The Causes of Gatsby’s Tragedy
3.1 Social reality leading to his failure and tragedy
The central object of The Great Gatsby is clearly Gatsby himself, a much glamorized character by Scott Fitzgerald, ennobled and dignified by a dream to which he is so faithful and devoted, though betrayed by it in the end. Gatsby is the one that Fitzgerald regards as admirable and romantic hero that is too rare in a period which has no ideals beyond material satisfaction, despite his own limitations and his shady operations as bootlegging. Gatsby’s failure has its own social reasons. In emphasizing Gatsby’s uniqueness as the last frontiersman and dreamer, Fitzgerald indicts a society which can neither accommodate nor comprehend such a man. Thus Gatsby, the naïve dreamer who hopes to achieve the impossible, is doomed to fail in the context of such a society.
3.1.1 The deteriorated American Dream
It has been a long history for the American Dream. It first referred to the freedom of religion, large fortunes of puritans or extracting from the aristocratic society of Europe after the discovery of the “New Land” by Columbia, which became an attractive ideal and dream in that years. Then it later changed into the pursuit of success, which was represented by Benjamin Franklin. The last chapter of the novel says that Gatsby’s father proudly shows Nick Gatsby’s schedule and general resolves written in 1906 on the last fly-leaf of the ragged copy book called Hopalong Cassidy (P164).
Fitzgerald seems to be saying that what keeps Americans going as individuals is the belief in that dream, and so they struggle like Gatsby to attain it. But they are like "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Americans row and row against the current of time, trying to get back to that dream, bearing themselves backward like Gatsby, who believed the past could be ...
This schedule is an echo of typical Benjamin Franklin resolves concerning thrifty, healthy and the goal of advancement. It tells how thoroughly young James Gatz has absorbed the ideas of Benjamin Franklin through his Autobiography into his ambition to be success, believing that a man can be what he makes himself to be by hard working and sincere devotion. Just as the saying cited “Money for Franklin is not an end in itself, but a means, a way by which happiness can be achieved.”(Donalson 1984:27) For Gatsby too, money is a means to the realization of his dream rather than an end, which is the prototype of Gatsby’s American Dream. However, when it went into the Jazz Age named by Fitzgerald after the World War I, the American economy and culture stood at a strong transitional point, entering a chaotic and blundering atmosphere. The American Dream then turned out to be a dream for money worship and greed which led people to be selfish and indifferent and thought that money could buy everything including love. That is where Gatsby’s Tragedy lies. The way of Gatsby’s material success is totally an irony on the idealized dream to which he is faithful to the end. From his youth Gatsby sticks to the Franklin mode of self-improvement and tries to realize the American dream but fails, only to find his girl has been married to somebody wealthy when retired from the army.
However, in the short five years that followed, Gatsby earned a fortune large enough to match Tom Buchanan’s, Ironically not through his hard-working, or sincere devotion or anything else that he so believes before, but through bootlegging under the covering of some “gonnegtions.”(P69) Gatsby, like many of the “newly rich” of the time, conducts a paradox ridiculously in accumulating his wealth, that is, playing hard while clinging to his unwavering conviction of the American dream. For he must realize that, in theory, the American continent is a paradise with opportunities for all and everybody can be successful only if he behaves well and works hard; but in reality, advancement and wealth is always in the hands of men like Dan Cody and Meyer Wolfsheim. Gatsby’s dream contradicts with the American reality. Tom finally wins back Daisy not by appealing to her love but to her snobbery, by insinuating how Gatsby’s way of making money has disqualified him from their leisure class, which exposes to us the essence of Gatsby’s fairy tale-like American dream.
... class and ‘old money’. Fitzgerald uses the characterisation of Gatsby to show the unattainability of this particular American Dream for those not born into money. ... through the subsequent unravelling of his vision of Daisy, Fitzgerald criticises the way materialism and individualism ... attitude to life. The irresponsibility of Tom and Daisy who were born into the Dream’s fulfilment ...
3.1.2 The ruined moral concept
Daisy mingles up with rich and giddy people everyday. She is just an empty earthly beauty without any ideal and any goal. She views wealth as superior to love, which turns out the ending that she marries Tom whose identity and wealth matched her five years ago when Gatsby joined the army. But when she is attracted to the luxurious mansion by Gatsby, she admires his boundary ties; she wouldn’t show any real feeling towards Gatsby, because she knows that Gatsby’s does not belong to her class. Her husband indirectly kills Gatsby by making use of his love to Daisy and shows no sadness to his mistress death, but using this accident tactfully to pull Daisy out of trouble. Their crime to Gatsby symbolizes the cruel ravage by the upper class on Gatsby’s beautiful delusion. Gatsby gains nothing in return without realizing the indifference and cruelty of the upper class, the selfishness and hypercritics of Daisy that he pursues, which is doomed his failure.
