- Describe three key characters and explain how they change throughout the novel.
Daisy : Daisy is a young, upper class woman who has been trapped, like so many others, by the social expectations & norms of her society. In the beginning of the novel, we see her as a victim who has been dulled by how her life has made her and the sadness she has experienced makes us pity her. Nick sees her and understands that despite her beauty & alluring presence, she is a woman with sadness in her eyes and a blankness in her life. As the novel goes on, she seems to finally have some happiness, while Tom has Myrtle and his hidden life, Daisy and Gatsby spend the summer together, we as readers want her to succeed and have a happy life with Gatsby. She speaks of her child with a vacancy that initially indicates her detachment from really feeling, she says she hopes her daughter will be a ‘beautiful little fool’, making it clear that she wants her to be unaware of all the potential harm (and happiness) the world has to offer, this reveals to us Daisy’s lack of feeling, wishing her own daughter to ignore the world and be a “fool”. As she falls in love with Gatsby again, she begins to imagine what her life would have been like if she had waited for Gatsby & lived the previous five years with him, rather than Tom, she is stricken with unexpected emotion when looking at Gatsby’s shirts, “They’re such beautiful shirts” she sobbed…” she says, she is materialistic, seeing her life and absence of it in clothing, these are a metaphor for all that she has and all that she could’ve had in her life, in this moment, Daisy realizes briefly, everything she missed out on. In the end, rather than go to Gatsby after giving him hope & falling back in love with him, she makes the shallow, materialistic decision to run back to Tom and the stability of her status, this reveals her to be uncaring and cruel, she runs away from all that she has destroyed, leaving it to be fixed by… somebody else. Nick makes this realization,”They were careless people, Tom and Daisy, they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” after Daisy fails to attend Gatsby’s funeral, having moved away from New York, we truly understand the person she is and has come to be. Daisy hides many of her qualities, she is deceitful and as her character is revealed to us throughout the book and rather than her changing, our opinion of her changes.
Gatsby: Jay Gatsby started out as nothing more than a young, broke boy with ambition, in love with the enchanting Daisy Fay. In the beginning of the novel we are introduced to him and to both Nick and to us as readers, Gatsby is a mystery, no one knows who he really is, all they know are the absurd rumors that flew around New York. As Nick spends time with Gatsby, he hears about his seemingly unbelievable life, he comes to see Gatsby’s immense love for Daisy and the enormous amount of hope he has for his illusive fantasy of their future together. We are unaware of what he is hiding behind his illusive character at this point. As the pair reunite, his dream seems so close he could almost reach it, he believed that it was possible to repeat the past, to stop time, to rewind those five years and erase everything that had happened in them and for a moment, it seems to us too as if he could succeed, as they spend the summer together, falling back in love. In the end, Nick feels that possibility, a part Gatsby may have realized the unlikelihood of his dream, the emptiness that was the basis of his hope, “he found what a grotesque thing a rose is”, Nick says, explaining that Daisy was not all that Gatsby believed & quite possibly, he had realized it, that she, underneath her beauty and ‘perfection’, had deceptive thorns – like a rose, however, we cannot know whether Gatsby really feels this or not, whether is dream lived on, Gatsby is pitied, he was entangled in his dream, his life source that he couldn’t see any other way, ruining his chance of survival and success by aiming for the impossible.
Nick : Nick moves to the West Egg to work in the bond industry, unaware of the eventful summer he has to come. In the beginning of the novel, he introduces himself the non-judgmental author. This is how we as readers view him in the beginning because, as he is the narrator of the story, we have nothing to compare him to or question. As he spends more time with Tom, Daisy and Gatsby, he learns about their lives and becomes entangled into their struggles and secrets, he is used by them to aid their problems with no thought to his own welfare. In the beginning he is curious to know more about their seemingly mysterious lives however, he becomes tired of it in the end, he realizes how deeply he had been involved in these peoples lives when they are in the Plaza Hotel, after Gatsby & Daisy’s secrets have all been unraveled “. . . I just remembered that to−day’s my birthday.” this sudden memory of something so important in his own life shows just how much he had been wrapped in the affairs of these people who used him; so much so that he had forgotten his own birthday. Nick’s opinions of the other characters change throughout the novel too because, despite what claims, he is judgmental, he makes judgements about the other characters and it is, as readers, our only view of them. When Nick first meets Gatsby, he admires him, he speaks of Gatsby’s smile, saying “It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey” however throughout the novel at points, he gets confused amongst all that he had become so involved in and begins to doubt Gatsby “…at a time of confusion, when I reached a point of believing everything and nothing about him.” In the end, minutes before Gatsby’s death, he tells him “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Nick believes this, even after he knows of Gatsby’s illegal past and lies, despite doubting him and “disapproving of him”, he still admires him above the rest, “I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” he says, referring to the other characters and the lives that he had slipped into that summer, the only one “exempt from my reaction” was Gatsby. He realizes throughout the novel his ability too view the happenings and people around him from an external point of view, he seems to be both enthralled & opposed to – almost disgusted by the world and humanity around him so that he did not know whether he was ‘within’ or ‘without’ of it all.
