The Great Gatsby - Characters, modern society and the end of a dream

Term Paper, 2003

18 Pages, Grade: 1.7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Characterization of the leading characters
2.1.1 Jay Gatsby: A romantic or a comic hero
2.1.2 Daisy's significance for Gatsby's dream
2.2.1 The l - Narrator: Nick Carraway
2.3.1 Characterization of Tom and Daisy
2.3.2 Relation between Tom, Daisy and Myrtle

3. The profile of a modern society
3.1 The settings and their figures
3.2 The features of this society and the reason for the tragic end

4. The end of a dream

5. Supplement

6. Literature

1. Introduction

Reading the “The Great Gatsby”, I was very impressed about the style and the way the author let his actors behave or the description of the settings. At first sight it gives the impression of a lucid and meaningless novel, but it contains many disguise and metaphoric meanings. What impressed me most was the ascent and downfall of a kind and naive man by the cruel and wicked society. In the following pages, I try to explain and to analyse Gatsby’s sole dream: his obsession for his one-time love - Daisy.

First of all, as a foundation, I will characterize the main actors, then analyse the important settings and their influence on the figures and finally try to explain why it ends in this way.

2. Characterisation of the leading actors

2.1.1 Jay Gatsby: a romantic or a comic hero?

Jay Gatsby represents the type of a romantic hero as his whole behaviour serves as a means to fight for a woman’s love which has become the sense of his life. Instead of living in reality, Gatsby desperately tries to catch the past and to transfer it to an illusory future. “`Can’t repeat the past?´ he cried incredulously. `Why of course you can!´ He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.”1 His present wealth and extravagant way of life are only a transitional stage that is to precede final fulfillment of his eternal dream, personified by Daisy, his one-time love. He is the prince or the knight in a fairy-tale without happy end since all his endeavours are in vain. Contrary to most of the superficial people surrounding him, Gatsby still believes in eternal and true love, a value he considers to be more important than money. “He was a son of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty.”2 But as Daisy, “the golden girl”3, belongs to a world in which money rules people’s mind, Gatsby knows that the only way of regaining her love is to offer her the life style she is used to. His party-guests are ignorant extras that can’t look behind Gatsby’s facade. Nick, the observing narrator, is the only one who sees through Gatsby’s real motives, but being a member of the “unromantic” and realistic American society, he is not able to understand Gatsby or even to protect him from the destructive influence of Tom and Daisy. Gatsby’s enormous power is based on his imagination, which is the essential element that builds up his dream world. Similar to the atmosphere in a fairy tale, time sometimes seems to stand still in his life, especially the afternoon Gatsby and Daisy spend together at Nick’s house. But this scene also reveals the instability and transitoriness of Gatsby’s dream. Realizing that a repetition will be impossible because of Daisy’s lack of real emotions and her superficial character, Gatsby loses all his self- conscience and control over himself. He must accept that, for five years, he has struggled in vain. “He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock.”4 His misjudgement on the situation, his lack of realistic farsightedness and his desperate way of fulfilling his dream let him appear in a comical or even ridiculous light. “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dream - not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.”5

There are too many discrepancies between Gatsby’s illusory world and the conventional and hardened society around him. A man like Gatsby, reaching for a higher aim than money, cannot be taken seriously. His comedown starts when he unveils his secret love for Daisy. “[…] his career as Trimalchio was over.”6 He turns into a comic hero when he realizes his defeat and begins to fight with his last ounce of strength. His outward appearance, his nervousness and his exaggerated self-pity give the impression of a naive dreamer that cannot cope with reality. “Then I turned back at Gatsby - and was startled at his expression. He looked […] as if he has killed a man.” “[…] he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made.”7 It is a question of perspective if Gatsby should be considered as a romantic or a comic hero. Nick is definitely the only character concerned who is aware of Gatsby’s sincere motives and who knows that people like the Buchanans are to blame for Gatsby’s tragic death.

2.1.2 Daisy’s significance for Gatsby’s dream

The events of the night Gatsby spends with Daisy have a special significance concerning the hero’s dream. At that time, he is still working on his ascent from a poor “nobody” to a wealthy and well-known personage, an almost divine creature, invented by his strong imagination and his dreams.

Being a beautiful daughter of a well-to-do Midwest family, Daisy personifies Gatsby’s naive conception of a “better” life. The atmosphere of the romantic moonlight scene reflects Gatsby’s feelings towards this decisive moment in his life. He is about to reach his aim, which is revealed by a metaphor that compares Gatsby’s spiritual destiny with “a secret place above the trees”8, where he can “suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder”9, symbolizing Daisy’s love for Gatsby. She represents the peak of his eternal dream and her kiss stands for the hero’s apparently final arrival at the top of his idealistic illusions. “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of god.”10 Daisy obviously serves as the decisive means to perfect Gatsby’s incarnation, the final step from dream to reality. “At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”11 He wants to transform Daisy into a heavenly creature she will never be able to become in reality. The white colour of her dress and her face give the impression of an innocent and angelic girl, but these superficial attributes conceal her true self - “a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty”. Gatsby’s weakness is based on his lack of realism, his naive imagination and his permanent misjudgements. He is blinded by Daisy’s glamourous appearance, a mistake that is responsible for his tragic downfall and destruction of his dream.

