less lingers on the peripheral of Gatsby’s consciousness yet will remain insubstantial because of Gatsby’s lack of substance.
It is in the final stages of the novel where battle between idealist fantasy and reality is finally ended for Gatsby. His “invisible cloak” of illusion slips from his shoulders, the “contour of Jay Gatsby” is shattered, “broken up like glass against Tom’s hard Malice” but with it is also broken the remaining fragments of Gatz, for he was both and neither, living in constant illusion which was decimated by the harsh light of reality. Without the barrier of that “last hope”, the commitment to the “following of a grail”, Gatsby was gone. The fact that he was shot by Wilson is irrelevant for in truth he was already dead the moment that shimmering “green light” faded.
Instead of attaining happiness in the pursuit of the dream Gatsby is destroyed by it. Like his elaborate library, with absence of one book, or one hope, the entire thing “was liable to collapse”.