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F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most recognized figures in American literary and cultural history. His novels and short stories provide some of the best insights into the lifestyles of the rich during America‘s most prosperous era while at the same time examining major literary themes such as disillusionment, coming of age and the corruption of the American dream. The life of F. Scott Fitzgerald was marked by as much romanticism and tragedy as could be found in his novels and stories. Throughout his life he unsuccessfully battled alcoholism, depression and his inner demons.
Fitzgerald first began working on his third novel in 1922. His initial plan involved a story that took place in Mid-West and New York in 1885. He later reconsidered as he reported to his editor Maxwell Perkins: ―I want to write something new, something extraordinary and beautiful and simple + intricately patterned‖ (Píchová 12).
Most of Fitzgerald‘s writing is based on his own experiences. He often got inspired by his surroundings and people in his life. Therefore it is no surprise that his wife Zelda served as the prototype for Daisy and Fitzgerald himself could be identified partially in Nick but also in Gatsby. On the latter he commented: ―He started out as someone I know but at the end he turned into me.‖ (Burnam 9)
There was another significant event that influenced the story of The Great Gatsby. When the family moved from New York to the French Riviera in order to find peace so Scott would be able to finish his novel, Zelda feeling a bit neglected had an affair with a French aviator Edouard Jozan. She ended things immediately after Fitzgerald found out. Some critics argue that this event heavily influenced Fitzgerald and that all his frustration and the loss of certainty of Zelda‘s love was represented by Gatsby‘s disillusionment with Daisy and the shattering of his dream. (Stolarek 51)
The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 by Charles Scribner‘s Sons, a publishing house located in New York. Set in Long Island the novel tells a story of a man whose quest to recapture the past and the woman he loves become ultimately his downfall. The novel begins with the introduction to the narrator. Nick Carraway is a young man from Minnesota who after returning home from the war moves to New York in order to become a bond salesman. Instead of living in the city he chooses to rent a house in the West Egg, unfashionable area where all the newly rich people live. The West Egg is located opposite the more fashionable East Egg. One of Nick‘s neighbours is a very mysterious man who gave his name to the novel – Jay Gatsby. Every Saturday he throws lavish parties in his huge mansion that even has a private beach. As Nick later finds out everybody is invited.
The heavy use of simile and metaphor also serves as a reflection on the life of the1920s. On one hand there is the East Egg, the symbol of the upper class with its money and the power it bestows upon its holder, on the other hand there is the Valley of ashes which serves as a symbol of the lower middle class and the dull life its inhabitants are living.( Johansson 28)
Fitzgerald also uses the figures of speech to emphasize the contrasts within the novel. The Great Gatsby is rich in contrast. There is the moral corruption of Tom and Daisy against the noble and romantic dream of Gatsby. There are the old traditional family values of the West and the modern way of life of the East. Nick serves as a partially involved narrator and he is clearly torn between all these contrasts. He is personally invested in the story but still able to keep his distance. At least until Gatsby‘s death when he realizes that he has to choose. No matter how much he might disagree with Gatsby and his quest to repeat the past, he still respects him. Nick feels that it is his obligation to ensure that Gatsby doesn‘t have to go alone through all of that. He lets himself believe, even if only for a while, what Gatsby believed and feels sympathy for him.
Themes, motifs and symbols play an important part in the story. They point to something deeper which lies within the plot. Because Fitzgerald‘s style is full of symbols that hold second or even third hidden meaning it is especially important that the reader understands them.
The way the American East and West are presented in The Great Gatsby also reinforces the mythical dimension of the novel. In fact, the contrast between the American East and West becomes very significant in explaining the main theme of the novel, which Is the romantic quest of Gatsby.
At the centre of the novel is the vital contrast between America’s romantic Western past and the unromantic Eastern present. Both Nick Carraway and Gatsby belong to the West, and both find it difficult to adapt themselves to the way of life in the East. They live in West Egg, which is rather the unfashionable region of Long Island. Tom and Daisy live in East Egg, which is rich, fashionable, and materialistic in sprit. Talking about the Buchanans, Nick Carraway says “ why they came East, I don’t know.” But Tom himself declares, 'Td be a God damned fool to live anywhere else” (20). Tom and Daisy represent the East’s callous materialistic spirit and lack of the romantic wonder.