2.2.1 The I - Narrator: Nick Carraway

The author assigns the description of New York and the modern society to an observing narrator12. Concerning the fact that his statements are the basis of interpretation and analysis, it is necessary to examine his reliability and his point of view. Nick Carraway is no representative of the New York society and therefore no part of his account. He grows up in the Middle west, in a city “where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name”13. Living in a traditional and conservative family (“actual founder of my line”14 ) he esteems tradition, order and decency.

These aspects are the opposite characteristics of the city profile and even when Nick becomes active and interferes in the action this contrast is maintained, but Nick’s distance as critical observer is reduced. Space and time create a critical distance for Nick, because he writes down his memories back in the Midwest two years after these events, so he has an overall picture and can survey the events he was witness of and judge them.15 On the one hand Nick seems to be a reliable narrator concerning the style and structure the narrator selects and the well-balanced composition. But on the other hand, as a guide through the New York life, he sometimes appears in a questionable light, which suggests a lack of objectiveness. He considers the New York society as “careless” people and he insists on responsibility and honesty. And this is the reason why inconsistencies crop out.16 He makes his house available for Daisy and Gatsby, though he is not convinced of Gatsby’s sincere motives yet. When Gatsby offers him a business, it is not his honesty turning down but his pride. “I realize now that under different circumstances that conversation might have been one of the crisis of my life. But, because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I have no choice to cut him off there.”17 He criticizes people’s carelessness, but he also has “short affairs with a girl who lived in Jersey City”18. His relation to Jordan is also superficial, casual and half-hearted. He only shows responsibility at organizing Gatsby’s funeral: “[…] it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested - interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end.”19 Nick often violates his own morals, he is not aware of this discrepancy, his behaviour is inconsistent and contradictory.

The reader doubts Nick’s uprightness, when he mocks Gatsby’s “appalling sentimentality” although his own comment at the end shows stylistic similarity: ”Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter - to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning - So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”20 Nick generalizes (from Gatsby to “us”), although he has no right to do it, as he cuts himself off from those who “will run faster” by returning to the west. In conclusion, the novel describes the development of a young man, who at first is prepared to adopt to the East Coast life style that promises wealth and fortune till he finally realizes that this promise cannot be kept and he lives in resignation and renunciation. He goes to New York expecting better living conditions and gets into situations that meet his expectations, his restlessness and longing for life. In Myrtle’s apartment he feels “within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”21 But his emotions are artificial because of his drunkenness. If he is sober, he is repelled by their life-style.

The more the action develops, the more his antipathy grows, which proves the consequence of his inability to find his way in a world of strangers and to integrate into it. He prefers to observe from a distance, not to be involved, he speculates about “sumptuous and romantic apartments”22 and a “romantic woman”23. His fascination for mysteries fades when he is concerned: “I don’t like mysteries.”24. Finally he does not manage to adopt, he gets a failure, who remarks that “life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all”25. He does not know how to live, he is only life’s observer. Nick is a “guide, a pathfinder”26, his observations, hints, speculations and suppositions correspond to the course of action.

Entirely his interpretation of Gatsby (of his past and his dream) is totally reliable. The border between his comments and Gatsby’s account is so entangled, that it is not possible to separate between facts and the narrator’s products. Gatsby is presented as “madman”, obsessed with his dream. There is a special will behind this self-image, a certain aim, a mission that gives him mythical traits to his character: “The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.”27 Being an outsider of the East Coast society, Nick cannot be its interpreter but exactly this characteristic associates him with Gatsby, he can comprehend Gatsby’s situation; they are both convinced of reaching their aim. Nick is, first of all, no disciple of Gatsby, he rejects him: ”[…] Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.”28


1 (p.117)

2 (p.105)

3 (p.126)

4 (p.99)

5 (p.102f)

6 (p.119)

7 (p.141)

8 (p.118)

9 (p.118)

10 (p.118)

11 (p.118)

12 (cf. Frausing, 1996 p.29ff)

13 (p.183)

14 (p.8)

15 (cf. Frausing, 1996 p.35f)

16 (cf. Frausing, 1996 p.32f)

17 (p.89)

18 (p.63)

19 (p.171)

20 (p.188)

21 (p.42)

22 (p.31)

23 (p.63)

24 (p.77)

25 (p.10)

26 (p.10)

27 (p.105)

28 (p.8)

Excerpt out of 18 pages


The Great Gatsby - Characters, modern society and the end of a dream
Ruhr-University of Bochum
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ISBN (eBook)
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Great, Gatsby, Characters
Quote paper
Shiva Rezaeifard (Author), 2003, The Great Gatsby - Characters, modern society and the end of a dream , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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