3.1.3 The damaged value concept
American values have changed greatly in the postwar world. Money is paramount in the hearts of people, and material fortune has become the standard of richness. So for poor Gatsby, the only way to quick success is doing illegal business, with his mere goal of getting Daisy back. The relationship of people at that time is established on money, for this reason, Gatsby gets his fortune regardless of the law in order to gain Daisy’s love who belongs to the upper class. When he successes he holds parties every Saturday night.
There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. (P41)
While on his funeral, nobody goes there, including Daisy, through which we can see the indifference based on the money worship and their values have been deteriorated as time goes on.
3.1.4 The social conflicts
Gatsby’s failure is doomed from the very beginning for he is an alien in such a society populated by Buchanans, with his blindness to the pitfalls that surround him. (Bloom 1986:27)
... lust. When Daisy married Tom, Gatsby lost his chance with her. Then Gatsby won a glance at happiness with Daisy when she fell in love with ... impress someone they want. Ever since there has been social classes there has always been people trying to form a ... of this novel reflects strongly to that statement. Gatsby's dream of having Daisy is denied because of their difference in social statues. ...
First, at the beginning of the novel, there is an interesting description of the places where the main characters live, the East Egg and the West Egg. A more interesting phenomenon is that despite their physical resemblance, they are dissimilar in every particular way except shape and size. (P5) The symbolism here is very clear that the home of Gatsby in West Egg and the Buchanans’ in the East are the indication of the distinction of their wealth but also allude to the difference of their moral ethics, simple virtue of the West and corruption and sophistication of the East.
Second, their social backgrounds are also contrast ones. Just take a look at their physical appearances. Our first impression to Tom is the arrogant, aggressive posture of his “cruel body”, which is wonderfully narrated by Nick. His glittering boots and his manner of “shoving other people around” all add to the portrait of his self-engrossed brutality.
He had changed since his New Heaven years. Now he was a sturdy straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and give him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body – he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting would when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage –a cruel body.(P12)
Such physical presence of Tom as “a brute as a man” suggests that Tom belongs to the ruthless generations that are raised with the huge American fortunes and that presently live in uneasy arrogance leisure on their brutal acquisitions.
The truth is that a class of people like Buchanans is the dominant force of 1920s in the United States at that time. Their luxurious and indulgent life style is typically implied in the depiction of the revel of Gatsby’s elaborate parties and Buchanans’ around the country. Those established rich have something in common that they have unlimited inherited wealth and the privileges free for them to enjoy; they have nothing to dream of and lack any inner resources which can move their life forward permanently.
Gatsby would never be accepted in such a society. He doesn’t belong to the rich and noble origins. Tom will never let Gatsby be superior to him to appeal his wife back. People like Tom Buchanan at that time will do anything to maintain their safe existence with their money and irresponsibility. They even have no hesitation to give classes like Gatsby a deathblow. Anyone would not be allowed to challenge their status quo.
"The Pretender" by Jackson Browne tells a story of a man who has dreams of money and love. Pretenders dream of the "American Dream," money, and love, but do not possess these things. The Pretender in the song, typifies the middle-aged American. All want money and love, but few have them. "The Pretender" reveals a message of a man who had strong dreams, only to have them fade into the harsh reality ...
“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white races will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”(P18)
This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”(P18)
From these monologue we can see that Tom, Gatsby’s murder, is worried that he will lose the dominant power of his class. For this reason, self protection is their first consideration when they confront challenges or difficulties, which also turn out that their irresponsibility that they left other persons to clean up the mess made by themselves.
Such is the world that destroyed Gatsby.
3.2 The self inner cause – Gatsby’s character
3.2.1 His naivety and innocence
His naivety and innocence in Gatsby’s character are well depicted in the novel through his five years long waiting, through his nervousness and restlessness right before and at the moment of their meeting again and also through his conviction in the American dream and his whole-hearted devotion to an unworthy embodiment of the dream—Daisy. He knows well that Daisy is the “golden girl” with her voice “full of money”, who can only be earned or bought, but is still enchanted by her and concentrated all his dreams on her. He believes he can regain Daisy if he has enough money but never come to see that he is never to be accepted into the exclusive club of the wealthy to which she and Tom belong. He would not give her up until the last moment even though he betrays him again. He is always dreaming of pure love, directing his life by the dream of Daisy—his youthful love. Daisy is the first and the only woman that he loves. Since the moment when she becomes the incarnation of his dream, Gatsby starts his struggling career to win her; even his dream of wealth became part of it.
Fitzgerald could have entitled the novel anything, The Diary of Nick Carro way, The Exploits of the Easterners, Nick's Wild Adventure, but he chose The Great Gatsby. This leaves the reader with the question, "Why The Great Gatsby Why great'" Gatsby was not the most powerful man, he did not command the respect of millions or control a country. He was not the most famous man either, he was not a ...
