Fitzgerald “accurately shows life and its problems” and he like to address the “moral dilemmas in the society”. One way that he does this is through the ideas (or themes) that he presents in his work. We have talked about the idea of “illusion” and that all of the characters and places in The Great Gatsby are hiding something from the outside world. Fitzgerald comments on people’s need to present a persona to the world, rather than risk revealing and being rejected because of their true self. He also presents the following ideas in The Great Gatsby:

  • The inevitability of time
  • The myth of the American Dream
  1. For each of the ideas above, make a list of the ways that Fitzgerald presents it to us as his readers. Be specific and use examples from the text to support your judgements.

The Inevitability of Time:
-Water
-The green light
-The failure of Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship

The American Dream:
-The book’s settings, East egg, West egg, valley of ashes, New York City.
-Daisy leaving Gatsby – not going to his funeral…
-Gatsby’s failed dream
-Myrtle & George Wilson
-Nick’s separation from the group

2. Explain what you think Fitzgerald is saying about each of the ideas above- what is his opinion on each one. Why do you think he holds the view he does? Comment on why you do or don’t agree with him using the world you live in as a reference.

The inevitability of time. Time is not a tangible thing, we as humans, use time as a measurement of our existence, our moments, memories and lives. It allows us to grow and change and also prevents us from going backwards.  Fitzgerald intertwines the inevitability of time into his writing; in the novel, Gatsby is blinded by his hope and his belief in the future he imagines with Daisy, so much so that he cannot see the significance of the time that has separated them. A consequential five years passes between Daisy and Gatsby’s meeting and in that time, Daisy has changed and experienced her own life. When they meet again it is not enough for Gatsby to just have Daisy back, he needs her to erase the time they spent apart and everything in it in order to start again with him, this is impossible as the time that separates them holds memories, change and a life for Daisy. Gatsby can’t see this because his life has revolved only around his fantasy of her, he makes this clear when he is talking with Nick about his plans with Daisy, “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!”  Daisy, despite her love for Gatsby, cannot erase the time and unique memories that she has made without him, Gatsby is blind to this. This accurately shows the inevitability of time by illustrating how time is irreplaceable and cannot be manipulated, reversed or erased no matter how impassioned the intent, it records life that cannot be undone.

Water is used in this novel as a physical representation of time; for example, the body of water in the bay between the West and East Egg symbolizes the barrier that time engenders between Gatsby and Daisy and how this distances him from her and therefore, from his dream. Gatsby looks across the bay and sees Daisy and the green light and believes that the distance between them is small enough that he is almost able to reach her, whereas, in reality, there is a huge body of water – a significant 5 years of life – separating them. Water, like time, cannot be changed or erased, it’s must keep going on, because of this, it is an effective symbol for time.

 

The myth of the American Dream. The term ‘American Dream’ was first used by James Truslow Adams to describe the hope and belief that any person, no matter their beginnings, would gain the wealth and happiness that they deserved according to their work, ability and accomplishments. Fitzgerald uses his settings and the characters in them to describe different aspects of this dream & how he feels about them. New York City represents the illusion of this dream, while East egg, the false dream; West egg, the corrupt dream and the Valley of Ashes, the failed dream. Gatsby represents the corrupt dream; he came from nothing but he had a great ambition and determination that drove him to his own success. Despite this, he will never be accepted into this exclusive society regardless of becoming a rich and upperclass ‘gentleman’ in order to get there, to gain his ultimate prize, the promise of glory and the symbol of everything he had dreamt of his whole life: Daisy. He is constantly reaching for something will never attain –  he did not start with it, he didn’t begin with the highest status and wealth, he worked for it which ultimately – despite how close he may feel to success – means that he can never have it. This is an example of Fitzgerald’s view of the dream, he expresses his belief that the American Dream is unattainable and illusive. When looking at our society today and the social barriers that separate classes and people due to their wealth and status, it is easy to understand Fitzgerald’s stance however cynical it may seem. The hope that every person’s economic & social wealth would accurately reflect their efforts & achievements is desirable and if it were a simple choice, it would no doubt be made however it is unrealistic in our complex societies and systems.

 

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