- Identify how each of the characters you have explored above presented the idea of illusion in the text. Describe how they concealed their true self from other characters in the novel. Explain what helped you uncover their illusion in the text.
Daisy: Daisy is an illusion of perfection and desirability however she, underneath, is both damaged and damaging. She is viewed as the perfect woman, she has an enticing nature that lures Gatsby in. Continuously throughout the novel, she is associated with the color white, white is generally connotative with innocence and purity. In this novel, this is not the case, instead, white symbolizes the illusion of purity and beauty. Daisy wears and is associated with white and it is a clue to her disguised blankness and lack of substance. She has shut herself off from the life & world that surrounds her because she does not have the courage to face the potential turbulence of it, this makes her empty of feeling.
Gatsby: Gatsby created a life & persona for himself that he, as a young ambitious boy dreamt of; he transformed himself into just the kind of man he thought Daisy would love. His whole life has been based on his love for Daisy, he created a fantasy of their unreachable life together and it consumed him, despite the unattainability of it, it was necessary to him like the air in his lungs. His colossal hope remained and through time & change he continued to feed off of this illusion, it kept him alive but because this whole existence was based off something illusive, a fantasy, he was never really living; he was a ghost in the real world because the thing that had kept him alive was nonexistent. Gatsby is the mirage of a man with a rich, full life, in reality, he is hollow. This too, is represented with the color white, Gatsby is often wearing & associated with white and it is a symbol of his lack of real life.
Nick : Nick does not share the same status as his cousin, Daisy, he moves to West Egg, the less fashionable, new money area of Long Island and works in the bond industry; although he is certainly more fortunate & wealthy than Myrtle and George Wilson and those living in the valley of ashes, he, despite being family, is never truly apart of the ‘secret society’ that Tom and Daisy belong to, his status is not the same as theirs and never can be, he joins them for the summer and – for a moment – it is as if he is really with them, an illusion that he is apart of their group and status. Nick also has a unique perspective, sometimes, he is apart of and within the group, taking part in their lives while other times, he views them & life from an outsiders perspective, as if he’d drawn himself back from it, viewing it externally, “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”.
- Describe three important relationships in the text. Explain how these relationships were presented as being “false”.
Daisy and Gatsby: Gatsby and Daisy fell in love during world war one while Gatsby was an officer and Daisy knew nothing of Gatsby’s lack of money & position. Rather than waiting for him after the war, she married the rich & superior Tom Buchanan, whom, despite the lies, she comes to love as they have a connection that she could never have had with Gatsby, a connection that their high status & money gave them and it was that that kept them together; Gatsby, no matter how much money he made or how glamorous he made himself, could never fit into the ‘old money’ society that Tom and Daisy both belonged to.
Through the five years that they are separated, Gatsby reinvents himself into “…just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent”, he remains in love with Daisy and builds his life around her from afar, while she is living her own life with Tom, it never occurs to him that the connection he has with Daisy is lost or that the basis of his immense hope is nonexistent. When the are reunited, it is not enough for him to simply be with her, he wants her to erase the time that separates them and effectively, go back in time. She is unable to do this as in the time they spent apart, she had a life. While Daisy and Gatsby love each other, their relationship is haunted by reality, by Gatsby’s past and Daisy’s life with Tom. It is an illusion because they can never have the life that Gatsby wants, they can never repeat the past.
Daisy and Tom: Daisy and Toms relationship is built upon the foundations of their ‘secret society’, this is what keeps them together, despite the lies and cheating. Rather than leaving him, Daisy and Tom move to New York from Chicago after Tom’s series of affairs became public; after Daisy and Tom get back from the plaza, Nick watches as they converse over the dining table, he describes the scene as having a “natural intimacy”, despite the fact that Tom has just found about Daisy’s affair and that his mistress has been killed, there is a kind of unsaid pact between them derived from their shared status and place in society. They don’t appear happy nor unhappy, they simply survive and rely on each other for their own survival. The intimacy come so naturally because they have shared experiences & perspective, because they are together at the top of society it is almost as if they have an obligation to save each other, not out of love but out of necessity.