Gatsby is not content to have an affair with Daisy, for it is not what he wants. He wants nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and says ‘I never loved you.’ After she has obliterated four years with that sentence they can decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them is that, after she is free, they are to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as it was five years ago. This dream in his earlier years of marrying her doesn’t change even when he becomes an adult. He has been so devoted to her, loving her with such intensity that he is simply blind of her essential demerits.
The tragedy of Gatsby lies in that he not only believes in love but also loves a woman too far from his ideal. But Daisy’s monkeylike nature determines that she will never love Gatsby the same way he loves him. She will retreat and protect herself at the moment of crisis by sacrificing her vulnerable lover, who lacks a sense of self-protection because of loving too deeply. This is precisely the weakness of Gatsby as opposed to the more sophisticated and practical Buchanan.
His naïve belief is in the power of money that helps him realize his dream. But the sad thing of him is that “his parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people—his imagination has never really accepted them as his parents at all.” (Page 95, paragraph1, line 2-4) He works his way up to great material success. He believes that his golden girl will come to him again when seeing his success. This affirms his belief that Daisy will finally reunite with him. But Gatsby proves to be naïve because he does not know that he can never be equal to Daisy Buchanan. No matter how much money or power he may process, he is still nobody from nowhere because he has no comfortable family standing behind him. So his dream with Daisy ends up with disillusion.
Gatsby not only believes that he can win over Daisy through his wealth but also in the full conviction that he can recapture the lost past with her. The conversations between Gatsby and Nick at the party that Daisy first attended can be best illustrate the total difference between the two as concerned about the passing time:
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why? Of course you can!”
Defined by a book of current literary terms, a climax is "the arrangement of a series of ideas or expressions in ascending order of importance or emphasis; the last term of the arrangement; a culmination." Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald during the roaring 20's, The Great Gatsby provides a look into the upper class circle of the East and West Villages of New York City. Known as East and West Egg in ...
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of his hand. (Page 70)
The naivety of Gatsby lies that he dose not have such knowledge of time. Daisy does not wait for him five years because she is well aware that beauty and youth will not last forever. This makes his tragedy all the more poignant and pathetic.
The sadness of Gatsby is that until his death he does not realize the fact that Daisy can not be obtained by money alone and still hopes that she will renounce her husband and come to him. He must have never expected that in his waiting for Daisy’s call here will be the finale of his life.
3.2.2 Everlasting pursuit of pure love
He has a dream. It is not merely the American Dream of Success that everyone can struggle to success no matter what he is born with. His dream is a kind of romantic dream and his love to Daisy is a kind of paradise to himself, and his persistence and the spirit of devotion are certainly great, which manifests the indispensable values needed in life. There is no doubt that he longs for materialized wealth, but more for spiritual richness. The most important to him is love. Thus money is not his final goal but a tool to get Daisy back. His love for Daisy keeps him away from women and he never so much as look at a friend’s wife. That’s why no girls will swoon backward on Gatsby at his parties. As the following approves:
“He knew women early, and since they spoiled him he became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorption he took for granted.” (Page 95, paragraph 2, line5-9)
And the indication meaning of the following also proves.
“One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which came at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.” (Page 106 the last paragraph)
He was only faithful to Daisy, and it is really praiseworthy. But this leads to Gatsby’s tragic and lamentable outcome. He fails to come close to the attainment of Daisy Buchanan when he is caught in the backwash of the tawdry affair between Tom Buchanan and his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Gatsby sacrifices his life on the alteration of his dream, unaware that it is composed of the ephemeral stuff of the past.
On the other hand, though he is wealthy, he is not interested in power or money or prestige for its own sake. But he thinks that wealth and money is the ladder to his dream. What he wants is his dream, and that dream is embodied in Daisy. He must have her and he will do anything that requires in order to win her and he knows that “her voice is full of money” (P115, Paragraph3).
“It was full of money that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, and the cymbals’ song of it. …High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl” (P115.paragraph4) But dreams doesn’t always show on the outside. When he is waiting under the moon—for Daisy’s safety—he doesn’t know that Daisy has already given him away and received her husband’s conspiracy and let Gatsby response for the car accident as he pleased. Tom and Daisy are both selfish and rough persons. They would use money or something else to benefit themselves when they are in trouble and let others bear the bad results. He knows that Daisy will not call him but he still risks waiting for her call. At the end he himself pays the cost and is shot by Wilson.