The notion that the flow of history can be arrested, perhaps even reversed, recurs in The Great Gatsby as a consequence of the universal human capacity for regret and the concomitant tendency to wish for something better. Nick Carraway has come East not simply to learn the bond business, but because his wartime experiences have left him restless in his midwestern hometown and because he wishes to make a clean break in his relationship with a woman whom he likes but has no intention of marrying. The predominant traits of Nick's character- patience, honesty, and levelheadedness-derive from his sure senses of history and social position, and yet in the chronology of the story he is first to succumb to the idea that life is subject to continual renewal. Of his roots in time and place he tells us,
The fresh start Nick seeks in the East represents not so much a rejection of his heritage as a declaration of its inadequacy to satisfy the rather ambiguous yearnings of the post-war generation. Stimulated by his contact with the teeming city and the novelty of his circumstances of West Egg, Nick gives in to a most compelling illusion.( Steinbrink 160)
Robert Ornstein observers, "Gatsby is a story of ‘displaced persons who have journeyed Eastward in search of larger experience of life.” Further he goes on to say, “To Fitzgerald ...the lure of the East represents a profound displacement of the American dream, a turning back upon itself of the historic pilgrimage towards the frontier which had in fact, created and sustained that dream. In Gatsby the once limitless western horizon is circumscribed by the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio.”( Ornstein 63)
The East, where Gatsby sees the green light, inspires in him a romantic hope of orgiastic future. But it only shatters his dream and leads to his violent end. The East Egg appears attractive as “the city seen for the first time, in its wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world." But it appears so only from a distance and when one goes near, it is seen to be an “unreal city” with “ash-grey men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.( Steinbrink 163)
It is important to note that Gatsby is not destroyed by his bootlegging and the under-world connections. Coming from the West, he is unable to comprehend the materialistic ethic of the East. Daisy’s selfishness and Tom’s hard malice lead to the murder of Gatsby. Gatsby, whose romantic belief is firmly rooted in the ability to repeat the disembodied past, utterly fails to see through the falsity of the present. Though he is faintly aware that each step towards the green light is going to make the romantic glow less bright, he persists in his efforts towards attaining his goal, namely, winning Daisy. Even as the story reaches its climax and culminates in the violent death of Gatsby, Fitzgerald, in a highly poetic language, suggests Gatsby's essential connection with the West which represents his simplicity of heart and his romantic dream.( Callahan 381)
Gatsby carries on the spirit of romantic wonder of those Dutch sailors as Nick carrawy descripes Gatsby in the end of the novel, but the time and place are against him, and they turn the romantic promises of the future an illusory reflection of the past. However, we cannot say that Fitzgerald totally approved of the West or totally condemned the East. In fact, The Great Gatsby goes beyond the appraisals like the contemporary decadence of the East or the pristine virtues of the West.
According to Veronica Makowsky F. Scott Fitzgerald initially intended for his novel to have the title Among the Ash-heaps and Millionaires which would suggest that the author saw the issue of class as an important theme in the novel. Ash-heaps refers to the area of ashes where for instance the Wilsons live as well as other member of the working class. This area is a great contrast to that of the fashionable East Egg where the Buchanans and other members of the upper class live (Makowsky 75).
Throughout the story Gatsby is in pursuit of a dream. There are many claims for what that dream represents among scholars as well as readers, the most common ones being the love of Daisy Buchanan and the American dream. The concept of the American dream is closely related to the notion of class and although the American dream will not be the main focus of this thesis it will be dealt with to some extent. The American dream is a much wider concept than class and was, according to Therése Johansson’s thesis: The Broken Dream, originally an expression describing the wish for a better life among the people who migrated to America. Later on it would include aspirations towards a better life for those already living in America as well (Therése 2).
- Quote paper
- Showket Ibraheem (Author), 2014, An analysis of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/496875