Besides, no one else but Nick knows or understands Gatsby’s background except maybe his father and Owl Eyes—and they, significantly are the only ones present at his funeral. Fitzgerald invites us to share Nick’s understanding of Gatsby as we read the novel. He makes us see behind the surface of the man who at first glance looks like a young roughneck. Almost nobody comes to Gatsby’s funeral, even there is no telegraph from Daisy that he once cherished so much and if it weren’t for Nick, there would probably not even have a funeral. Look in this prospect; he surely is a sad character. This is a new world. However, materialistic things are not true. He finally understands that in front of the cruelly real world, his dream has broken up, his efforts has failed. Past love can never revive; old dreams can never come true. In the end this spirit is dead along with his body. This is also a reflection of American life in 1920s. Dream the old dreams and do unreasonable things with self-wills.
In the novel, Gatsby’s unremitting effort for fame, money and social position together with the repetitious lavish parties in his garden can be just looked as the way how he relieves his tension, stress as well as his passion to Daisy. Daisy’s marriage with Tom left Gatsby a broken heart, and his disappointment in love is transformed into libido which continuously stimulates him to fight for wealth, fame and pleasure. In one word, the id of Gatsby in the story is energetic, persistent and pleasure-oriented. All the things he has done follow the principle of pleasure, such as his luxury parties, his embarrassed reunion with Daisy and even his tragic death which is self-imposed to a certain degree.
3.2.3 Lack of a critical eye to the rich
The book is called The Great Gatsby, but in fact he is neither great nor Gatsby. He is not Gatsby because his real name is Gatz. And saying he is not great meant he is just a crook, a bootlegger who has involved himself with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. Gatsby’s beginnings occurrs when the 17-year-old Gatz—a clam digger and salmon fisher—sees millionaire Dan Cody’s yacht drop anchor on a dangerous scratch of Lake Superior. After rowing out to Cody on a borrowed row-boat and warning him that a coming wind might wreck his yacht, Cody employs Jay Gatsby in a vague personal capacity for several years. Later Gatsby says he has worked in many drugstore and oil business, omitting the fact that he is involved in illegal bootlegging. He keeps his criminal activities mysterious throughout the novel, preferring to play the role of perpetually gracious host. He has committed crimes in order to buy his West Egg mansion with the sole intention of being across the bay from Daisy Buchanan’s green light at the end of her dock, a fantasy which becomes Gatsby’s personal version of the American dream that he needs to win the woman he loves, who happens to be another man’s wife. With the naïve thought that money can make him own what he wanted, he engages in illegal business which leads him so wealthy that he nearly has magic powers and rights.
His ideal that the society is open to all and without barriers makes him think that so as long he gets money, he will be in the equal club with Daisy. But at last, he is still “nobody from nowhere”, just as Tom cited. They still keep him away from his dream of being on member of the society.
3.4 The screwy nature of his dream
The origin of little Gatsby’s dream is an absorption in Franklin’s resolution that relates to success, believing that a man can be what he made himself to be by hard working and sincere devotion. He disciplines himself with the SCHEDULE.
Rise from bed………………………………………………………….6.00 A.M.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling……………………………….6.15—6.30 ’’
Study electricity, etc………………………………………………..7.15—8.15 ’’
Work …………………………………………………………….8.30—4.30 P.M.
Baseball and sports………………………………………………….4.30—5.00 ’’
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it………………………5.00—6.00 ’’
Study needed inventions …………………………………………..7.00—9.00 ’’
No wasting time at Shafters or [ a name, indecipherable]
No more smoking or chewing.
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents
We can see that the self-made material success and self-improvement through hardworking had been the unshakable ideal for little Gatz. But eventually his stick to Franklin’s mode of self-improvement failed, only to find that his girl married somebody wealthy when retired from the army. Then he dreams of pure love and Daisy, which is contradictory with the reality.
He talked a lot about her the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…(P)
Gatsby earned a large fortune to match Tom Buchanan’s five years later, ironically not through his hard-working or sincere devotion or anything else that he so believes before, but through bootlegging under the covering of some “gonnegtions”.
“The nature of Gatsby’s dream is itself; actually, a definition of his pathetic tragedy, for this dream, far from being opposed to the more brutal and less imaginative materialism represented by the Buchanans, is fashioned according to the precepts of the materialism itself. It is the ideal of the Hollywood ‘silver screen’ and fashion-magazine; it is the ideal of surface without substance. It is a dream with such vitality and intensity that nothing in reality could match it. (Cooperman 1996:21)
When his pure-love dream fails, Gatsby has learnt that he looses her simply because “he has no comfortable family standing behind him” and that he must have the same strata as her and enough money to give her ‘a sense of security’(P103)”. So in the following years, he works even harder to amass wealth through every possible means without the least sense of guilt. It is a dream with such “a colossal vitality” that goes beyond himself. It is his screwy dream that destroys him in the end, because he surrounds himself completely with an absurd and vulgar illusion of his ideal that contradicts with the reality. So finally, all that he devotes is just a service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty.